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Six recommendations for future-proofing European innovation eco-systems

Stimulating entrepreneurship and generating tech scale-ups could be a team sport in the EU. Regrettably, many of the Union’s countries, regions and municipalities seem determined to reinvent the wheel repeatedly. So says Robin Wauters, a European technology journalist and founding editor of web-media Tech.eu and Neil S. W. Murray who founded The Nordic Web, a resource for data and analysis on the Nordic technology scene.

During the annual Tech Festival in Copenhagen on September 5th, Murray and Wauters had invited a highly diverse group of innovation eco-system stakeholders to discuss best practices, initiatives and policies. The innovation district Copenhagen Science City listened and contributed, and here are the findings of the workshop The European Tech Summit.

1. Invite all three strands of the triple helix into the boardroom

An ideal innovation eco-system should stimulate collaboration between university researchers, who can invent and discover, industry, which can develop and market new products, and governments, which regulates and, at times, provides funding for, both.
Adding the perspective of investors, venture capital as well as corporate, should ensure that major decisions, such as for infrastructure in the eco-system, are beneficial to all stakeholders.

Consensus of the workshop: Innovation eco-systems, which are capable of creating triple helix-based win-win-win situations, are likely to produce more companies that are more successful.

2. Present a coherent community voice. It should strengthen financial returns

An innovation eco-system needs a collective voice in order to affect political administrations. This voice should have the legitimacy to represent all actors from researcher/inventors over entrepreneurs, start-up companies, start-up communities and incubator, accelerator and mentor-programmes to pre-seed, angel, and corporate investors.

Consensus of the workshop: Apart from the immediate lobbyist advantages, the start-up community that unites these diverse views into one coherent voice is likely to attract companies with strong views on the needs of the community. These in turn are more likely to network and co-create thus creating a virtuous circle, which would advance all companies in the community.

3. Provide opportunities for trust and coincidence

Social media has changed the face of marketing, but closing the deal still requires that the customer trusts the salesperson or that the seller meets the client at the perfect moment.

Consensus of the workshop: Providing networking opportunities should increase the likelihood of serendipity, and a community providing more opportunities for luck to strike should ultimately stimulate more companies to be more successful.

4. Provide opportunities for altruism

Successful entrepreneurs often turn to philanthropy after they have taken their company public. There is, however, an increasing trend among entrepreneurs, especially serial entrepreneurs, for wanting to give back to their community sooner.
The obvious route for these is to become “angel investors”, but as many will testify, money is not always the answer.

Consensus of the workshop: Providing simple mechanisms for experienced entrepreneurs to become mentors, to loan out personnel, to become first customers or indeed to invest in start-ups could be seen by some as a desirable form of CSR, and could attract the more civically minded entrepreneurs.

5. Promote and facilitate diversity hiring. It could give start-up communities a competitive edge

Companies that fulfil diversity requirements on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability are twice as likely to file patents and to announce new products as companies, which are monocultures. Companies with above average ethnic and racial diversity boast financial returns 35 percent above the median for their country and industry. Gender diversity improves financial returns by 15 percent.
Presenting the right team is crucial for a start-up seeking investors. Research shows that diversity is a valuable asset to any given team.

Consensus of the workshop: Start-up communities that make it easier for the community’s companies to hire and keep a diverse workforce are likely to see a higher success rate for the companies in their communities.

6. Provide counselling for stress and other mental health issues. It could give start-up communities a competitive edge

In any given year, one in five adults will experience mental illness. On any given day, one in ten adults will experience debilitating stress symptoms. In any given year, 1,400 Danes die before their time as a direct result of work-related mental burdens such as stress.
Starting a business and working in a start-up is extraordinarily stressful. Nonetheless admitting mental health issues is taboo in entrepreneur circles. Perhaps because entrepreneurs are afraid to scare away investors.
Companies should have a higher chance of succeeding if they address mental health issues such as stress before they affect the performance of founders and staff.

Consensus of the workshop: Start-up communities that provide anonymous mental health counselling for entrepreneurs and their staff are likely to see a higher success rate for the companies in their communities.