What are the enabling factors that encourage people to become entrepreneurs? What are the skills required to transform an idea into a project and develop a commercially viable enterprise model? What are the successes, failures and life stories of people who start a business? We are working to package and transfer some of these entrepreneurial lessons, mindset and attitude to young people across Europe.
The first international meeting of EYE, Enabling Youth Entrepreneurship Support Group Project, was hosted in Amsterdam by Team Academy Netherlands, an accredited leadership and entrepreneurship academy. EYE is a 24 months Erasmus Plus project to uncover the potential of young entrepreneurs across Europe, led by The Alternative University with the support of Team Academy, BSC Bitola, a business incubator in Bitola (Macedonia) and Impact Hub Siracusa, a centre for social innovation and entrepreneurship in Sicily (Italy) – The 4 international partners spent a full week during March 2015 to compare approaches, investigate and visualise the personal and professional experiences of different entrepreneurs.
The week started with a presentation from each organisation involved into the project, sharing activities, experiences and challenges encountered at local level across the different countries. The common goal was to rethink Incubation processes for Young Entrepreneurs, from initial engagement strategies to professional support services. On the first day we visited the initiatives within B. Building Business, a vibrant coworking space and business community, home of Team Academy, programmes such as Startup Bootcamp and many other innovative businesses. During the following days we had the opportunity to analyse research findings, work on shared values and project vision, define rules for cross-cultural communication and imagine future scenarios. We understood the importance of investing on entrepreneurs and teams of people, not just ideas or enterprise models. We realised the basic difference between accelerating business models and incubating entrepreneurial ideas, focusing on people and their personal journeys. We tried to spot the right balance between soft and hard skills, but also the supporting conditions that allow ideas and entrepreneurs to blossom into real ventures.
The most insightful day was on Thursday 19th March, when we organised the event “Y Incubate”, a workshop with external guests, entrepreneurs with different levels of experience and academics researching into the topic of youth entrepreneurship. The day followed the structure of a hackathon, with an introduction to the project and presentation of participants, team exercises and final discussion facilitated by Team Academy. During the morning work session, participants worked in pairs interviewing each others and visualising the key stages and milestones of their entrepreneurial life journey, discussing triggers and motivations that gave a start to their project. After an informal networking lunch the workshop continued with a second team activity aimed to identify the core skills, transferable competencies, mindset and attitudes that each entrepreneur had before and after starting a business. It was important to talk about this transition as most of the personal and professional development experiences passed through failure, traumatic events, unforeseen encounters or difficult life choices.
Peaking on these “turning points” or “realisation moments” we started brainstorming ideas that range from a crisis simulator to a failure stress test, a deck of unpredictable-change cards or even an augmented reality app that allows you to spot opportunities that other people don’t see. All these are early stage ideas but we are looking forward to prototyping and testing most of these concepts during the first months of the project, alongside our research activities. “Fail earlier, succeed sooner” some fellow entrepreneur would tell us. Talking about the intellectual output of the project, the tangible result that will take shape in the next months of research and experiments, we imagine many different possibilities: a digital product such a web app or a video game, a deck of cards or board game, a series of video tutorials or an app with augmented reality, a peer-recruiting or peer-mentoring kit, an event format to boost entrepreneurship or a journey planner to map your personal progression. Maybe a toolkit that include most of these features and activities. We want to reach out to that group of youth who are unaware or lack confidence to start a new project, widening the funnel of existing incubation and acceleration programmes, increasing the number of young entrepreneurs across Europe.
We are now back to our countries, reflecting on what we learnt, carrying on our research and visualising the results. Amsterdam was a full immersion into a mature ecosystem, ready to lead the entrepreneurial and startup scene for other European countries. Next time will meet at the end of August at Impact Hub Siracusa, in the heart of Mediterranean countries to verify our first prototypes and generate new ideas to spread entrepreneurship among young people. We look forward to get inspired and inspire others!