This week, I am heading to Berlin to take part in the Startup Europe Summit.
I spent time with several tech startups recently in Rome and Paris, and am always impressed by their dynamism, imagination and drive to succeed. So it will be good to go now to Berlin, one of the EU's major startup capitals, to meet founders from all over Europe.
Starting a new company with a new idea is one thing. Trying to make it grow in a competitive marketplace is another. Of course, this is never easy. As with every company, it's about taking a risk – and also about not being afraid to fail. Learning to deal with failure means that you learned to take a risk, and in fact learned how to innovate.
It will be small businesses and web startups that will create the ideas and jobs that we need for our economic growth. No industry, no SME, no government can maximise its performance and competitiveness without going digital.
The potential is huge. It's just that we could be doing more to make the most of it.
Look at the growing size of Europe's app economy. Its scale is astonishing. In 2013, there were more than 1.8 million jobs related to the app economy and that number is expected to rise to 4.8 million by 2018. Its current revenue is estimated at €17.5 billion and forecast to hit €63 billion by the same year.
That said, a large part of the EU's innovation potential remains untapped.
While Europe has seen some stunning success stories, too many startups fail to grow into industry leaders, enter the global marketplace and put their economic prosperity back into Europe.
Of the world's top 100 companies created since 1970, the overwhelming majority are digital enterprises but only two are European: SAP and Vodafone. Only half of European unicorns have reached a sale or an IPO, compared with two-thirds in the United States – which suggests that Europe has a more challenging environment for technology investment.
Startups find it difficult to recruit the right talent and then retain it, and to gain access to financing at different stages of their growth. The market for capital and talent is very fragmented, as are the regulatory regimes. This makes it hard to set up a company in a different EU country, with people coming from different countries, or from beyond the EU.
Then there is the evident problem of scaling-up, especially across borders, and improving access to a larger customer base. Poor access to partnerships and funding leads many European startups to look for growth in other markets like the United States and Asia.
Apart from innovating better and faster, I think that startups could be given an easier beginning and helped more to bridge the gap from lab to market.
For this we have the Startup Europe programme, which focuses on connecting people and facilitating networking – because in order to grow, startups first need to be in the right networks.
It looks at the resources that entrepreneurs need like venture capital and accelerators, and aims to strengthen the business environment for web and ICT entrepreneurs so their ideas and business can start and grow in the EU.
At this week's Berlin summit, we are launching a series of EU-funded projects under the programme. They will connect startup communities, promote business skills, facilitate collaboration, encourage female entrepreneurship and help to counteract the idea that business failure is a negative thing.
It is important that we continue to promote startups and inspire entrepreneurs. So the EU will carry on with its many programmes and initiatives to build on what has been achieved so far.
But I believe that we can still do more to make it easier for people to turn their idea into a company and then see if it takes off commercially.
So, more concretely, what can be done on a European basis?
We should help by cutting red tape for entrepreneurs and smaller companies when they are trying to innovate, with easier set-up, registration and cross-border business rules. We can look for more and better ways for startups to access appropriate financing, particularly from the private sector.
Turning this into practice, by concrete, quick and effective steps will be the trick. This is what I want to hear from participants at the Berlin Startup Europe summit. We need your ideas, now.
One idea might be to establish a new type of pan-European small tech company licence or statute. Anyone could set it up in under 24 hours, with unified requirements across all EU countries, possibly simplified business rules at least for its early days.
This would really help new businesses to be created and also make it easy for cross-border investment to flow from investors in one country to companies in another.
Within the #DigitalSingleMarket that we are planning to build, there should be a fully functional tech entrepreneurial space, to create an environment where more companies can reach scale easily.
This is part of the need for better regulation for the digital age – rules that are "fit for purpose" – to promote the start and scale-up of digital businesses.
For startups, the future is now – let's help our dynamic digital companies to make the best of Europe.
Blogging again soon.