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Focusing on common obstacles and strengths at Entrepreneurship Conference

Jyri Häkämies, Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs, on the Entrepreneurship Conference in Helsinki. Copyright: TEM/Finland. Photo: Julius Konttinen.
  • Published 31/10/2011
High-growth entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education as common challenges and opportunities for the Nordic countries were in the spotlight at the Nordic Entrepreneurship Conference in Helsinki.

- High-growth firms are vital for the national economy. They are key employers and act as role models for other companies. Entrepreneurship education is important not only in supporting students in their career choice, but also give them access to valuable skills in life, for example the ability to think in new ways and to deal with changes, said Jyri Häkämies, Finnish minister of Economic Affairs, when opening the conference in Finlandia Hall on October the 27th.


The purpose of the conference is to strengthen the cooperation between the Nordic countries within entrepreneurship, and to find new approaches and solutions to shared challenges.


- The Nordic countries have same qualities and values. Together we are stronger, he stated.


Moderator Will Cardwell, Head of Center for Entrepreneurship at Aalto University, wished the participants welcome, and announced that the first day will be focusing on growth entrepreneurship, while entrepreneurship education will be the title of the second day.



Growth companies having a key role

Gordon Murray, professor at University of Exeter, was looking at growth entrepreneurship in the context of a policy process. He underlined the importance of increasing recognition of enterprise by governments, making enterprise policy a part of mainstream economic and innovation policies.


He said that entrepreneurial ecosystems in which high growth firms can flourish are needed. The strengths in the Nordic countries include policy commitment, access to finance, education, and institutional transparency.


He also highlighted the importance of building transparent evaluation systems into key policy measures, so that efforts can be documented.


Gordon Murray also asked the question if governments really are able to learn from their own, and others’, history, and stated that copying and improving old good ideas often is better than desperately seeking for new ones.


- To this we need better vehicles to identify and access best practices on international level, he said.


Anders Hoffmann, Deputy Director General at the Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority focused on the Nordic Entrepreneurship Monitor report on entrepreneurial activities in the Nordic countries, commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2010.


- The ambition should be for the Nordic countries being able to learn from each other. The key indicators in a future monitor should be start-up rates and growth rates. We should build a monitor which would have a major impact on what is driving entrepreneurship in our region, and come up with policies that can be embedded in the system for future use.


The two themes of the conference, growth entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education, were later discussed in workshops, after which Will Cardwell made a sum-up of what had been said during the day:


- We need to create an attractive environment for entrepreneurship, motivating and encouraging entrepreneurs through networks and good examples, and the Nordic countries must stand together to share both challenges and opportunities.



Attractive career choice

Timo Lankinen, Director General, Finnish National Board of Education, started the conference on Friday with underlining that entrepreneurship must be made more attractive as a career choice. To reach this goal, entrepreneurial activities need to be encouraged in school, and entrepreneurship must be incorporated in the general education strategy.


- Overall culture strongly influences the way on which we look at knowledge and learning. There is often too much focus on content alone and too little time for understanding and learning in schools. What about thinking and cooperation skills? Students should also be taught to cope with change and insecurity and to solve problems, he said.


Karen Wilson, Senior Fellow, Kauffman Foundation, and Consultant, Structural Policy Division, OECD, lifted up the significance of entrepreneurial ecosystems in universities, with different areas working together to support entrepreneurship education.


- Entrepreneurship is not all about business. It is cross disciplinary and must be looked at that way. It should be embedded in the whole education system encouraging an entrepreneurial attitude, which is about something more than a choice of career. These skills can be used throughout life, she stated.


Wilson also underlined the need of better data on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education and better evaluation of policies and programs to learn from success and failures, also between countries.


- Why recreate the wheel over and over again, when we can create functioning models and learn from each other, she asked the audience.


Instead of only focusing on start-ups, the focus should also be on how to grow companies. And on building social networks instead of infrastructure. The innovation concept must also be broadened.


- Too often there is a disconnection between innovation and entrepreneurship policy – innovation policy focusing on R&D but not on how to actually commercialize technology, she said.



Entrepreneurial courage needed

The conference’ only attribute from an actual entrepreneur came from Cecilia Hertz, presenting the Down to Earth-project, which is commercializing space technologies to be used for a sustainable Earth.


- Instead of repeating old patterns we must have the courage to try something new, was her advice to the audience.


Finally Simone Baldassarri, Policy Office, DG Enterprise and Industry, European Commission, highlighted the role of teachers, and that their perspective should be taken into consideration when discussing what we mean by entrepreneurship education. Creating networks was Baldassarri’s focus area.


- We need networks for entrepreneurs becoming mentors in schools. Networks between schools to share knowledge and exchange experiences. We also need online networks, supporting teachers with advice and tools.


He also presented the next steps being taken in the EU, which is finishing a research on the impact of entrepreneurship programs on a higher education level and another one on the implementation of entrepreneurship education in national strategies and curricula. Practical workshops will also be arranged to support teacher education in entrepreneurship.


The Conference was arranged by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, together with Nordic Innovation, as a part of the Finnish Programme for the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2011.


The Conference also served as a kick-off event and provided input for the Nordic Entrepreneurship Project that will continue until the end of 2013.