Entrepreneurship – Now more than ever !

EPA/MAURIZIO GAMBARINI

An information stall of the European Commission at the Startup Europe Summit, a pop-up conference for European startups, in Berlin, Germany, 12 February 2015. 

Entrepreneurship – Now more than ever !


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This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2016

Belgium- Brussels : 2015 has been a tumultuous year for Europe and the world. A year of crisis and upheaval.  A year in which many have felt that Europe went into reverse whilst struggling to cope with some of the biggest challenges it has ever encountered from an economic, political and human angle. It is no wonder then that the EU’s 2020 agenda for growth and jobs seems to have fallen off the political agenda at a time when it could be argued that it is most needed.

A growing economy and job creation is the foundation of a stable society.  Unfortunately across Europe recovery is still weak and fragile. Unemployment remains at record highs, especially amongst our continents youth. This is causing fissures to appear particularly under the pressures caused by internal migration, immigration and the refugee crisis. We know that the creation of more businesses are the key to solving this problem. More than ever Europe needs entrepreneurs to take risks, start businesses, and create jobs. Paradoxically it seems that entrepreneurship has fallen off the policy agenda.

Unfortunately we still do not appear to have found the magical formula. Stimulating entrepreneurial activity remains Europe’s Holy Grail. Ever since we opened our Amway  business in Europe in 1973 we have worked hard to promote such a culture. It’s clear from studies around the globe that the more open a culture is to entrepreneurship then the more people move from just being interested in running their own business to actually doing it.

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With more than 500,000 independent business owners across Europe, , Amway has a strong interest in understanding European attitudes towards entrepreneurship. We want to know what motivates Europeans to become, and what dissuades them from being entrepreneurs. As part of Amway’s commitment to fostering public discussion of entrepreneurship we have since 2010 commissioned the Amway Global Entrepreneurship Report. Today the report covers 44 countries (including 25 of the 28 EU Member States). In 2015 we have introduced for the first time the Amway Entrepreneurial Spirit Index, measuring motivational factors for starting a businessThis enables us to benchmark European countries with their competitors. The fact that Slovenia, Lithuania, and Finland are the top ranking Europeans says it all. Europe needs to do more.

Our research over the last 6 years brings back the same results time and time again. We have concluded that risk aversion and the fear of failure lie at the heart of the problem. Insolvency is still a dirty word. In many European countries failed entrepreneurs are kept in limbo for years by arcane bankruptcy rules.  Access to finance once difficult has become nigh on impossible to generate, especially in the crucial €1.5m-4m stage of growth. Labour law denies small growing businesses the flexibility needed to cope with fluctuating demand. If young firms are to survive they need to be able to reduce staff costs quickly and cheaply when necessary. That is far harder in many European countries than elsewhere in the world. Europeans just don’t seem to believe that they have the skills or aptitude needed to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial education is not present enough in the various education systems. All of this serves to undermine the development of an entrepreneurial culture in Europe. 

Today the Amway business model intrinsically aims to identify and nurture entrepreneurial spirit. We provide new distributors with much the same support as found in business incubation and education programs. The opportunity that we provide addresses many of the apprehensions identified in the survey year in year out. Our aim is to ease the transition into running and growing a business for all – no matter what level of education, whether from employment, unemployment, education, or running a household.

Amway shares the European Commission’s view that only if a large number of Europeans recognise an entrepreneurial career as a rewarding and attractive option will entrepreneurial activity in Europe thrive in the long term. We therefore supported the goals of the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan.

In addition we have been asking EU policy makers to introduce specific criteria for entrepreneurial education, ease of start-up, and reduced administrative and tax burdens into the economic semester and assessment of national budgets by the European Commission so as to measure Member States progress.

We would also like to see acceptance of a broader view of entrepreneurship. It’s not just about inventing new products, innovation, and hi-tech start-ups. It is also about services and micro businesses and we strongly believe that this should be recognized by public policy.   Entrepreneurship can also play an important role in helping the integration of the growing migrant population which equally needs to be recognised and supported.

We are therefore concerned that entrepreneurships seem to have fallen off the EU’s political agenda. We believe that the previous focus needs reinvigorating and new energy. The time is right to conduct a mid-term review of the 2020 action plan. There remains much to be done and there is clearly a role for President Juncker to work with the private and public sectors to create the environment for entrepreneurship that Europe so desperately needs to drive growth and stability.

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