Europe has the potential to become another Silicon Valley, writes Neelie Kroes.
Nothing combats frustration about the European economic deadlock like meeting creative, ambitious internet entrepreneurs.
Last Thursday I met with nine, among them the founders of Skype, Rovio, Spotify, Tuenti, Seedcamp and The Next Web. These are all young men and women who, in the last five to ten years, developed their original ideas into companies reaching millions of people.
It wasn’t easy. They had to find finance, and struggled with administrative obstacles, difficult labour legislation and a lack of qualified staff. But they didn’t give up.
Maybe wanting something and going for it is what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur. They are looking at ways to improve the climate for new start-ups in Europe. How can we make them stay in Europe, introduce innovative concepts and inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to do the same?
Their message to other European entrepreneurs is clear: ‘be creative and fearless’. Look upon the obstacles as so many challenges. Failing is not a problem, not trying is. More action is needed to get this message across and that is also the responsibility of successful entrepreneurs in their interaction with start-ups.
They also have some good advice to governments. Tax systems, education and bankruptcy rules should be geared towards stimulating entrepreneurship, not discouraging it. Government leaders should go to successful entrepreneurs for advice more often.
European cities, too, can do much more to become exciting places for businesses to settle. In their efforts to attract tourism, some cities are running the risk of turning into museums. The (local) authorities must also show what they are made of. Why not introduce a 1% rule for start-ups the way we did for the arts?
When you say dotcom company, people will think of Silicon Valley rather than Stockholm, London, Berlin, Flanders or Amsterdam. But things are changing. In the space of a few years, some of the European IT start-ups have risen to the top.
Their creative products have found a place in the daily lives of millions of people, including mine. At the end of a working day I turn to Skype for a chat with my grandchildren in the States. Spotify provides me and 20 million others in 24 countries with ‘music for every moment’. And if I need to release some pent up energy I download a higher level of Angry Birds, just like 250 million other users do every month. Rovio, the makers of Angry Birds, attracts an even bigger number of users than Twitter.
Europe can innovate on a scale previously only associated with Silicon Valley. We have the talent. Europe is full of creative entrepreneurs. What we need is governments who give them the opportunities to bloom. The start-ups are our European stars.
Neelie Kroes is the euro commissioner in charge of the Digital Agenda
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