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Fostering Web Entrepreneurship in Europe: e-talent, e-mentoring, e-services and e-capital for e-entrepreneurs

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ePlus Ecosystem (Fostering Web Entrepreneurship in Europe: e-talent, e-mentoring, e-services and e-capital for e-entrepreneurs)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2017-06-30

The ePlus project has connected three local ecosystems: Lisbon, Nice/Côte D’Azur and Baden-Württemberg to support and prepare starups and web-entrepreneurs for the changing global digital market, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to offer new products and services by digital means, to compete, thrive, and to create new jobs. This has been achieved via a unique combination of talents, tools and services of a European scale, in all key elements: team, concept, technology and capital. The ePlus Ecosystem has developed and deployed an online and onsite environment, building on and interconnecting existing ecosystems, hubs and initiatives, in order to setup a runway for web entrepreneurs to start and scale-up a business in Europe and grow internationally.

The objectives of the action included:
- Putting in motion an European web-entrepreneurship ecosystem by setting up the initial backbone made of the interconnection between the booming regional ecosystems of Lisbon, Nice and Baden-Württemberg, combining and intertwining current services and opportunities and making room for more local ecosystems to join in;
- Untapping on Europe’s unique mass of + skilled and mobile researchers in order to reinforce the web-entrepreneurs teams’ skills and technology grasp;
- Guiding web-entrepreneurs into global business concepts through a European mentoring scheme, building on the best regional and national programmes available;
- Facilitating access to some of the best services from the best service providers in Europe to promote web-entrepreneurs growth;
- Ensuring access to capital either in early stage or crowdfunding form.

The following elements have been taken into consideration while designing a strategy for achieving a better connected European ecosystem:

Network - There is no great “European” ecosystem as of yet, but there are great ecosystems in Europe. Start by creating a backbone interlinking some of the best regional ecosystems across Europe and promoting the sharing of services, and complement it with expert service aimed at internationalisation and growth.

Match - Europe is full of creatives with brilliant business ideas but no scientific/technological knowledge to implement them, and of brilliant scientists and researchers lacking entrepreneurial spirit and business vision. It is time to put them together.

Mentor - Many European entrepreneurs have managed to do it at an international scale – and many of these are willing to pass that knowledge to others through mentoring. Mentoring has up to now been done mainly at local level, but there is no reason to be like that. We must upgrade mentoring schemes to a European level.

Guide - Capital exists, but it is in fact too spread out and fragmented over Europe. Europe has more potential than the United States for venture capital (as it has more savings) and crowdfunding can make an asset out of fragmentation. The key is to improve the accessibility to these tools, guiding entrepreneurs to capital, as certain organisations already do - such as the European Business Angel Network (EBAN) and the European Crowdfunding Network (ECN).
In synergy with other Startup Europe actions, the ePlus Ecosytem offered tailored serviced to startups, including mentoring, meet-up with relevant investors, training, networking or funding support for attending relevant events. Through a combination of the partnership own experience with external experts, a complex set of services has been offered to startups helping them reach higher, including:

Nitro – extreme acceleration events: tailored and high-level training for startups, where they themselves could choose which topics to work on before, during and after the event. Three editions of Nitro took place during the ePlus project duration, while some future implementations are planned in the ecosystems.

Micro-grants: support for startups with scale-up potential to participate in events and services that are useful for their growth strategy.

eMentoring: while local mentoring has been extremely valuable to support startups in the early stages, the ePlus Ecosystem has set up an on-going process to match startups and mentors and to upgrade the mentoring schemes to a European level.

eTalent: this matchmaking services were designed to untap the European talent base to support an advantageous technological and innovative level of startups, and to boost the technology potential of web-entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurship spirit of researchers. These services included the Date-a-researcher service for matching startups with skilled talent.

eCapital: under this service the ePlus Ecosystem created an interface between web-entrepreneurs and the European early stage investment scene, i.e. business angels, crowdfunding and early stage venture capital.

Most of these building blocks were set up as part of the ePlus Ecosystem platform in a way that added value to the local ecosystems and to other European regions both for expansion and for maximising available opportunities to the initial three regions.
That ambitious project roadmap was carefully planned to mitigate risks and inefficiencies. Under the overall coordination of INOVA+, each partner contributed for designing and executing the strategy to identify and engage with the most appropriate stakeholders, target groups and target groups representatives, considering their own networks and the national and regional conditions or limitations. The benefits logic model and dissemination strategy enabled both a common understanding of relevant building blocks and common vocabulary to ensure a straightforward implementation across regions.

The project strategy was supported by dissemination tools such as the website, brochures, newsletters, press release, etc. Nevertheless ePlus was actively contributing to the common dissemination efforts of the Startup Europe Initiative.
The project was very much focused on establishing sustainable links among key stakeholders on web-entrepreneurship across Europe. Participating regions, networks and other organisations valued opportunities for networking to foster cooperation, and supporting activities which were deemed extremely valuable to identify challenges to meaningfully engaging with the regions and to identify individual characteristics and social trends, pitfalls. This ultimately contributed to enhance the key partnerships that may sustain an advance to the state-of-the-art in terms of an European Ecosystem. ePlus has contributing to a sense of belonging to a wider European community and overthrow invisible barriers such as regions’ borders.

On the project-level, the impact of the ePlus services was measured among participating startups through the indicators access to finance, access to resources, access to knowledge and skills, and access to business opportunities. The aforementioned indicators were measured using questionnaires, distributed following the use of a service by a startup. The results were measured against the baseline established at the beginning of the project. And the resulst showed that the ePlus services provided had a measurable positive impact on all indicators and the services are highly rewarded (scoring 4.75 out of 5) by startups. There were of course a wide range of different views, situations and cultural dimensions across the different EU countries, however overall satisfaction with the ePlus activities was very good.
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