Start up, Europe!



Europe needs creative and innovative startups for a successful future. To foster a European startup culture the ‘Startup Europe week’ is currently taking place. Across Europe mini-events are organized in more than 200 cities. This alone is already a reason for celebration. In addition there will be even another one this year on 13 December. It will be the 200th birthday of Werner von Siemens.

Werner von Siemens is still a role model – even for today’s founders of new businesses. His ingenuity, his entrepreneurial spirit and engineering expertise, his strong values and economic success are all characteristics which you would love to see as well in today’s generation of European founders. At the age of 30, on October 1, 1847 he established the “Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske” in a backyard of Berlin. His first product was a pointer telegraph, a technical revolution in his day. Ever since innovation has been the lifeblood of the organization he founded. His famous quote “Without mathematics one is left in the dark” sounds fully up to date in a world of big data and the corresponding analytics. Today the company employs nearly 350.000 people around the globe and generates – year after year –75 billion euros in revenue. And Siemens is at the forefront of digitisation and the fourth industrial revolution.

But Werner von Siemens was not the only founder in his day. Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz, Rudolf Diesel, August Thyssen, Carl Linde or Ferdinand Porsche, they all stand for the so-called Gründerzeit in the middle and at the end of the nineteenth century in Germany. Their family names became global brands. Today their companies, too, employ hundreds of thousands and generate billions of euros in revenue. They are one of the most essential reasons for prosperity in Germany and in the heart of Europe.

Five points to strengthen a European startup culture

For the future of the European Union it will be decisive to reawaken and to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit and the Gründergeist in Europe again. In the 2500-year history Europeans have demonstrated over and over again their potential for ingenuity, for their enquiring mind and exploratory spirit and for their ventures into the unknown.

Five points today are decisive.

1. The infrastructure

First, the European Union needs a cutting edge infrastructure. This means in particular a rapid and resolute expansion of adequate and powerful data networks and data centre across the whole European Union. This is the only way the digitisation and the fourth industrial revolution can be managed with equal participation of all citizens.

2. Financing

American universities and colleges received the record sum of 40 billion dollars in 2015. Front runner was the university of Stanford with 1.6 billion dollars alone, second was Harvard with one billion. Europe universities might need a new approach with regard to financing. It must become easier for wealthy Europeans to reinvest their assets into European universities and therefore into the future of their country. And this should become the new normal. Furthermore it also needs capable venture capital ecosystems across the European Union. Analyses have shown how important they are for innovation, growth and employment.

3. Education

The European Union needs globally competitive universities, in particular in the field of technology and science. There should be at least one in each member state, in the larger member states several. The content of education and the way of educating might need reforms in some member states. Entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurship should be taught in higher education. International project work and role playing games should be part of the education plan as well as digital learning or modern relaxation techniques. Writing of software codes, economic and legal basic knowledge should be taught already in school.

4. Attract talent from all over the world

Fourth people. The best initiatives do not work, if there are no people who are willing to take their entrepreneurial fate into their own hands. People who love to challenge the status quo, who want to invent, make things better and the world a better place. This is not only true for high tech startups. It is true as well for any kind of enterprise. Currently the European Union faces the enormous challenge of a civil war on its doorstep and a refugee crisis not seen since World War II. Both will pass by one day but Europe’s population demographics will stay and migration pressure will continue. An immigration law is preferable which would set common standards for immigration across the Union but is nevertheless flexible for member states to steer the size and nature of their own specific immigration. Football can serve as analogy. For almost all best players in the world it is self-evident to play in the major European leagues. The European Union should strive to achieve comparable for researchers, founders and creative talents from all over the world.

5. Culture and values

In general, if you do have the right culture and the right values, certain things will be done, others are excluded in advance. The freedom of press, pluralism and the rule of law are core values of the European Union. At the same time they are a prerequisite for entrepreneurial freedom. Those who do not respect them have no place in the Union. Furthermore a culture in which startups are promoted does not implement laws, which prevent them to be successful. In contrary laws, taxes, financing options and education will be designed to support them, not to impede their growth. A smart and intelligent administration supports the founders. Corruption is tackled effectively and punished severely. At finally a startup culture is expressed by the appreciation and the recognition its representatives do receive by politicians, during public honours or even more general in public opinion.

The ownership of 500 million EU citizens

These five elements are interdependent and determine each other. Without people who are willing to take their entrepreneurial fate into their own hands, there will be no renewal of a culture for startups and founders across Europe. And if entrepreneurs and founders did not receive cutting edge education, have difficulties to obtain venture capital, have to build their startups in a corrupt environment or do not get recognition, it is unnecessarily difficult for them. How much investment is needed for an innovative culture, has been published by the European Investment Bank just a few days ago. It is now up to the 500 million EU citizens to reawaken and renew the spirit of discovery and entrepreneurship for which Europe has been famous for over centuries. The ‘Startup Europe week‘, quoted in the beginning, is a step into the right direction.

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