Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Web entrepreneurs are the future drivers for growth and jobs

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--- Lars-Henrik Myrmel-Johansen, Director General, Ministry of Government Administration, Norway, session moderator #dsm12.

The Danish Presidency of the European Union is hosting a High Level Conference on the Digital Single Market in Copenhagen, 27-28 February 2012. I am moderating a session, which will focus on how to turn online start-ups into global players and how to strengthening the environment for web entrepreneurs in Europe.

 Web entrepreneurs play an important role in boosting the digital economy. Web entrepreneurs will not only contribute with innovative content and services for you and me. They are essential to the actual creation of growth and jobs, which is on everybody’s minds these days.Thus, some of the key issues which we are to discuss and – hopefully – supply answers for are:

1)       Which barriers do today hinder web entrepreneurs from flourishing all over Europe?

2)       What are the major conditions for doing cross-border business on the internet?

3)       How do we best address the barriers for web entrepreneurs in Europe?

4)       What concrete actions do we need to take to set the best framework conditions for them to start up new business ideas and bring these to a wide European market?

5)       What could be done to counter some of the challenges in regard to financing?

To get into the important theme, we have gathered a panel of distinguished and knowledgeable European experts, which among others include: Mr. Alex Farcet, founder of Startup Bootcamp and partner at startup weekend; Mr. Bas Kotterink, Senior Consultant ICT Policy, TNO; Ms. Ann Mettler, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Lisbon Council; and Mr. Viorel Peca, Head of Unit, Networked Media Systems, Directorate-General Information Society and Media.

You can follow the discussions on twitter at #dsm12 and #da12proc. For the full programme, please visit the conference website I hope you will contribute to the discussion by commenting below or vote on the contributions of others. The contributions receiving the most votes will be presented and discussed in Copenhagen.

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Hello Lars and all, I was directed onto this post to share a point that I had been making in a different context. Hopefully it can have some relevance for you too. This: the experience of radical innovator (many of whom operate on and from the web as a natural hotbed of new things) is overwhelmingly one of solitude. I have recently been told that a standing (bitter) joke in the English-speaking social innovation circuit is this: want to get capital for your world-changing idea? Don't waste time on banks, venture capitalists, government agencies: they will either not understand, not care about the problem you are trying to solve or not be willing to take the risk. The only people that will give you money are the "three Fs": family, friends and fools. They trust you personally, so they don't need to get your idea to stand for it. My personal and professional experience is that very many young people in Europe badly want to solve the world's problems by radical innovation. They are willing to make personal sacrifices, be poor, sleep on friend's couches and borrow money from their parents. If this is true, innovation policy need only be an enabler. And since a priori assessment of radical ideas is difficult by definition (judging the future in terms of the past reminds me of Dick Rowe, the Decca Records executive who passed on the Beatles in 1962), I wonder if it would not be better not to even try to assess. Basic income, it seems to me, would be an incredibly effective innovation policy: just make sure  young people won't starve or sleep rough, and given access to education and the Internet a significant minority will try out wildly radical stuff. Most of that stuff will fail, but failure at this level is so cheap that we can ignore it, and the winners will win big and bring about big changes. Actually, the social cost of basic income is zero (nobody starves in Europe): it is just a measure of redistribution. I made this point in more detail here.
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There are many potential actions that could be done to foster web enterpreneurship in Europe. Young Advisers of Vice President Neelie Kroes discussed this topic last 8th Feb and came up with several ideas. The clue seemed to be to provide support, contacts and visibility more than just money. Also they discussed how to include them in EU projects: maybe we should stop thinking of them as time-limited “projects” at all, but rather as the seeds of potentially viable business ideas. See the post on that at: http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/neelie-kroes/young-advisers-2012/
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I'm not a huge fan of basic income as it has a strong distortionary effect on incentives. If banks, venture capitalists, government agencies do not provide funding, then the institutions should do it. I would suggest a kind of microcredit: most of the startups do not really need a huge amount of money, but a rather small some which can be corresponded to a lot of "dreamers" in order to neutralize the risk of failure
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Much aligned with what have been said so far: I think the EU could try to apply to itself some of the ideas around "positive deviance" that Barbara Waugh described in her book "The Soul in the Computer". Something like: "We, the EU, are not in charge of anything. Our role is to create mirrors that show the whole what the parts are doing. Aim to seek, support and amplify 'positive deviants'. Operationally, Positive Deviance is an exquisitely simple idea: Look for unusual behavior that is working and that a community wants more of, and give it sufficient visibility to foster replication."
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You should check the coming TedXRamblas in Barcelona, March 3rd: TEDxRaval speakers are leaders of technology and innovation, including: Eduardo Fernandez, VP at RIM (BlackBerry). #TEDxRaval. That will be the opportunity to meet web entrepreneurs illustrating this innovation and growth trend!
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