Sunday, 30 December 2007

What happened to Italy - where have all the entrepreneurs gone?

I have been to Italy twice in two months. The first time this year was for a conference on entrepreneurship. The audience were tough! We had a small delegation from Cambridge made up of entrepreneurs, investors and IP lawyers. The idea was that we would provide some new information, inspiration and connections to make things happen.

I believe the audience was polite, listened to what we had to say, but I am not sure they wanted to believe any of what we said was possible! What we said was "you can do it if you want to"!! Well it took us a day to say this.

But - whatever the state of entrepreneurship policy, education or attitude - I love Italy! What I love most about it is the history, its past achievements and contributions to world progress. And oh yes - the food and wine!

It was with this second visit - the malaise of European entrepreneurship became frighteningly obvious! I will not get into the detail here - because that would be unkind to a country and a people I love. But there is a desperate need in Italy for the educated elite to get a grip on what they want to see happen to their country.

There is knowledge, sense of design and aesthetics. The people are smart, have great social skills. Maybe there is just too much complacency around.

What I would like to know is why is mainland Europe better as a historic tourist location than as a vibrant set of countries? Italy is just an example of what I see in other countries. And by the way this is possibly one of the reasons that UK still attracts more investment and attention from Indian businesses than the whole of mainland Europe. Remember the reaction to the Arcelor takeover?!

So - here is what I think does not help

Employment laws - you can't fire people if things go wrong
Tax laws - take too much off the entrepreneurs
Banks - are unconnected to the "SME" sector
The European Venture Capital industry - is not oriented to early stage businesses or high tech
There is an insufficient number of role models to inspire - individuals are not celebrated in the press - perhaps only those who break the law make it into the media!

Xenophobic attitude of politicians prevents high net worth, intellectuals from migrating to Europe. Clearly migration into Europe can become a major issue - if all the people who come are those who sell dodgy sun glasses on street corners.

But if mainland Europe want to progress at any where near the rate of progress of Silicon Valley - it will certainly have to look to being more open, encouraging diversity of attitudes, skills and probably teach English in all schools as a compulsory second language!

That is enough controversy for now!

Happy New Year

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