Chairman of Microsoft Europe discusses support for entrepreneurs in the EU at ICT Finance Marketplace 2010
While there are some great success stories for us to highlight, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the major hurdles that entrepreneurs still face in Europe.
One of the things we try to do is represent the entrepreneurs’ viewpoint in meetings with policy makers. On 28 September in Brussels, I attended an event called ICT Finance Marketplace which brought together around 200 of the leading influencers across the region, including EU Commission representatives, business angel investors, VCs and entrepreneurship groups.
The ICT Finance Marketplace is a single entry point for:
SMEs involved in ICT R&D Framework Programmes seeking to become investment ready and to meet venture capital investors
Business angels and other venture capital investors interested in accessing investment ready deal flow from innovative ICT SMEs.
This is part of a broader initiative by the European Commission called ACCESS-ICT 2010 supported by a great group of partners, including some Microsoft BizSpark Network Partners such as Seedcamp, EBAN and Europe Unlimited (who secured a pretty impressive line-up of speakers).
ACCESS-ICT is now seeking to select about 300 ICT companies from a pool of 1000 that are identified as having commercially interesting products/services (and are investment ready) and have benefitted from European grants (from Framework Programme 6 or 7). Companies can find out more and apply here
and you can get “plugged-in” to several investment events
If you are a Business Angel Investor go here
to complete their survey and nominate companies.
Running the Race
European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, delivered the opening address
. In it she says:
"So let us be serious about this digital future. Let’s strengthen our investments – sharpen our efforts – and achieve higher impact! This is a race Europe must not withdraw from. Yet it is a race in which we are currently behind.
Let me put that statement in context. In the late 1970s - before the Commission began to fund collaborative ICT research in programmes like ESPRIT and RACE - European companies held just a 10% share in world ICT markets. After 30 years and €20 billion in Commission funding, the figure is now 25% of the now much larger world market. We are the second biggest market player.
The message is that European research coordination helped get us back in the race. But we need to do more now to stay in the race."
In her closing address, Ms Kroes actually said how important it was to support start-ups and growth entrepreneurs. I’m glad that message got through.
During the event on 28 September, we talked about obstacles that remain for European small businesses:
- The need to help entrepreneurs protect intellectual property rights (IPR), which at the moment is an expensive and time-consuming task that is simply too onerous for them. A common legal framework for IPR in Europe would help simplify the situation.
- The amount of red tape that surrounds starting or running a small business. Certainly, we know from our conversations with the tech start-up community that they would like to see more tax breaks, easier cross-border trading and support when applying for public sector IT projects.
I really enjoyed getting the investor perspective at this event: I was told about the latest Truffle 100 index of European Top 100 Software Vendors and encouraged more investor firms to sign up as BizSpark Network Partners.
Patrick Polak from Newion Investments explained that whenever he listens to the pitch of a company needing his financing he asks them if they have a cloud strategy.
Claire Munck from European Business Angels Network (EBAN), who represent over 20000 angels in over 250 networks and have been partnering with us since 2008, said:
"Millions of euros in grants, angel seed funding and VC funding have been raised to date for the Microsoft BizSpark companies. This is a great achievement. However, as EBAN data demonstrates, there is a challenge raising investment in ICT and trends that must be leveraged by corporations such as Microsoft by partnering more closely with high growth software start-ups and early stage investors. As suggested by Jan Muehlfeit, innovative SMEs also receive support through free-of-charge services, e.g. access to the Azure platform. But we also from tax credits at their start-up phase and access to public sector procurement through a European SME Act. Events like ICT2010 are a great place to debate these ideas with the ecosystem".
I asked William Stevens from Europe Unlimited for his view. He said:
"With venture capital funding struggling in the wake of the financial crisis, the role of corporate investors, partners and programs such as Microsoft's BizSpark is growing".
Lively debate and frank exchange on topics like these will help us to find workable solutions for start-ups. Of course I am biased, but I do think BizSpark can help – as it approaches its second anniversary, we see thousands of entrepreneurs getting access to technology and a rich community of Network Partners – hence we move towards a more competitive ICT industry in Europe.