European businesses dream big in 2012!

Most successful entrepreneurs are naturally enthusiastic and optimistic people.  They have to be, because they have to believe in their potential to turn dreams into reality.  And this positive attitude is pervasive, even in these tough economic times.  Why?  Because an increasing number of start-ups and other small businesses know that turbulent times create opportunities.

New business models can disrupt the status quo, enabling start-ups to create new ways of doing old tasks, taking market share away from bigger, more established companies that can’t be as flexible.  I’ve talked before about the way that entrepreneurs don’t just look at whether the glass is half full or half empty: they look at how they can use the glass in another way, or create a new glass. Every day, I’m hearing from entrepreneurs within the European BizSpark community doing just that.

So I was not surprised to see the results of a recent survey commissioned by Microsoft and carried out by Vanson Bourne.  The survey suggests that despite challenging economic conditions, European SMEs remain positive.  Across the 21 countries surveyed, a quarter said they expected to hire new staff in 2012, and among the most bullish countries such as Austria, Sweden and Poland, that proportion rose to a third.

Overall, 18 percent of SMEs expect to invest in new technology and infrastructure next year. Contrary to some economists’ GDP predictions, a large proportion of small businesses intend to grow in 2012.  Naturally, there was variance in the data from country to country. Russia and Ukraine showed the most optimism with 40 percent of respondents reporting they expected to be more successful in the next 18 months, compared to just eight percent of respondents in Greece.

Of course, this optimism is pointless unless start-ups and small businesses in general have access to the resources to make it happen and there is no doubt that technology plays an important role.  The survey found that more than half of SME owners said technology will be the deciding factor in whether their business thrives or just survives.

Half of respondents said they expected cloud computing in particular to play a more important role in driving growth in their business.  Again, this echoes what I am hearing from the start-up and developer community: around a quarter of organisations adopting the Microsoft Azure cloud platform fit are small businesses.  They see the value of cloud in enabling them to get their businesses up and running involving minimal time and upfront investment.  Plus, cloud means they can scale their organisations, even globally, in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible before.  Cloud is key to Europe’s future export success.

Today’s start-ups are tomorrow’s business leaders and so of course Microsoft wants to be part of that.  In addition to our the BizSpark programme itself – which gives start-ups less than three years old and less than $1 million USD free software, support and visibility – we’ve recently introduced a special offer available through selected partners to start-ups they choose to support.  This special offer gives qualifying start-ups up to $60,000 of Windows Azure time over two years, something which we hope can make a lot of difference to a small company with limited funds.

But, what we’re doing is just a small part of a much bigger picture.  We all know how vital these small companies are to the region’s economic recovery, so we’re collaborating with government, academia and other market leaders across the region to give them the possible chance to succeed.  Long live the optimism of Europe’s entrepreneurs.


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