Young entrepreneurs, time to cross borders

    “A CBC programme is the ideal framework for this project as it aims to offer youngsters and start-ups the opportunity to develop a cross-border business, and to open for themselves new opportunities beyond their country borders.”

    Arttu-Pekka Johannes Tavia, Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Finland)

    How to find a proper financial resource for a start-up? What are young people’s needs and fears? Which skills and competences are they lacking? Which support services can help them reach a higher impact? In the last three years, five partners from the Republic of Karelia and Finland have guided Russian and Finnish young entrepreneurs through all these steps, thanks to the BUSY project.

    In 2014 the Ministry for Youth affairs of the Republic of Karelia (Russia) had supported the programme “You Are Entrepreneur”, a federal programme for young “to-be” businessmen, which was implemented between 2014 and 2018, as a result of which 100 persons opened their own businesses. In 2017, beneficiaries expressed the need for opportunities and tools to be broadened, also at international level: the framework provided by the Karelia CBC Programme was just perfect for that. Thus, in 2018 the project BUSY was born, aiming at reinforcing the capacities of young entrepreneurs from Russia and Finland to launch their businesses across the border.

    The project aimed at creating an international team of young entrepreneurs to exchange experiences and jointly implement business ideas in Russia and Finland. “The main aim was to allow youngsters from both sides to meet each other, to have opportunities to cooperate, to know what they’re interested in, what kind of opportunities they have for financing, training, mutual cooperation, business opportunities, etc.”, – explains Elena Kharcheva, Project manager at the Karelian regional youth Center.

    The work started with mapping youth start-ups, businesses and  potential entrepreneurs wishing to implement their ideas across the border. A wide range of industries were targeted,  such as IT, traveling services, food production, marketing, etc. The participants were seeking for support in  understanding the market differences between Russia and Finland, as well as in approaching potential partners and  clients. The project organised several matchmaking sessions, networking events and forums, aimed to build an  international network: Start Up Weeks, a summer project school, Youth Economic Forum, Polar Bear Pitching, just to name a few.

    Surveys helped to review the key challenge areas, as well as to understand the most significant bottlenecks in entrepreneurship cooperation between the two countries. Both Russian and Finnish young respondents showed great interest and emphasized the need for support, knowledge, and skills. To meet such needs, the project partners organized educational events and trainings, consultancy services, coaching, mentoring and peer support. The experts from KRICPE (a project partner) shared their knowledge on the project cycle, business planning, donor and investors relations, external economic activities. Consultancy helped start-ups to gain new knowledge on sales promotion, access to financial resources, use of public support schemes.

    Then BUSY tested the available mechanisms for young entrepreneurs to enter the Finnish and Russian markets. Participation in seminars, consultations, international conferences, and forums – including the largest investment forum in Europe “SLUSH” – became possible  for youngsters. The most successful format was a business mission for entrepreneurs from Oulu, Joensuu and the  Republic of Karelia: the participants were matched with potential partners abroad. As a result of a three-day joint work, three international contracts were signed.

    Among the business support services offered by the BUSY project was the  opening of a free co-working space for young entrepreneurs and the self-employed people in Petrozavodsk. Equipped with 27 work stations, creativity or meeting with clients, it hosted over 100 residents only in the first year. Right there, young entrepreneurs could receive a full range of services from the Development Corporation of the Republic of Karelia: up-to-date information on grant support, consultations, offers of participation to educational events, etc.

    But  the most important achievement behind this project, as seen by the partners, is young people’s change in attitude. “It  doesn’t matter if they will start their business now or not – concludes Arttu-Pekka – They have seen entrepreneurship and cross-border business as an opportunity for them and their territories”. 

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