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EU-XCEL Report Summary

Project ID: 644801
Funded under: H2020-EU.2.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EU-XCEL (Accelerating Entrepreneurial Learning across European Regions)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2015-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Despite the single market being in existence for quite some time, start-ups and entrepreneurs tend not to think European wide and business scaling is very fragmented and lags behind the US in terms of effectiveness scale and impact. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is also fragmented and not joined up between countries. Unemployment levels are very high, with high rates of over 50% amongst under-25s in countries such as Spain and Greece.

Horizon 2020 is ideally positioned and opportunity for Europe to inspire and facilitate a different breed of European ICT entrepreneurs. Set in this context, the focus of the EU-XCEL, Accelerating European Entrepreneurial Learning Across Regions is to develop more ICT entrepreneurs and this is adopted as the key objective fully aligning with the core outcomes required from the Horizon 2020 ICT 35 call. Specifically and informed by research into current best practice in incubators across Europe, EU-XCEL sets out to train ICT entrepreneurs to be ‘incubator ready’ by designing and implementing tailored entrepreneurial learning programmes of sufficient duration to allow ICT entrepreneurs develop the commercial skills, as well as the technical proposition. This project will develop a network of ICT entrepreneurship creative physical and virtual spaces and coordinate European wide intensive entrepreneurial action training events called ‘startup scrums’ between consortia members with international teams.

The programme will cultivate a European entrepreneurial mind-set and pilot a ‘Born European Enterprise’ annual event. It is recognised that ICT enterprises take time to develop the technology. The proposal sets out to engage with 300 ICT students using an intensive training package over 4 months, starting with startup scrums, continuing with virtual support via the EU-XCEL virtual incubator and culminating with the best teams competing in the ‘Born European Enterprise Challenge’. A key element of the programme is student exchange as well as staff exchange, which will enable cross-fertilisation.

This proposal is thematically focused on creating ‘Born European Enterprises’ and fulfills the three objectives of the Horizon 2020 2014 ICT 35 a, b & c call: a pan European competition (across over 10 member states), summer schools (startup scrums) and supporting the creation of new virtual and physical ICT creative spaces.

The ICT teams will have opportunities to pursue their new ventures in a number of European incubators, within the consortia. The action will combine ICT physical and virtual entrepreneurship spaces, which facilitate European collaboration and on-going support after workshop events.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The EU-XCEL kick-off meeting took place in University College Cork on 25th /26th January 2015. Representatives from the 6 partner organisations agreed an action plan for the design and roll-out of the EU-XCEL virtual accelerator in year one. Initial priorities focused on: project branding and the development of communication and marketing materials; the design of a cross European recruitment strategy targeting aspiring young entrepreneurs across Europe; and the design of a quality curriculum protocol and virtual incubator platform to ensure calibre entrepreneurial learning supports for the development of international, innovative tech-focused startup teams.

Project Branding, Marketing, Communication
From January to March, expert branders and graphic designers worked with project partners to develop a professional brand of specific appeal to the EU-XCEL target audience – young, tech entrepreneurs from across Europe. Project communication materials (brochures, posters, pull-ups) were developed outlining the EU-XCEL mission; the EU-XCEL programme; rewards of programme participation; the partner organisations that successful applicants work and learn with; and guidelines on how to become involved. An EU-XCEL website and project promotional videos and social media accounts were created to facilitate interactive engagement and access to project informational materials and updates.

Recruiting 2015 EU-XCEL Participants
Participant recruitment commenced in mid-March 2015. An initial recruitment target of 300 applications from at least ten member states was set from which the project team could subsequently screen and select the strongest and ‘best mix’ of participants from as wide a range of countries and in as gender-balanced a manner as possible (a minimum 150 target participant number per annual programme had been set in the project proposal) to ensure the formation of quality, European entrepreneurial tech teams across its six summer start-up scrums.

Project brochures/posters were widely disseminated and promotional presentations delivered by EU-XCEL staff across target recruitment sites such as international university/technical college departments and student networks; local and national incubators; dedicated ICT, entrepreneurship and startup organisations, networks and events in addition to press releases, targeted mail-shots and social media campaigns. By the close of recruitment in early May 2015, EU-XCEL had received 613 applications from across European countries.

Populating EU-XCEL Start-Ups
EU-XCEL financial provisions allowed for a maximum 42 participants per startup scrum. Throughout May 2015, project partners screened applications, selecting applicants based on their technical capability; business orientation; entrepreneurial enthusiasm; and creativity and risk orientation. To ensure as cross-European a representation of participants as possible, a number of places were reserved for partner country applicants (5 per partner per scrum & 8 from host country) and a number for applicants across non partner EU countries (9 places per scrum).

In total, 245 EU-XCEL participants from across 25 EU countries participated in EU-XCEl 2015. Average participant age was 25 and participants represented a range of educational levels from Masters/PhD (28%) to Bachelors degree (46%), Certificate/Diploma/Post-secondary school qualification (12%). Almost a third had three plus years work experience (30%), half had prior virtual team experience (51%) and 43% had prior coding experience providing a diverse group of participants for cross-learning and co-operative inter-disciplinary team formation.

Rolling Out the EU-XCEL Virtual Accelerator Programme
Each partner hosted a one week-long start up scrum between 1st June and 17th July 2015 in in their organizational incubator space. These scrums represented the first physical meeting point for all EU-XCEL participants and the foundational stone upon which their team formation and collaborative startup ideation processes officially commenced.

Informed by current research and practitioner’s experience in remote work and virtual team management as well as leading entrepreneurial and innovation theories and frameworks, a curriculum protocol was developed for application across all six startup scrums whilst retaining sufficient flexibility to facilitate some local variations, reflecting each partner’s local entrepreneurship culture and their incubator strengths and support networks. The startup scrum primarily focused on team formation, team building, ideation, initial idea conceptualization and the design of a team work plan for the virtual phase. Teams were encourage to pursue emerging high tech opportunities, with demonstrations on internet of things(IOT), analytics and various other trending technologies. By scrum completion, teams were required to have a (1) a preliminary paper-based minimum viable product (MVP); (2) a business concept; and (3) an operational plan for the virtual phase to test the raised hypotheses and validate the MVP and business model.

Following user requirement analysis, the EU-XCEL virtual incubator was rolled out. Based in moodle and using a “mash up” of existing online software tools, the incubator has the functionality to manage both EU-XCEL cycles and further programmes after the lifetime of EU-XCEL. The online platform is a repository of project related material and supports all the common activities around entrepreneurship such as mentoring, networking, training, share of knowledge and experience while transcending geographical, cultural and resource-related barriers. It has been designed to be accessible to its three primary user groups: project staff (responsible for the ongoing monitoring of the EU-XCEL programme); startup team mentors and; the startup teams.

A total of 50 startup teams were created by the completion of the EU-XCEL startup scrums, each comprising between three and six participants from a minimum of two European countries. Teams then entered the EU-XCEL virtual incubation phase where, with the support of assigned expert virtual mentors, they continued to refine their idea over a further 11 – 14 weeks passing key milestones and submitting specific deliverables (problem definition; idea development; initial proof of concept; idea further development; proof of concept; and business plan) in line the curriculum protocol en route.

EU-XCEL Challenge Final
The twelve best start-up teams (56 finalists in total) from across the 6 start-up scrums were selected to partake in the 2015 EU-XCEL Challenge Final which took place in University College Cork on 2nd and 3rd November. The two day event involved a one day preparation workshop for the finalist startup teams and a second day with finalist team pitches to the Challenge Final Judging Panel, a public start-up finalist showcase exhibition and an awards ceremony, opened by the Irish Minister for European Affairs, 90 second elevator pitches from the finalist start-up teams, the announcement of the EU-XCEL 2015 winning team and the Challenge Final Reception.

