You have a brilliant business idea but you’re not sure how to bring it to life? You are a newly established entrepreneur and need a helping hand? Or perhaps you are already running your own company successfully but would like to expand and would benefit from some fresh ideas? Then you need look no further than the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme, a mobility initiative financed by the European Union.
Since 2009, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs enables new entrepreneurs – be they ‘would-be’ entrepreneurs armed with a credible business plan or entrepreneurs who started their own business in the last three years – to gain valuable skills and experience. Whether they wish to create a new venture, or expand an existing one to international markets, the programme allows them to spend time with experienced Host Entrepreneurs in another Member State and learn first-hand how to manage a small or medium-sized business (SME). The programme's specific objectives are to promote on-the-job-training, exchanges of experience and information between partners, and to enhance market access, identification of potential partners and networking.
To date, the mobility initiative has facilitated over one thousand cross-border exchanges and currently there are about 5,000 entrepreneurs registered in the programme’s database. According to European Commission figures, the majority of applicants are from Spain and Italy, where people are forced to start their own business or seek work in another country due to high unemployment – known as necessity entrepreneurship. Coming out tops in the popularity stakes for aspiring entrepreneurs is the UK, followed by Spain and Germany. A variety of sectors are benefiting from the exchanges, the advertising and promotion services account for 14%, followed by ICT (9%), tourism (9%) and legal, fiscal and consultancy services (8%).
New Entrepreneur Alex Zylberberg, who has Italian and British citizenship, and Finnish Host Entrepreneur Kalle Korhonen speak to Enteprise & Industry magazine about their win-win collaboration.
Can you explain your main motivation for participating in the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs Programme?
Alex Zylberberg: There were mainly two things: Firstly, my business www.MultilingualStuff.com is international by nature, and so it seemed like a good idea to get some experience in another country. Secondly, I wanted to find a host company that would be the kind of company that my ideal client would be like, to learn from the inside how it works. This ideal company for me was www.jeven.com.
Kalle Korhonen: Jeven has been a host company for many young entrepreneurs and we have had good results with all of them. When the opportunity to host Alex – a very intelligent and multilingual young man, who had already started his own business – arose, I wanted to test the possibilities for this new experience.
What skills did you develop during your stay at the host's company?
AZ: I already had budgeting and management skills, as I had worked as a project manager for several years before quitting in order to start my own business. The main skills that I developed had to do with understanding how manufacturing companies sell their products in other countries. I am an engineer and work in international business development, so the technical part is very easy for me, but during my stay at Jeven I also learned how technology is marketed to different kinds of people and also in different countries.
What did you and your SME gain from the exchange?
AZ: I probably should leave Kalle to answer this question, but I would say that his company Jeven benefited from the skills, knowledge and energy that I brought on board. I have also been on TV and in the press in different countries, and spoken about the experience at numerous universities abroad, all of which has served to increase the visibility of Kalle’s company. Added to this is the expansion of the business to several new countries.
KK: Alex very quickly brought his international problem-solving style to our Finnish business culture. His energy and ‘light’ was amazing when he started projects and his knowledge of using the Internet and social media gave Jeven a stronger presence on the Web, as well as in local and international media.
What has the outcome of this cross-border collaboration been?
AK: We have TurboSwing, which is the world's newest and most advanced kitchen ventilation technology. Kalle and I are now working in partnership to take TurboSwing to the whole world. We started with Spain, Belgium and China. China was bit harder because I had to learn Chinese, but everything is going great in these three countries and now we have plans for many new countries. This technology is the best ever, and we're working together to make sure that the world knows.
KK: Yes, we are now cooperating to market Jeven’s new products and services in several countries.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
AZ: If you feel that having a normal job is not for you, then don't be afraid. Think about this: What do you really have to lose anyway? A bit of money? A bit of time? A bit of security? A bit of sleep? What is that compared to the prospect of being able to realise your dreams? Just do it.
KK: Just take the opportunity and be proactive. You never know what business opportunities an exchange with a host could lead to until you try, and I am convinced that the experience of working in a foreign culture is always worthwhile.
What would be your advice for the host entrepreneurs?
AZ: Don't forget that the person you're bringing on board is courageously taking a risk and is also hungry for success. Young entrepreneurs will put their life into whatever they do and take ownership and responsibility. You should take advantage of their energy and talents. You should also be aware that they need to be mentored and taught basic things, but that they also need to be given the freedom to be their entrepreneurial self.
KK: Seeing how people from other cultures work is a real eye-opener and it can help you to export your products and services abroad, so as I said before, be proactive and grab the opportunity.
Please describe the development of your company after the exchange.
AZ: Initially, I acquired new clients in my ex host's country and so my business expanded. But the most exciting part is that now I'm also working in partnership with my ex host to bring this state-of-the-art kitchen ventilation technology to the world.
KK: Jeven is more international now and as he has mentioned, we are still cooperating to open new channels in several countries for our product and services.
Considering how positive this experience has proven to be, will you consider becoming a host entrepreneur (for AZ) and hosting another exchange in the future (for KK)?
AZ: Of course!
KK: Absolutely, it is only a matter of time. When there is a suitable exchange from a suitable country, I won’t hesitate to host again.
Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs forms part of the EU's Small Business Act (SBA), which reflects the European Commission’s recognition that SMEs are the driving force of economic growth in the EU, and which sets out to create the best conditions for SMEs to grow, innovate and create jobs.
In addition to contributing to the goals of the SBA, the programme also promotes many of the priorities of the Europe 2020 strategy, including those on mobility and entrepreneurship, as well as complementing some other flagship initiatives laid out in the strategy, from Youth on the Move, to Agenda for New Skills and Jobs, and the Innovation Union.
How to become a New Entrepreneur
How to become a Host Entrepreneur
If you have been running your own company for several years and are willing to share your expertise with a New Entrepreneur, you will only have to invest your time.