Digital technologies are enabling unparalleled access to the global marketplace, but entrepreneurs emphasize that an opportunity exists to facilitate the global journeys of entrepreneurs further and improve prospects for more communities in Europe and around the world.
Entrepreneurs suggest that governments have an important role to play in supporting access to the global marketplace and removing the remaining pain points that they identified.
They stress that policymakers can craft rules to lessen friction by lowering tariffs where they exist, improve access to global services, financing and digital platforms, develop better visa and immigration processes, guarantee reliable access to the global Internet, simplify customs procedures, and make more information more easily available and understandable.
“There are so many things governments could do,” underscores Hidalgo of 24symbols. “The EU could simplify visas to import foreign talent, create framework regulations to be followed by member countries that simplify the administrative steps to create and dissolve a company, and enable regulations for investors that ease and enable faster engagement of investors in companies.”
Miloev of Dragon Inside points to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations – an effort by the European Union and United States to facilitate transatlantic business and innovation – as an opportunity to improve his business.
“The [TTIP] treaty currently being discussed involves reducing and removing trade barriers,” he says. “Duties in the textiles space are too high at the moment. Additionally, raising the de minimis thresholds [a minimum value under which goods can enter a country duty-free and without extensive paperwork] will be a boon for many business.”
Miloev adds that it would also help on the import side of his business. “In terms of imports into the EU from the United States, we have been on the fence about starting a product line with an American wool mill, and there are also some great packaging products on offer from U.S. companies. Removing duties and other barriers will make those decisions much easier for us.”
Pangestian Harahap of Nauli highlights that, “lower taxes will probably help us for larger sales and more expensive products,” and hopes that “the partnership agreement will lower barriers for toys.”
Others, like Hidalgo of 24symbols, are more guarded. “Any work on improving and simplifying trade is welcome,” he suggests, “but I’d need to read the fine print” of the agreement under negotiation. Skelly of Yellowschedule notes that “breaking down the barriers to business is obviously a key goal to enable trade between countries,” but is concerned that the transatlantic trade initiative thus far has flown largely under the radar for ordinary citizens.
Other startup community leaders point to the opportunities and challenges surrounding the European Union’s new Digital Single Market initiative.
In a letter to Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, leaders of incubators and startup community organizations from across the EU encouraged the initiative to focus on tackling specific problems to enhance innovation, not “leveling up” regulatory burdens.3
“This means things like a common set of rights and a clear set of rules on data protection that give consumers confidence, but don’t stifle innovation.” The letter continues, “We need to make one-stop-shop systems work so that startups only have to deal with one regulator or tax authority.”
Entrepreneurs underscore the need for the EU and Member States to orient their laws and policies more towards startups and small businesses.
“What we really need are laws that keep our scale of business in mind!” says Pangestian Harahap. “That didn’t happen at all with the new VAT regulations issued by the European Union.”
“For a big company, these regulations might just mean they need to employ some more computer scientists and accountants. For really small businesses like ours, it could mean a month of uncertainty, a threat to our ability to do business, and needing to hire an accountant who is not in our budget,” she adds.
Others suggest that governments could enhance the bespoke services they offer – from small business loans to travel grants to export advice and market entry services.
“The EU and Member States have an important role to create a good infrastructure and an entrepreneur friendly environment,” says Faix of Prezi.
The Commission appears to be moving in that direction via programs such as the Horizon 2020, a financing mechanism to encourage the development of EU-led knowledge, research and innovation, and a new Startup Europe cluster aimed at linking startups with government and support communities.
“For governments, organizations and advisors, giving even top level advice on what we ought to be looking out for as we reach different levels of scale would be really, really helpful,” concludes Koby of Technology Will Save Us.