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Promoting and supporting entrepreneurship
Hundreds of events are being organised in 37 countries for the European SME Week 2010, which will mainly take place between 25 May and 1 June, but will run throughout May and June. This initiative will showcase the support available to business at the European, national, regional and local level. Under the slogan 'Training business champions', it will also provide inspiration and practical help for the existing and future generations of entrepreneurs.
All 27 EU Member States are taking part in the European SME Week 2010, along with Albania, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.
The European Commission is coordinating activities with a great deal of help 'on the ground' coming from business organisations, as well as national, regional and local authorities.
Activities will get underway at a launch event in Brussels, Belgium, where the winners of the European Entrepreneurship Video Award 2010 will be announced. The competition was open to film-makers who were asked to provide a short video exploring the nature of entrepreneurship and ways to encourage more people to start up their own businesses.
Small business, big results
First held in 2009, European SME Week is now central to the European Commission's actions to support small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly through the EU's Small Business Act (SBA). Adopted in 2008, the Act calls on the Union and its Member States to develop an environment "within which entrepreneurs and family businesses can thrive and entrepreneurship is rewarded".
SMEs are the primary engines of growth and wealth creation in Europe: more than 99% of all European businesses are classed as SMEs, and they provide two-thirds of all private-sector jobs. The SBA recognises their key role in the EU economy and puts a policy framework in place which aims to support and nurture their growth. The objective is to 'Think Small First' in all areas of policy-making which affect SMEs.
Events for 2010 have been organised to help SMEs and micro-firms share experiences and develop their businesses. Fairs, conferences and workshops, among other things, will provide information on European, national and local authority support programmes that are designed to help growing SMEs and those planning to start a business.
There is also a special focus on promoting entrepreneurship as a career option, especially for younger people. Some countries will run company open days, which will provide an insight into the challenges and rewards of running a business.
In addition, the European SME Week will be an opportunity to recognise the work of entrepreneurs and SMEs and the contribution they make to Europe's economic competitiveness, along with their pivotal roles in generating jobs and building innovative capacity.
Road to recovery
The week will close in Madrid, Spain, with a high-level conference on 31 May-1 June entitled 'Getting SMEs on the road to recovery'. The conference will address the difficulties faced by businesses during the recent recession while showcasing good practice generated through the implementation of the SBA.
It will also announce the winners of this year's European Enterprise Awards, which seek to identify and reward excellence among local authorities that promote entrepreneurship and small businesses.
The European Commission has revamped its website to promote European SME Week. As well as being packed with the latest information on events around Europe, the website provides interactive tools, such as a twitter sub-site, which will allow event organisers and participants to report on the week's activities.
The website will also enable event organisers to register on-line through an easy-to-use registration form.
Success in 2009
The forthcoming edition of the European SME Week has a strong foundation to build upon, following last year's success. In 2009, more than 1 200 national, regional and local events were held across Europe.
Seminars, workshops and information days tackled diverse issues, such as the benefits and challenges of EU enlargement, how to encourage female entrepreneurship and the role of European SMEs in the global market place. Mentoring for young apprentices and the availability of aid to smaller businesses were also high on the agenda.
An educational competition in entrepreneurship took place in Tours, France, while Torun in Poland held a competition for regional leaders of innovation. Belgium hosted discussions about the portrayal of entrepreneurship on television and explored ways in which TV can help to promote business.
EU-supported programmes were also on show during SME Week 2009. For example, Udine, Italy, held a workshop on Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, a European exchange programme that aims to help new entrepreneurs acquire, at any age, the skills they need to manage an SME.
Meanwhile, Maastricht in the Netherlands hosted a conference that examined how SMEs can make best use of the EU's large-scale funding tools.
As part of the European SME Week 2010, the Commission is producing the 2010 edition of 'The secret of success' brochure, which showcases some of the many faces of European entrepreneurship in the form of the work, achievements and business visions of 36 inspirational European entrepreneurs.
Those featured have battled the odds to establish thriving businesses across a range of sectors. Some have solved problems in an unorthodox way, while others have developed products and services that harness special design features, or that have a strong social, ethical or environmental dimension.
The stories have been selected to inspire budding entrepreneurs to have a go and start their own businesses. All 36 entrepreneurs have been invited to the opening of the European SME week in Brussels on 25 May.
Among these, Kath Sutherland from the UK has developed training and consultancy services that help disabled people to start their own businesses. Sutherland, who is herself disabled, set up her company, START (Ability), in 1999. She provides one-to-one support to individuals who need intensive assistance to realise their goals and offers tailored equality training to a range of organisations.
One of Sutherland's major successes has been to develop a resource guide to help disabled people through the intricacies of becoming self-employed. Developed in collaboration with disabled advocacy groups, the guide provides practical information in an easy-to-read style that has enabled many people with learning difficulties to consider becoming entrepreneurs. The guide builds on one of Sutherland's core skills, which is her ability to adapt key business documents into plain language.
Miguel Pina is the 25-year-old president of Science4You, a Portuguese company that specialises in making scientific toys for kids. The company also runs workshops and designs programmes for science museums, all with the aim of getting children interested in science.
The Lisbon-based venture started out as a collaboration between business students and is still dominated by young people - all nine employees are under 30 years of age. The company's products are now being sold all over Portugal through a number of large, well-known chains and via smaller retail outlets. Expansion into Spain and Brazil is the next step for this dynamic company.
Science4You has only been going for two years, but it has already developed a solid business model thanks to a combination of commercial acumen and a creative sense of fun. The brochure will be downloadable from the European SME Week website from 25 May onwards.
The text only of the articles can be republished as long as the source of the article is quoted: Enterprise & Industry magazine (http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/magazine/index_en.htm), © European Union, 2008 - 2012