Traditional family businesses are mostly not as shiny as start-ups. They stand for stability, long-term strategy and a sense of responsibility towards stakeholder interests, including employees, customers, shareholders and local communities, and they do rarely aim for spectacular growth relying on debt financing. They are also commonly deeply rooted in their regional base rather than located in large urban and global startup ecosystems with high media attention.
However, they account for an important part of European private employment – on average 40-50% of all jobs (Source European Family Business). 'Family firms are crucially important for Europe. They make a significant contribution to Europe's GNP and employment, and tend to be great innovators, with a longer-term vision. They also tend to be firmly rooted in their regional and national culture, displaying the sort of European values that we all share' (Jose Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission).
Among the challenges faced by family businesses, the 'importance of preparing business transfers early' (Source European Commission) takes a larger importance than for other businesses. This is what the Interreg Europe project STOB regions - Succession and Transfer of Business in Regions addresses, as well as more generally the transfer of existing businesses.
Beyond working on improving the policies for succession and transfer of businesses in the nine partner regions, the STOB regions partners have made a significant effort to collect, organise and disseminate the knowledge gained in the project. They have launched therefore the Successionwiki, a platform for general information about succession/business transfer directly accessible from the project website. The main goal of Successionwiki is to 'create a tool for an easy accessibility of knowledge [on business transfer] as well as the transportation and transparency of this knowledge' (source STOB regions).
It expects to cover, once fully implemented, the following aspects of succession and business transfer:
- Sensibilisation and awareness raising of business transfer / psychology of company succession
- Family businesses: definitions
- Advisory services for the whole transfer process
- Measuring, rating and maintaining value of companies in the transfer process
- Different target groups of potential buyers (buyers from universities / employee buyout / migrant buyers / female buyers / buyers from other countries)
- Matchmaking between buyers and owners
- Business transfer in rural areas
- Financing / financial instruments to support transfer of business
- Innovation and transfer of knowledge
A solid knowledge base
The Successionwiki builds on a similar tool previously developed by the Berlin School of Economics and Law, an advisory partner in the STOB regions project. The original German succession-wiki (content only in German) is a comprehensive digital online reference guidebook addressing four main topics:
- Transfer of a company (handing over as a senior)
- Internal succession (within a family or a family network)
- External succession (buyers, employees)
- General aspects concerning people who seek information (e.g. advisors, students, policy-makers)
It also contains about 400 articles written by selected co-authors and validated through a strong quality control process.
Beyond providing extensive knowledge on a complex topic, the German succession-wiki has a strong practical approach and contains free templates for check-lists, calculation-sheets, emergency-planning-tools and links to qualified and experienced advisory partners.
The combination of the three success factors - quality, neutrality and strong practical relevance – has made the tool a success: the wiki registers around 1.000 unique visits per week and has been referenced over 500 times on websites, publications and articles. It also provides a wide knowledge base for the new Successionwiki launched in the STOB regions project.
An innovative approach to knowledge co-creation
The wiki approach from the STOB regions project has the potential to foster the emergence of a strong knowledge base with significant practical relevance for the topic of business succession, including data on actual transfers, reaching way beyond the boundaries of the project. The quality and sustainability of the tool is currently ensured by Berlin School of Economics and Law, the scientific partner in charge of its implementation. This approach is certainly replicable to other policy domains and might contribute to leverage the outcomes of other projects.
Further information is to be found here:
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