The Challenge Final attracted an audience from across the investor, tech-companies, start-up/entrepreneurial agencies and advisors and media and fellow tech entrepreneurs landscape.
Microsoft Ireland and VMware sponsored the 2015 Challenge Final prizes and participated alongside four European tech startup investors in evaluating startup plans and selecting the winner.

Dissemination of projects outcomes, learnings and successes have been integral since project kick-off and a number of press releases at key points in the project life cycle in addition to newsletters, ongoing social media and web updates which have all been core project activities, many of which have generated television, radio and new and traditional social media attention upon their release across partner countries.

Ultimately, EU-XCEL 2015 programme delivered real entrepreneurial experiences to its 245 participants across 5 key entrepreneurial competences - identifying good co-founders, ideation and opportunity screening, prototyping and business modelling, market validation, idea pivoting, and investment pitching. The impact of EU-XCEL was specifically targeting real deficits in the skillsets of young entrepreneurs, and delivering this impact though an action focused programme that closed the gap between mere intentions and actual entrepreneurial activity. EU-XCEL also increased awareness and perception of ICT entrepreneurship amongst young people in Europe by introducing its participants to trends within the major ICT domains of big data, health informatics, predictive analytics, the internet of things, mobile commerce, and ICT for development. Finally EU-XCEL impacted upon the European entrepreneurial eco-system by creating international teams consisting of multiple nationalities, and by establishing mentor-participant relationships that spanned member state boundaries.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

EU-XCEL specifically targeted real deficits in the skillsets of young entrepreneurs, and delivered this impact though an action focused programme that closed the gap between mere intentions and actual entrepreneurial activity. Such action focused training has increasingly been recognised in entrepreneurship research as more effective in stimulating business creation. EU-XCEL provided aspiring ICT entrepreneurs with a learning environment wherein the strengths of both formal and informal educational experiences could lead to real and rapid improvements in entrepreneurial capabilities. Specifically targeted were the areas of co-founder matching, ideation and idea screening, modelling and validation, adapting to real market conditions though pivoting, and effectively pitching for venture capital. All five areas were engaged both conceptually and practically over the course of the scum week, with deeper engagement being required over the 12 week virtual phase of the programme.

In addition, and with EU-XCEL’s commitment to tackling the challenge of European youth unemployment in mind, the development of transferrable and market relevant skills was another key outcome of the programme’s first cycle. Personal skills were developed through the flexibility and adaptability demanded of participants as focus shifted to different aspects of the startup process (i.e. from ideation to research to validation). Interpersonal skills were enhanced through the culturally diverse and interdisciplinary quality of the teams, as well as the emphasis on presenting skills. And finally, self-management skills were cultivated though the planning, problem-solving, and prioritising required of each team member as they carried out their varied responsibilities for the group. An important impact of EU-XCEL was the support of such personal growth in the interests of creating a vibrant, flexible, and proactive young workforce in the European Union.

A further priority of EU-XCEL was fostering an Entrepreneurial Eco-System in Europe and raising awareness and perception of ICT entrepreneurship among young people in Europe generally. The application process revealed that a large majority (77%) of these aspiring entrepreneurs were willing to relocate in other EU countries to start a business. However, the actual experience of working with other nationalities amongst participants was minimal. EU-XCEL addressed this absence of European-wide entrepreneurial networks in a number of ways. Firstly, 100% of EU-XCEL participants founded a new startup with entrepreneurs from at least three different countries. Secondly, 80% of EU-XCEL participants travelled to a different EU member state for the scrum phase of the programme, establishing contacts with both the resident staff of the consortium partner hosting each scrum, as well as with the international EU-XCEL mentoring team assembled for each event. A key contribution of EU-XCEL is the development of a structure for providing access to normally unavailable resources such as international co-founders export mentors, hands on training, and technical knowledge for aspiring entrepreneurs. EU-XCEL changes the search horizons of Europe’s young entrepreneurs by cultivating a European-wide perspective on entrepreneurial opportunities.

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