Concept

One of the goals of the Startup Europe (SE) Initiative of the European Commission is to “reinforce the links between people, business and associations who build and scale up the startup ecosystem[1]. Under this objective several initiatives and networks have been promoted such as the Web Investors Forum, the Accelerator Assembly or the Crowdfunding Network, just to name a few.

Under the same spirit, but with a clear focus on aggregating and leveraging regional support for startups, a new network has been created on the 1st October in Brussels, at an event held at the Committee of Regions: the “Startup Europe Regions Network (SERN)”.

As it has happens with the other networks and initiatives sponsored by SE, the goal of SERN is not that of replacing or duplicating other networks that may build on similar players or have (partially) overlapping objectives. The main goal of SERN is that of occupying an empty space and contributing to fill a gap clearly felt by EU startups in terms of startup gap funding[2], while also addressing other relevant barriers to startups’ growth, such as harmonization of policies and regulations, access to talent and to major research infrastructures.

The Startup Europe Regions Network will gather EU regions committed to startup support to offer a first virtual interconnected space for EU startups to scale up, aiming to leverage private investments with European and regional ones so as to create critical mass. The primary focus for final beneficiaries will be already established startups, and the target will be companies that have already achieved first results, possibly with support from regional programmes, and are now aiming to grow global, while still having less than 5 years of existence. For this, the network will invest in new instruments and pilot schemes, in line with the priorities defined by the European Commission and the Committee of Regions and for the benefit of European startups.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/about-startup-europe

[2] For an interesting insight on this problem see: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/technology/for-tech-start-ups-in-europe-an-oceanic-divide-in-funding.html?_r=0

Membership

For the SERN to be created, regions must be strongly behind it and committed to participate. The creation of SERN must follow a true bottom-up approach and reflect the engagement of a minimum critical mass of regions that are willing to act as founding members and as steering committee of this new network.

It is expected that a minimum of between 6 and 10 regions will endorse the creation of SERN and will benefit from a status of “founding members”. This status should be reflected in the Articles of the Association, conceding them special privileges in the governance of the association. They will also be automatically nominated for a 1st term at the ‘Steering Committee’ of the association that will be responsible for the executive management, with one region taking on the Presidency. Running operations of the association, including operational management, communication and hosting will be ensured by a secretariat, to be provided by INOVA+ (Belgium) as coordinator of the ‘ePlus Ecosystem’ project and promoter of the initiative. Following the creation of the SERN as an ‘aisbl’, membership will become opened to all EU regions, as ‘ordinary members’.

Activities

Activities of the SERN will be entirely focused on its main purpose which, as described in the concept section, is to “to offer a first virtual interconnected space for EU startups to scale up, aiming to leverage private investments with European and regional ones so as to create critical mass”. As this is considered to be an innovative objective, which isn’t currently pursued by any on-going programme or initiative, the main focus of the SERN will be in designing new instruments and pilot schemes at European level, in collaboration with the European Commission and other international organizations (such as the European Investment Bank) and carrying out their pilot implementation.

Startups are fundamental for the growth and competitiveness of Europe, but success of startups in Europe has been limited by two main factors: a cultural factor, and a funding gap. The cultural factor has been evolving very positively, and a mix of improved education curricula, global communication (including successful TV shows such as ‘shark tank’) and economic turmoil less favorable to stability has led to a change in the traditional “conservative” approach of Europeans towards risk, a more culturally accepted predisposition to entrepreneurship, investment and startups.

This leaves the funding gap and the issue of scale as the main obstacle for EU startups to be able to growth to the size of their US counterparts. Isolated private or regional funds are unable to reach the critical mass of support that Startups needs to face global markets, and the only viable solution appears to be a combination of European, regional and private efforts, within the boundaries set by EU and national regulations.

As such, SERN activities shall give priority to instruments that can foster a dynamic EU market of “smart investors”, so that they can actively contribute to funding of startups across Europe (including through the different regional instruments available) as well as provide the guidance, business advice and mentoring services that are typically associated with “smart money”. This would create the means for the emergence of a critical mass that could sustain a real “Round A investments market” in Europe and start to address the ‘funding gap’ problem that is currently felt by startups.

Additional activities that can concur to this same objective include the promotion of the adoption of the ‘Seal of Excellence[1] initiative of the European Commission from member regions. This should focus in particular in the funding through regional instruments of projects submitted by local startups / SMEs to the SME Instrument Stage_1 programme of the European Commission, and that while having reached the evaluation threshold (and as such classified as “excellent” initiatives by the EC) didn’t score high enough to receive funding. The SERN will actively promote this measure towards its members, as this is considered a positive preliminary step towards reinforcing the global orientation of local startups.

As a secondary objective, and in order to carry out complementary activities to the ones above, such as mapping of existent good practices at regional or international level (including beyond EU), benchmarking of relevant instruments, foster networking activities or develop communication or awareness campaigns, other initiatives and projects may be pursued, possibly within the framework of existing programmes that support such kind of activities from the part of regions and cities, such as Interreg Europe, Urban Innovative Actions or specific calls of H2020.

[1] For further info on this issue please refer to the speech from Commissioner Moedas at the ‘Opening up to an ERA of Innovation’ Conference: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-15-5243_en.htm

Contact

The organization model, mission, rationale and initial activities of the new network will be discussed in presence of the European Commission at the SEC2R event, hosted by the Committee of Regions.

If your region is interested in this network, please register to participate at this event following the link below.

SERN Secretariat
Att of INOVA+, S.A, (Mr Bruno Duarte)
Avenue des Arts, 24
B-1000 Brussels
Tel: +32 2 8080322
e-mail : sern@inovamais.pt