‘Entrepreneurs benefit from international exchanges’
Representatives of seven European cities and regions have spent two days in Antwerp learning how they can support innovative entrepreneurs. The programme is part of SPEED UP, a European project that stimulates the exchange of expertise and experiences.
Over the two days, the international participants visited a number of different locations in Antwerp. There final stop was at microStart, an organisation that grants microcredits to entrepreneurs and provides them with guidance. Commercial director Stijn Demuynck emphasises the sustainable character of these small loans: ‘Three years after they’ve requested a microcredit from us, three quarters of the entrepreneurs are still active in their companies.’
‘Everyone is welcome’
Before they returned home, the international participants attended two information sessions at microStart. Inge Verhaegen and Hilde Hoefnagels, who perform research into female entrepreneurs for the Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool, presented their findings. More specifically, they provided an examination of the barriers and stimuli women entrepreneurs encounter.
In the final session, the audience was addressed by Cedric Swaelens from BeCode, a company that gives people training in programming. ‘In Belgium, there’s an enormous need for digital profiles and a high level of youth unemployment. We want to do something about both of these situations by offering training and apprenticeships that genuinely prepare people for the business world. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their background.’
‘Do something with your business cards’
When people from the four corners of the earth come together, they also bring a lot of ideas with them. ‘International gatherings like these are very important for entrepreneurs, governments and organisations,’ says Marina Larios. ‘Entrepreneurs benefit from international exchanges.’ As the director of an international consultancy company, Marina spoke at SPEED UP about ways in which female entrepreneurs can be supported. She has a tip for everyone there. ‘You’re leaving here with a stack of business cards and LinkedIn connections. When you go home, you really have to do something with them. That is your responsibility.’
There are a lot of possibilities for innovative start-ups here in Antwerp.
‘The exchange of ideas can also be a confirmation that you’re doing well,’ noted Stefanie Mensching from the organisation kobra.net based in Brandenburg, Germany. ‘During the discussions at SPEED UP, it became clear that it’s best to bring young people in contact with entrepreneurship early on. Otherwise, they don’t think that a business of their own is an option. And that is just what we are doing: we guide young people in secondary schools through the start-up of their own mini-businesses.’
Guiding female entrepreneurs
Anna Andretta from Florence, Italy, is an entrepreneur herself. ‘I am the co-founder of a co-working space for women with children. From the reactions of the other participants, I’ve noticed a lot of interest in what I do. I’ve picked up a great deal about the way in which you can guide female entrepreneurs. I want to use this input in my own business.’
Antwerp supports entrepreneurs
‘This is the first time I’ve ever been to Antwerp,’ says Agnieszka Lodygowska, who works for the city of Warsaw, Poland. ‘The many different cultures and the beautiful architecture really caught my eye. But it also struck me that there are a lot of possibilities for innovative start-ups here. Entrepreneurs here have strong support.’