The Norwegian Møre and Romsdal County is a rural region with about 265.000 inhabitants and a population density of 18.3 inhabitants per square kilometre. Not exactly a hot spot for entrepreneurship at first sight, right?

Well, quite remarkably, it appears that the Møre and Romsdal County Council operates since 2007, in the framework of a formalized collaboration with all the municipalities and Innovation Norway, a first line service for entrepreneurs which is unique in Norway: Each municipality in the region has a start-up office. 50 certified and regularly trained advisors provide advice on business development, training courses and networking activities for the entrepreneurs in the region.

Digital tool for start-ups – the next generation 

After 10 years of ongoing delivery of entrepreneurial advice, it appeared that despite an overall positive feedback from both users and advisors, the time had come for improving in order to solve existing challenges linked to the classic methods based on personal meetings on the one side and the evolution of the demand on the other side, such as:

  • Methods and quality of services delivery differed from one start-up office to another;
  • The limited resources of the 50 advisors did not enable to scale-up significantly the number of advisory services delivered, either in quality of services or in number of entrepreneurs supported;
  • The expectations of entrepreneurs were growing towards increased flexibility.

The solution was to go digital - the County Council conceived a project to innovate and to increase its quality, which was funded by three parties, the Supplier Entreprenerdy, Innovation Norway as fund operator, and the County Council as customer. An important aspect of the project development have been the implementation of design thinking workshops involving all the users, i.e. both entrepreneurs and advisersto develop the prototype. The result is the digital tool for starts-ups – launched on 12th November 2019. The tool is a good practice within the Interreg Europe project OSS – One Stop Shop towards competitive SMEs, focusing on the ecosystem for the first line service system, which aims to improve policies for SMEs competitiveness by enhancing support services for first time entrepreneurs in order to increase the number and quality of start-ups in the partner regions.

The tool 

The content of this new online tool relies on the one hand on the practical experience at from 13.000 business support cases, on the other hand on modern entrepreneurship knowledge provided through a collaboration with leading universities. My tool builds on 27 formalised steps (see picture) towards developing a full business plan: the elements can be customized and are the backbone of the support programme. It directly addresses the entrepreneurs: 'The purpose is for you to learn about entrepreneurship so that you can start, or further develop, your own business. In addition, we will give you some tools that will increase the likelihood of success – and hopefully give you inspiration to get started.' says Prof. Martin Steinert, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Diagram on digital tool for startups

The new digital tool provides the basis on which Møre and Romsdal County Council expects to enhance support services for first time entrepreneurs in the framework of the Interreg Europe project OSS in its home region as well as in other project partner’s regions. There have also already been discussions at the Europe, let’s cooperate! 2019 Interreg Europe event and at the Mastering the digital transformation of business support thematic workshop of the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform between representatives from Møre and Romsdal County Council and the Interreg Europe PURE COSMOS and BETTER projects with respect to a potential transfer of the tool.

Actually, as the entrepreneurial process providing the backbone for the tool is not specific to the local context and a large part of the content is already in English, there is no major technical obstacle for an uptake in other regions.

The ingredients of success 

With the digital tool for start-ups - which includes online training and guidance, online communication with advisors, available experts in the online service, and concrete actions towards developing a business plan - aims to streamline and make the start-up service equal in quality across the county. All advisors were trained in using the digital tool in their meetings and communication with the start-ups and now all have the same background knowledge about entrepreneurship. Another central goal is that the time spent on advising the entrepreneur will be more efficient. Saved time can be used to prepare the start-up for growth, instead of just answering questions about the formalities for starting a new business. A further goal is to create a service that is closer to the entrepreneurs, which they can access regardless of where they live in the region.

Test runs with users and advisors took place in April/ May and September 2019. After the launch of the tool, further cases keep on coming into the platform. The first user feedback is positive – the system is deemed easy to understand and to use. 

Future developments 

To keep up the good work and development, the whole team meets once a month online. It runs through experiences with the tool, discusses suggestions for improvement and picks up ideas for further developments, such as e.g. the management of funding applications. 

In summary - The digital tool is already recognized as good practice by its users and is on the way to become a success. On top – it can be easily transferred and adjusted to other regions!

Have you become curious?  Then just check it out! Start 'your business' journey here and get an impression of the tool and its features! 

Further information is to be found here:

Image credit: Photo by Serpstat from Pexels