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Accelerating Entrepreneurial Learning across European Regions

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EU-XCEL (Accelerating Entrepreneurial Learning across European Regions)

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

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 cultivated 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 project engaged with over 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.
Rolling Out the EU-XCEL Virtual Accelerator Programme
Each partner hosted a one week-long start up scrum between 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 start up 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.

A total of 50 startup teams per year 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 annual EU-XCEL Challenge Final which took place in University College Cork in 2015 and Munich in 2016.

An extended phase of the activity was proposed and approved at the close of 2016 in order to support the further development of active EUXCEL startups. In proposing this amendment, the consortium cited a number of unique challenges faced by geographically dispersed entrepreneurial ventures which heightened their risk of breakdown at the conclusion of the regular EUXCEL programme. These pitfalls were identified in review of the subsequent development of teams from the 2016 cycle.
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. EU-XCEL changes the search horizons of Europe’s young entrepreneurs by cultivating a European-wide perspective on entrepreneurial opportunities.