Support and coaching for Central Europe's next generation of entrepreneurs

An EU-funded project has demonstrated how transnational cooperation can play a crucial role in helping businesses prosper and sustainable growth and jobs to proliferate across regions. By establishing the infrastructure to support such EU-wide cooperation between businesses in the Vienna region of Austria and several other regions across Central Europe, this project has enabled start-ups and entrepreneurs to more easily identify new technologies and emerging markets, and encouraged ongoing business coaching and training.

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Austria, Vienna © European Commission Austria, Vienna © European Commission

" The challenge now is to be able to extend the ‘nurture’ atmosphere provided to SMART entrepreneurs during the SMART Campus Training week into a permanent and transnational supporting ecosystem. In the future this should extend to secondary school students, where the entrepreneurial culture starts to be developed, as well as to the labour market. "

Stuart Simpson, European Office, Vienna Board Of Education

The creation of a European entrepreneurial ecosystem that can help fast growing, high potential entrepreneurs become global companies is a top priority. In order to achieve this, the I.E.SMART project established a permanent inter-regional SMART Network to link seven EU regions. 

Start-ups in these seven SMART Points have received coaching and training from specially appointed entrepreneurs, focusing on three economic sectors bursting with potential and which have proved to be economically resilient: creative industries, the Green Economy and ICT. 

Smarter networks

Over the course of the project 47 regional staff members were trained during two five-day SMART Trainers’ Trainings led by an international team of trainers. In a ‘snowball effect’, these trainers went on to train over 185 further SMART Trainers in their countries. In total, some 630 young entrepreneurs were able to receive world-class coaching.

Partners and experts from several countries were also involved in mentoring and providing advice on how to make the most of new funding mechanisms such as venture capital. A highlight of this aspect of the project was the SMART Campus Training week. Based on a SMART Competition, 44 finalist took part the five-day event, which ended with a pitching session in the Old Market Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia in front of an international jury of experts and investors.

A generation of entrepreneurs

At the same time, the project has helped to highlight some of the key challenges that European entrepreneurs face, and which need to be addressed in the future.  For example, the project found that entrepreneurship support must be continuous and not sporadic, in order to effectively turn ideas into projects and projects into viable endeavours. 

Other challenges found in the partner regions include a lack of interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, a low survival rate of business start-ups, high youth unemployment, demographic and socio-economic brain drain and social issues involving equal opportunities and non-discrimination. Since the 2009 economic crisis, Central Europe has suffered from high youth employment and a lack of growth in small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

SMART has sought to turn these negatives into a positive, by providing the support for young people to create their own jobs and become Europe’s next generation of entrepreneurs. After all, in order to remain competitive in a globalised economy, EU countries need to enhance the excellence of home grown research and our capacity to innovate in order to meet the demand of high-growth global markets.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Smart training network for innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging sustainable economic sectors” is EUR 2 004 670, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 1 561 391 through the “Central Europe” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

Draft date

28/11/2016