"Are SME policies fit for the new challenges?"
The chemical sector is known to have large companies. However, regionally, the majority of chemical industries are SMEs. While facing common challenges, SMEs and Regions across Europe can and should learn from each other.
Connecting across border to facilitate the exchanges is precisely ECRN's role. Thus, the network pays careful attention to SMEs policy, especially when it is linked with regional policies.
On 26 March, the Committee of Regions (CoR) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) raised the question: "Are SME policies fit for the new challenges?" during a common conference held in CoR's premises in Brussels. The idea was to create an open discussion between policy-makers, local authorities and SMEs representatives on SMEs actual challenges and solutions to be implemented. In the meantime, European Entrepreneurial Regions (EER) seize this opportunity to have its annual meeting, for which several ECRN members had won the EER award - Brandenburg (2011), Flanders (2014) and Lombardy (2016). ECRN team had naturally joined the conference to be part of the discussion and learn about other regions and networks' view.
More than 50 people gathered, from regional authorities, European Entrepreneurial Regions, SMEs organisations, universities and representatives from the Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the OECD. Overall speakers showed great awareness about the specific challenges that SMEs face – in specific their disconnection from globalization and their lack of technology adaptation and digitalization. Additionally, speakers from research organisations and OECD representatives advocated for the role of regions in making SMEs policy fit for future challenges and claimed that SMEs productivity depends on integrated ecosystem. SMEs policy needs to be related to the regional policy in order to development of connected regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.
In the afternoon, four topics have been discussed as major issues, in the form of workshops :
- Access to finance
- Entrepreneurship culture
- Connection between universities and SME
Solutions were suggested by participants, at both local and European level, such as the organisation by local authorities of meetings with start-ups and SMEs, fostering networking, training offers at universities must focus on 12-50 aged-citizens rather than 18-30 and also the need for the EU to promote female entrepreneurship and provide more funding for interregional cooperation.
Eventually, two projects supporting European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) award-winning regions were presented: one by Technopolis and one by the OECD. The EER award is an initiative of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) that identifies and rewards EU regions and cities with outstanding, future-oriented entrepreneurial policy strategy, regardless of their size, wealth or specific competencies. Until today, 27 cities and regions have been awarded this label over the past 10 years, including the region of Brandenburg (2011), Flanders (2014) and Lombardy (2016), members of ECRN. EER 2019 winners also took the floor to provide a presentation on their local projects/legislation in favour of entrepreneurship.
The conference was very enriching, as it highlighted the importance of peer learning and showcasing, raised awareness of great collaboration between regions and discussed the need to move together towards fitter regional policies for SMEs. All elements that are also supported by ECRN.
You can click here to discover more pictures and learn more about the conference.