This OECD and CoR's lunch-time webinar emphasised that developing entrepreneurial societies is a key factor to build long-term resilience across EU regions. Multiple aspects for action and consideration at local, regional and European level were explored to that end.
The webinar began with the keynote speech by Professor Mark Sanders, coordinator of the Horizon2020 FIRES project. He presented the main elements of this project (2015-2018) which aimed to strengthen entrepreneurial societies across the EU as the solution to create a more inclusive, innovative and sustainable growth (explanatory video here). Mr Sanders highlighted that FIRES' reform proposals in the realms of finance, labour and knowledge are still very valid today with the COVID-19 pandemic having reinforced the need for resilient regional entrepreneurial ecosystems. The project made available its reform proposals (here) and also suggested analytical tools to assess the different local situations and provided specific reform strategies for Germany, Italy and the UK (here). According to Mr Sanders, institutions play an essential role in entrepreneurial economies, with contestability being one of those crucial principles that should be promoted by regional economic policies.
The webinar continued with the reactions of the invited speakers from both the CoR and OECD.
Mr Eddy van Hijum (NL/EPP), rapporteur of the CoR opinion on the EU SME Strategy, pointed out the need to foster entrepreneurship not only in high-tech start-ups and scale-ups but also on traditional and family-owned SMEs which represents the backbone of regional economies. He also stressed that SMEs are not stand-alone organisations but part of regional ecosystems and that the key for resilience comes from strengthening the networks with these partners at local and regional level (e.g. universities, regional research institutions, governments, etc.). In line with the SME strategy opinion, he stated three main pillars for recovery: (1) think small and act regional, (2) policies need to be place-based taking into account regional differences and (3) need to channel national and EU support to reinforce these regional and local networks.
Dr Jonathan Potter from the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, emphasised that regional policy should act as the deal maker in strengthening regional networks, which requires targeting a wide range of actors and coordinating multiple strands of action. Three main policy priorities were highlighted: (1) need to address problems on equity funding, (2) fostering entrepreneurial attitudes and capabilities within regions, (3) developing anchor organisations for knowledge transfer, skills development and entrepreneurship incubation. Besides, Mr Potter referred to the Schumpeterian concept of “creative destruction" to express that, in his opinion, a successful post-Covid entrepreneurial policy should especially favour companies that are more productive and innovative (e.g. start-ups and scale-ups) and that support the green, digital and social transition.
In a discussion that followed, speakers answered to questions posed by the moderator and the webinar participants. Speakers agreed that, even though the pace of entrepreneurial convergence between lesser and more developed regions tends to stagnate, effective support measures and tools that build resilience need be addressed to all SMEs.
The workshop was concluded by the Chair of the CoR ECON commission, Mr Michael Murphy (IE/EPP), who reiterated that COVID-19 has only accentuated the need for entrepreneurial societies. He called for the need for a common agenda to strengthening regional ecosystems across the EU, reminding that LRAs are a crucial organic element of these ecosystems and that cross-border and cross-regional collaboration also stand as key factors in the process. Lastly, he reported on the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) initiative, an excellent example of a project that rewards EU regions which show an outstanding and innovative entrepreneurial policy strategy.