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E-workshop recording: scaling up European SMEs

By Platform

On Monday 27 September, from 14:00 to 17:00 CET, the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform organised an online workshop on scaling up European SMEs and new ways to support the growth of companies from regional and national business to international and global markets.

Allowing for networking opportunities during breaks, the event was organised around three distinct sessions: a panel discussion with keynote speakers, two parallel working groups, and a plenary session.

E-workshop recording

Key learnings

Moderation and concept by René Tönnisson and Mart Veliste.

From Zero to Hero, how to support scaling up of local companies to global players

Andrus Kurvits, Member of the Board of Tartu Science Park (Estonia), brought the audience on a journey through the Estonian startup ecosystem. He explained that, while Estonia has a high number of unicorns, they have all been software startups.

Tartu Science Park and especially its affiliated space tech incubator ESA BIC Estonia focus on deep tech companies. Key elements of the incubation programme include technical support (80h), business development and advice for up to two years and 50K Eur non-equity funding.

Andrus shared his most valuable lessons:

  • Try to onboard teams instead of solo founders.
  • Agree with founders early on their commitment for a long effort (“sweat capital”).
  • In smaller economies the aim should be to go global from day one.
  • Provide to startups hands on mentors/business angels, especially valuable are recent graduates of the same programme.
  • Deal with founders expectations.

Andrus also emphasized the importance of building, testing and improving in running such programmes.

Scaling up European Creative Industries SMEs, lessons learnt

Rasmus Wiinstedt Tscherning, Managing Director of the Creative Business Network (Denmark), presented the specificities of scaling businesses in the creative industries and how they have been doing this. The network runs a Creative Business Academy which is an online “Business Development and Internationalization course” for Startups within the Creative Industries. The benefit of running the programme online enables to use the best lecturers and mentors from all around the world.

While creating jobs, growth and export are also important for the Creative Business Academy, Rasmus also emphasized that they see their role as empowering and giving relevant tools, methods and business skills to people in order to achieve positive change in the world. Sometimes the challenge is finding out what generates value as it might vastly differ across regions.

Rasmus also highlighted the importance of peer to peer learning in such programmes. The most important success factors of creative industry teams in Rasmus´ experience have been openness to input and going global right away.


Working Group I – Scale up support programmes and financing

Fruitful exchange took place around three good practices: Business Generator / Navigator Scale-up (Inside Out EU) from Sweden that brings rural SMEs closer to local banks and helps local businesses to grow; NLab Lubelskie - Nevada Acceleration Bridge (Scale Up) which is a is a unique acceleration programme for companies from the Lubelskie Region in Poland run in cooperation with partners from the USA to support internationalization; and EquiFund (Innova-FI) which is a fund of funds programme providing equity financing to Greek companies and accelerating venture capital and private equity in Greece.

We have learned that:

  • There is often a gap in the strategic management processes that prevent micro-small companies from growing. SME´s need support to take their first scalable steps. Such support could at least partially come from local banks.
  • Companies are eager to develop their activity internationally as it provides opportunities not only for revenue growth but also the exchange of knowledge and the enhancement of capabilities which strengthen their long-term competitiveness, but often there are fears around taking the first internationalization step (especially to markets further away) in which case the support of a public body or trustworthy institution can go a long way.
  • The benefit of “smart money”, where equity is taken by shareholders, is that the fund managers have their own skin in the game and therefore contribute more to the growth of companies.
  • Sometimes “change agents” – people with a specific connection or motivation – are important in launching a change. This was the case with Nlab where there was a person of Polish origin among the US cooperation partners.
  • Sometimes after piloting a new innovation programme, it is economically reasonable to carry on the activity without externally contracted partners.


Working group II – Benchmarking internationalisation approaches for scaling up European SMEs

A well-attended discussion developed around another three good practices: Traction (Scale Up) about a Spanish (Region of Murcia) practice fostering the transfer of know-how from experienced companies to young companies; Export accelerator (FFWD EUROPE) about a regional initiative in Normandy (France) bringing together the competences of several business support organisations to deliver a joint service to exporting SMEs; Accelerating growth and internationalisation among Ostrobothnian Food Industry SME (FRiDGE) about enhancing growth and internationalisation in food industry SMEs within three Ostrobothnian (Finland) regions.

We have learned that:

  • Peer-to-peer approaches to capacity building in SMEs are a powerful tool to stimulate capacity building within SMEs and thereby contribute to having e.g. unexperienced SMEs initiating international export activities on the basis of the experience from other – trusted - entrepreneurs.
  • Different businesses have different levels of experience and different needs. It is therefore essential for business support organisations to be able to identify the possibilities and needs of each business and provide a relevant highly professional support.
  • The delivery of a differentiated professional support to internationalisation requires regional business support organisations to coordinate and align their services for the benefit of businesses, e.g. by sharing resources and using a systemic approach to the delivery of business support.
  • A constant analysis of SMEs’ needs and the relevance of the services provided is necessary.


European Commission’s support programmes for SME growth activities

Igor Kalinic, Head of Sector – Competitiveness and Internationalisation at the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, gave an informative concluding keynote on the Single Market Programme. He focused more on the non-financial support measures, such as the Enterprise Europe Network, the Joint Cluster Initiative and Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs. Looking towards the future, Igor mentioned that COSME calls will be larger in the new programming period, however the Work Programme is still being finalized.


In addition to this, the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform can help you address any policy challenges. Through matchmaking sessions and peer reviews we can provide you with experiences and in-depth knowledge from other regions that have successfully found solutions for the challenges you are experiencing. Curious about how these services work? Visit our expert support webpage and contact us.

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