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published 3 Jun 2013 by Irina Sofranova in Romania 3 minutes 46 seconds to read

Social entrepreneurship across the EU

Cultural differences mark startup behaviour

Iasi Romanian startup EU social entrepreneurship conference workshop

It’s rarely the case that you get a feel for the cultural differences of entrepreneurs from a variety of European countries until you actually get them together in one room. So when last month, 10 participants from 10 different countries took part in a five-day-long (13-18 May) workshop in the small city of Iasi, Romania, the talk did not limit itself to breaking down innovative concepts and future plans, but went on to discover, and to an extent also bridge, participants’ cultural experiences.

Of course, the ideas were in place: from establishing an innovative travel platform, through social and cultural spaces, creating a hub for European entrepreneurs who want to be active in Africa to recovery tourism and expatriate counselling. Through the technique of “myself in the mirror”, the participants explored their potential as entrepreneurs, setting up own personal and business visions. Additionally, they all had the opportunity to meet local young startups, share experiences, thoughts, and ideas, and expand their international network.

But how about those cultural differences?

Logically, the participants’ attitudes and take on entrepreneurship were dictated by their personal backgrounds, local markets, and legal frameworks. So to bring everybody up to speed, they all laid down the main points relating to their country’s startup scene. Here come some of the findings.

In the UK, there are plenty of social entrepreneurship programmes, and it is quite easy to register a firm. However, the taxes are high, which gives many entrepreneurs reason to consider different countries to base their business in. In the Netherlands – similarly to the UK, there is an encompassing supporting platform that helps young entrepreneurs to start up, offering them initial funding, consulting and support. Although the taxes are also relatively high, the investment is said to pay off in the long term. (For more information on corporate tax rates in the EU, go here).

Cyprus is currently going through a time of various uncertainties due to its economic and socio-political situation. The majority of the startups are said to be afraid of investment capital, yet on a brighter note, the taxes that they are subject to are affordable. In addition, there are a number of support institutions, and yet to be explored niches.

In Austria, social entrepreneurship is rapidly developing. Today, there are plenty of opportunities and alternatives to help young entrepreneurs implement their ideas. (You can catch up on some of those here). Similarly positive, if not even more so, is the development of social entrepreneurship in Germany. Startups have access to a variety of investment and crowdfunding platforms, together with policies that allow for the easy and fast founding of new companies. Late last year, for example, the German government-owned development bank KfW reportedly kicked off a public-private parallel investment programme, specifically targeting social entrepreneurs. The idea behind it – to encourage an increase on startup investments.

Italy, however, seems to be facing the exact opposite challenge – a slow information flow makes it difficult for startups to find timely funding. Also, there’s a general (mis-)understanding of the term social entrepreneur as an “average businessman” as well as some scepticism towards new ideas. Yet, it seems easier to recognise the opportunities once you’ve established certain connections on the local market.

In Greece, it is possible, but not easy to establish a new social business. Although it is affordable to do so, there are certain sectors – like tourism, for example, that are on the verge of being oversaturated, which in turn makes it very difficult for new companies to enter on a competitive level. In Bulgaria, on the other hand, the challenges are relatively few, yet one of the major ones is the options of finding initial capital. The local market is said to be curious, open-minded, flexible, and entrepreneurship-friendly. In fact, startups have successfully been occupying niches on the market, which is why expert positioning may soon become a number-one priority.

The conference in Iasi was valuable in two main ways, among others. For one, it allowed participants to break down the specifics of their local markets for themselves, and secondly, it made it possible to position each of those markets on a European level. Eventually, though, it all came down to the words of local entrepreneur Ionut Calugaru, founder of Romanian Oameni din Online Iasi: “Be foolish! Follow your idea, and TAKE the risk! You can start a business only from your power and it is in your hands and heart!”

The workshop was organised as a self-made project by the local NGO Business Without Borders.