VB project idea Soft Landing for SMEs in The North Sea Region
In recent years, public business development organizations all over the world have funded the establishment of business incubators as a durable and effective tool in regional business development, and business incubators have proven a well-documented tool for economic development by creating networks of entrepreneurs (Phan, Siegel, & Wright, 2005).
Central to the support, survival and growth of European entrepreneurs and small businesses, is the initiation of export and internationalization activities, instead of solely focusing on the often relatively limited customer potential of the home market.
As the realization of the importance of internationalization amongst very new and small companies has grown among policy makers and publicly funded incubators, some incubators have tried developing services targeted on helping their SMEs abroad – the so-called Soft Landing programs - where SMEs are sent to other incubators abroad, in the hope of them starting export activities.
However, very few of these soft landing efforts have proven effective, because the incubators in question have not been able to establish the necessary cross-boarder network of incubators or develop a soft landing concept that was viable and coherent outside the incubator that developed it. Prior soft landing programs have simply been developed by one partner country and hereafter offered to others, without taking into consideration the knowledge and expertise of other partners. This has resulted in limited buy-in from partners and participants.
Therefore, it is the aim and purpose of this project to create a strong and lasting soft landing concept via joint development efforts between incubators in 6 European countries in the North Sea Region. The concept will then be offered to and tested on 120 European SMEs and entrepreneurs and then translated into a soft landing blue print, that will be made publicly accessible for future learning, networking and knowledge sharing between incubators in the European Union.
The project, which will have a three year span, will have two main activities:
1) A development group consisting of incubation managers from publicly funded incubators in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands will over a one-year span develop an effective and long-lasting soft landing concept for SMEs and entrepreneurs in incubators
2) The Soft landing concept will then be offered to the SMEs and entrepreneurs that reside in the participating incubators over a two-year period
Uniquely, the program will therefore be based on joint European development efforts, and be a result of the experience and knowledge of incubators in several North Sea countries. The progress, growth and internationalization efforts of the participating SMEs and entrepreneurs will be monitored and evaluated, so as to gradually adapt, correct and change the program according to the evaluation results. A final evaluation will be completed during the final six months of the project, after which a “how-to” handbook will be published online.
The soft landing concept will contain the following main features and steps:
Participating start-ups will go through a four-step program over a two year span with the aim of preparing for and starting export/internationalization initiatives. This will happen by launching a program that exchanges SMEs and entrepreneurs between the incubators and introduces them to a particular foreign partner market in a structured series of workshops.
- Workshop 1: Takes place in home incubator. Uncovers barriers and potentials for export/international collaborations among the SME and entrepreneurs.
- Study trip: SMEs and the entrepreneurs visit chosen foreign partner country/partner incubator, to get initial network and information about the market
- Workshop 2: Take places in partner incubator/foreign market. Covers culture, customers, local laws etc.
- Workshop 3: After having done home assignments, start-up returns to partner incubator/foreign market to do further work on the internationalization strategy, for example by finding actual customers, business partners etc.
- If the SMEs and entrepreneurs then wants to establish a long term physical presence on the foreign market, a working space is assigned for a longer amount of time at the foreign incubator.