While small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are vital to Europe’s economic growth by providing jobs and driving innovation, they require a business-friendly environment to flourish. This year’s European Enterprise Awards recognised the hard work of many public administrations, at the local and regional level, which have provided support to small businesses through effective projects aimed at promoting excellence in entrepreneurship.
The European Enterprise Awards, which aim to stimulate the exchange of good practice in promoting entrepreneurship and SMEs, were held on 24 May in Budapest, Hungary. As usual, the competition was open to national, regional or local authorities as well as public-private partnerships between public authorities and entrepreneurs, educational programmes and business organisations.
"Business is the key for job creation,” said European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani at the award ceremony. “Public authorities can do a lot to improve the business conditions for SMEs. We need to multiply these concrete success stories and make Europe more business-oriented and business-friendly, as set out in the Small Business Act."
Six prizes were up for grabs: Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit, Investing in Skills, Improving the Business Environment, Supporting the Internationalisation of Business, Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, and the Jury’s Grand Prize, awarded to the entry considered the most creative and inspiring.
This year, the Grand Jury Prize went to Barcelona Activa, the entrepreneurship centre of the Barcelona Council. The Centre was selected for its innovative entrepreneurial support and training actions which have led to the creation of 6 214 new businesses and 11 800 jobs. As a result, it has become a reference point for the city's entrepreneurs. Using an innovative model of both online and on-site services, the centre has coached more than 134 000 individuals. Every year, it organises a large array of events and summer camps for entrepreneurs, attracting over 222 000 participants.
The Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit award went to Düzce University in Turkey, which has turned the discovery of a unique bee species into an opportunity to help the local economy by training disadvantaged groups in bee-keeping; while the Investment in Skills prize went to the Centre for Amsterdam Schools for Entrepreneurship for its entrepreneurship education in all faculties and at all levels of study.
The E-factory in Uppsala, Sweden, a rural entrepreneurship project based on a public-private partnership, won the Improving the Business Environment category for its creative solutions to creating jobs and companies in rural Uppsala County; and the Internationalisation of Business prize went to the Rethinking the Product initiative from the Prato Chamber of Commerce in Italy. This initiative encourages product experimentation and helps companies find new uses and markets for their products.
Finally, the Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship prize went to Hotel Panda, in Budapest, which uses a unique training and employment model to integrate disabled people into the business world. With 95% of its staff disabled, the hotel has doubled its profits, proving that it is possible to combine successfully social goals with a profitable business performance.
The European Enterprise Awards have been organised by the European Commission since 2006. Every year, more than 300 initiatives take part in the national rounds of the competition, before a high-level European jury selects the best entries.
For those that make it through, the recognition can be life-changing. For example, the winner of the Jury’s Grand Prize in 2007, Lan Ekintza-Bilbao, has seen its successful urban regeneration initiative replicated across other cities in the Basque Autonomous Community and elsewhere in Spain. The award-winning initiative helps prevent city decay by providing financial support to start-ups to help them relocate to the old heart of the city. The survival rate of businesses linked to the project is an impressive 90%.
Likewise, last year’s Jury’s Grand Prize winner is already noticing the effects. The Agence Regionale de Developpement des Territoires d’Auvergne in France picked up the award for its Entrepreneurs’ Residencies, which provide short- and long-term support measures for business creators willing to settle in the region.
“After winning the EEA, we were featured on national French television to explain how our short- and long-term support initiatives bring entrepreneurs from outside the region to settle in our region,” explained Henri Talamy from Entrepreneurs’ Residencies. “This generated strong interest in our project, at one point reaching 250 phone calls per day. Since 2010, the number of projects we support has increased by 30%, and we are currently looking to extend our initiative to the Massif Central region.”
The ongoing success of the European Enterprise Awards is yet more proof that SMEs are increasingly at the heart of European policy-making.
The European Enterprise Awards underline the importance the European Commission places on promoting SMEs and entrepreneurship. They are part of an overall European strategy, tied together by the Small Business Act (SBA) of 2008, which aims to ensure that European SMEs have appropriate access to finance and markets and can thrive in a regulatory environment conducive to growth. The awards also highlight the fact that SME interests are increasingly being taken into account in law and policy-making at the EU, national, regional and local levels through the application of the 'Think Small First' principle, and that schemes to encourage excellence in enterprise and entrepreneurship are out there.
The implementation of the SBA has certainly contributed to strengthening a business-friendly environment in the EU. For example, it is easier to start up a company, while initiatives such as the European SME Week, the EU network of female entrepreneur ambassadors and the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme have helped to open doors for numerous enterprising citizens.
However, while progress has been made, this implementation has tended to vary between Member States. The recent Review of the SBA identified new challenges to tackle and stressed that all Member States must now step up their efforts to support SMEs in what is still a challenging economic climate.
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry