In March 2015, Digital Leaders took their programme to the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels for a DLEU Salon to discuss how we can make Europe’s business more digital and increase their potential for future growth, productivity and competitiveness, while simultaneously developing innovative business models to access new markets and create new jobs.
The Salon was joined by five inspiring speakers: Laure Batut, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, Dana Eleftheriadou, Policy Coordinator at DG GROW and EU Coordinator of the Strategic Policy Forum on Digital Entrepreneurship, Caroline Bergaud, Head of EU Partnerships at Mind the Bridge Foundation, Bogdan Ceobanu, Policy Officer at Entrepreneurship & Innovation, DG CONNECT, European Commission and Emilio Corchado, Coordinator of the WELCOME Project.
The importance of Digital opportunities for EU businesses was highlighted during the Salon. Digital is evolving rapidly, affecting work, business and learning, and transforming the traditional sectors of the community. Digital can make an important contribution to accomplishing economic recovery and reducing unemployment but it was suggested that there is still a long way to go. ‘Digital Transformation of European Industry and Enterprises‘, a report from the Strategic Policy Forum on Digital Entrepreneurship, highlights the potential for growth but also where Europe has been falling behind. When looking to countries such as Sweden or the US, it is evident that there is much more potential that could be achieved in Europe for increasing jobs and employment through adopting different formats.
Furthermore, there has been a large decline in the number of ICT graduates, and thus a decline in skilled workers, which means it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill Digital jobs. The skills gap could be filled by introducing IT education in primary schools, the use of specialised e-learning tools. There is also potential in using educational programmes, such as those provided by Mind the Bridge Foundation, to support the development of entrepreneurship to produce high quality startups.
Entrepreneurship is for everyone
Europe has a rich history of producing internationally-renowned digital businesses in sectors including music, gaming, fashion, travel, FinTech, food delivery and apps. 25 unicorns (billion dollar companies) have already been identified. Startup Europe is a programme that promotes entrepreneurship in Europe, creating a business environment that supports digital ideas and business to grow. It was argued that the current social model cannot be sustained so there is a need to generate more entrepreneurship; indeed “the biggest risk is to take no risk”.
One of the key areas of discussion was around the pros and cons of supporting startups to scale up. Should we nurture startups and keep them in Europe rather than sell them off and let the business move out of Europe? It was suggested that the acquisition of startups often created jobs in Europe and that the money generated from selling startups is frequently reinvested in new European startups. However there is a need to understand more about the role of startups in generating employment and rate of success and failure.
“Data is the new oil”
The idea of data as the next big commodity for investment was discussed. An investment plan for Europe lays out how the European Commission intends to address the investment gap that currently exists in the digital business market. Through revitalising the economy with investment, the private sector will be encouraged to invest further investment in digital businesses. The cooperation between businesses, especially SMEs, and government to secure investment and financial support, including through non-traditional methods such as crowdfunding, is of particular importance in addressing this issue.
Discussing the proliferation of available data, the issue of protecting the rights of users and developers in terms of privacy, children and cyber security was raised. Big data needs protection for which education, forging global partnerships and investment are essential. It is important that as Digital transforms businesses in Europe the fundamental rights of its citizens are not overlooked.
To find out more about the programmes discussed, click here to view the presentations from the Salon.
Eleanor Radford is the Digital Leaders Manager