Serbia is implementing the Small Business Act, the EU policy framework for SMEs which helps the country to adopt successful policies and to improve its business environment. Serbia's participation in the COSME programme should also be beneficial for its SMEs. The country already performs higher than the EU average in terms of entrepreneurship and has declared 2016 the "Year of Entrepreneurship". All these give Serbia a solid foundation in a region with a lot of entrepreneurial potential.
This is how Antti Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General of European Commission DG for Internal market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, estimates entrepreneurship in Serbia and Balcans, level of its development and the way it goes at the moment. In an exclusive interview with business portal “eKapija”, conducted via e-mail, Mr. Peltomaki speaks about the main plans of the European Commission in 2016 in the field of entrepreneurship, programmes of support to Serbian entrepreneurs, youth entrepreneurship and the importance of education for entrepreneurship today.
- This year we are devoting special efforts to reaching specific target groups, such as women, who are not exploiting their full entrepreneurial potential. For example, we are creating a European platform that will support women who want to start, run and grow a business. This on-line platform will offer training, mentoring, advice and business networking opportunities. We also want to increase their access to alternative sources of funding by creating a network of Women Business Angels.
The Commission also addresses many other concerns raised by European SMEs and start-ups, including a second chance for honestly failed entrepreneurs. The Single Market Strategy adopted in October 2015 addresses business insolvency and proposes to create a European Network for Early Warning and for Support to Enterprises and Second Starters which would help businesses in distress to either avert bankruptcy or mitigate the effects of a business failure.
The Commission will also launch a public consultation to identify other policy measures to improve the environment for starting up and scaling up a company in Europe – says Mr. Peltomaki.
- Most actions under the responsibility of the Commission have been launched and are progressing well. Substantial progress has been made for instance in areas such as entrepreneurial culture, digital entrepreneurship and female entrepreneurship.
A wide variety of actions for entrepreneurship are being put in place by EU Member States. Some of them are also adopting national action plans in the area. Cooperation between European countries, for instance through peer-learning activities and exchanges involving public administrations, has the potential to help further in setting up new national strategies for entrepreneurship, or in improving existing ones. A good example of transnational cooperation is the South East European Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (SEECEL). This Centre – supported by the European Commission – assists eight countries of the Balkan region, including Serbia, in developing their activities to improve entrepreneurship education and female entrepreneurship.
- There are several opportunities for enterprises to benefit from EU support in the pre-accession process. The most important one is the COSME Programme which with a budget of 2,3 billion Euros supports the creation and scaling-up of competitive European SMEs. Serbia joined the programme in 2016, opening the possibility for enterprises from your country to benefit from COSME financial instruments: the Loan Guarantee Facility and the Equity Facility for Growth. Financial institutions in Serbia will now be able to create new products for financing all types of SMEs that have had difficulties in obtaining finance.
Besides this, entrepreneurs will also have access to "Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs" which is a cross-border programme facilitating the exchange of entrepreneurial and management experience. A newly established or potential entrepreneur gets the chance to stay with a well-experienced entrepreneur running a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) in another country.
- Another concrete offer to enterprises in Serbia is the Enterprise Europe Network. This network of 600 partners in more than 50 countries helps to build business partnerships – for export and import but also for cooperation on innovative ideas. The EEN has offices in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, at the local universities and at the Mihajlo Pupin Institute.
Finally, Serbia can also use other services available to all European SMEs and financed by EU programmes: the Helpdesk on Intellectual Property Rights in China, South-east Asia and Latin America, which will help a Serbian enterprise with IPR protection or enforcement in these countries, or an EU-Japan Centre in Tokyo which will assist a Serbian enterprise wanting to engage in Japan.
On 8 and 9 March in Belgrade, the European Commission will organize an EU Access to Finance day in cooperation with local authorities. This will be an occasion to increase awareness of COSME and other opportunities of EU funding made available to Serbia.
- Youth entrepreneurship can have an important impact on jobs and innovation of a country. Young entrepreneurs can be particularly good at spotting new opportunities. They can bring innovative models of work organisation and new perspectives on the market.
The Commission has a series of instruments to help young entrepreneurs, ranging from education and training, access to finance and mentoring at the early stages to policy-learning so as to spread good practices within public authorities.
The Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan focuses on entrepreneurship education at school and university: EU programmes such as COSME and Erasmus+ support the implementation of specific actions. The most interesting EU opportunity that can be used directly by entrepreneurs is the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs that supports exchanges with experienced entrepreneurs in another country. A contact point for 'Erasmus for entrepreneurs' in Serbia is at the University of Novi Sad.
Finally, I would also like to mention the annual European Social Innovation Competition. With this initiative we reward young innovators for ground-breaking ideas that address social needs.
- Policy makers and education leaders increasingly recognize the benefits that higher levels of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills can bring to the economy, and also to society at large.
We know that investing in entrepreneurship education is a high-return investment. The start-up rate among students who have run a mini-company in secondary schools is up to three times as high as among the population in general. Their start-ups also tend to be more innovative, to have a larger turnover and to employ more people.
The best way to include entrepreneurship in school curricula is to have the development of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills as a goal embedded horizontally through all disciplines, in a cross-curricular fashion. In parallel, entrepreneurship could also be available as a specific subject - focusing more specifically on self-employment and on business start-up - to all students who are interested in getting more information on the issue. Combining the two approaches may be the most efficient way: this is for instance the solution that was adopted by the Danish and the Norwegian national strategies for entrepreneurship education.
In such a context, mini-companies run by students can be a very effective way to enhance the entrepreneurial attitudes and skills of young people, through practical and personal experience. These programmes, offered in Serbia by “Junior Achievement”, have been recognised as a best practice at European level.
- Young people are often enthusiastic about starting businesses, and they are increasingly interested in socially responsible business. Promoting youth entrepreneurship with the aim of encouraging the growth of social enterprises can be therefore a key element to tackle unemployment. For instance the cooperative model can be an interesting option for young people, as it has low capital requirements, limited liability, and in cases where members are also employees, the flexibility of self-employment. Through their distinctive focus on values, cooperatives have proven a resilient and viable business model that can prosper even during difficult times.
Other interesting areas to mention are the digital technologies and the new business models. The Commission sees great potential in these areas and launched a pan-European Commission awareness campaign WATIFY “What If I …?” which focuses on providing inspiring examples and targeted support and practical advice to entrepreneurs and traditional businesses, as they engage in digital transformation. The final objective was to foster digital entrepreneurship in Europe, inspire young people and push them towards concrete action to create their digital start-up, or digitally transform their business – concludes Ms. Antti Peltomaki in an interview with “eKapija”.