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Interview with David Halabisky: Unveiling the impact of YEPA and YISU on fostering entrepreneurial success

Flavia Santia, giornalista

In the evolving landscape of global entrepreneurship, the journey of young entrepreneurs is marked by both inspiring innovation and formidable challenges. At the forefront of understanding and shaping this journey is David Halabisky, a pivotal figure at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions, and Cities. With a career dedicated to dissecting and enhancing the frameworks that support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurship, Halabisky’s work is instrumental in crafting policies that foster an inclusive and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Having learned about the YISU project, how do you think it fits into the context of YEPA?

The OECD-EU Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy (YEPA) is a policy-learning network that brings policy makers, youth entrepreneurship networks and organisations, social entrepreneurship networks, programme managers and researchers together to explore how support for young entrepreneurs could be strengthened. We really want to identify “what works and why does it work”, “what’s new” and “what more is needed”.

To accomplish this, we set up a programme of events and online workshops that allow more than 150 participants get together and exchange what they are doing. The events and online workshops each have a specific theme, allowing us to dig deep with groups of participants to learn about their experiences, as well as the different contexts in their countries.

The YISU project has been presented and discussed at several OECD workshops – including YEPA events – and is viewed as a good practice for several reasons. First, evaluations show that the programme has had strong results, notably higher survival rates of the businesses created by participants. So we can see that it is successfully helping young entrepreneurs. Second, monitoring is used as a tool to understand how participants are using and responding to the support, and the knowledge gained is fed back into the design of the training. This type of dynamic process is exactly what we wish to see and encourage policy makers and programme managers to do.

Showcasing initiatives such as YISU at YEPA is really what the YEPA initiative is all about. There is much that programme managers in other countries can learn from the YISU experience so we are very excited to be able to offer others an opportunity to be exposed to YISU and to have the chance to directly interact with representatives so that they can ask questions.

YISU, in addition to providing tailored training, also offers tangible support after the business startup phase. What role does this aspect play in the successful outcome of an entrepreneurial project?

The OECD-EU Missing Entrepreneurs 2023 report examined this very question. There is a chapter that asks the questions: Does youth entrepreneurship support help young people create businesses? If so, what makes it work and under what conditions? If not, why is it not working?

What we did was collect as many evaluations of youth entrepreneurship schemes as we could. We found more than 150 evaluations from all over the world. Out of these, we selected the most robust evaluations according to the criteria set out in the updated OECD Framework for the Evaluation of SME and Entrepreneurship Policies and Programmes. Essentially, we examined those that used econometric techniques to compare young entrepreneurs who received support with “matched” entrepreneurs that did not receive support.

Overall, the evaluations show mixed results. But one of the most important lessons was that young people were more likely to create a viable business when they received a package of support that included training, coaching and finance. In addition, participants in these types of schemes also had stronger employment outcomes when the business was not successful. The reason that the impact is greater when multiple supports are delivered together in an appropriate sequence is that they can better address the multiple challenges faced by young people.

Entrepreneurship training is important for increasing entrepreneurial motivations and helping young people acquire fundamental business management and entrepreneurship skills. This includes the learning about the steps for setting up a business, financial planning, identifying potential clients, managing risk and more. However, more intensive support like coaching can help the young person apply their knowledge and skills to their business. And if finance is also included, this will provide financial resources to help sustain the business while it is building its customer base.

How does the exchange of best practices like YISU at the European level translate into the development of new active policies?”

The hope is that people will be inspired to take action when they learn about what is happening elsewhere. In the YEPA initiative, we are trying to demonstrate approaches that have already been successful so that participants can see a number of different models that work. These successful approaches could then be translated into different contexts by the participants when they see a model that could address an issue in their country.

When showcasing examples, we identify the success factors so that everyone understands why best practices are impactful. This will help the participants when they are trying to transfer an approach to their country because they would need to know why something has been successful.

But we also need to recognise that good practices can also offer broader lessons that could be applied to a range of different types of initiatives. For example, participant selection is an element of delivering support that is relevant for all types of schemes, regardless of whether they offer training, coaching, finance or packages of support.

We also examine the role of the context when considering why a best practice works well. A successful approach will not always work equally as well in another context because the conditions have changed. For example, a scheme may be very effective at supporting young female entrepreneurs in one country or region, but it might not work everywhere because of how young female entrepreneurs are viewed and perceived in different cultures.

So as you can see, we are trying to raise awareness about successful approaches and help everyone understand why they are successful. Then it is up to them to take the ideas back to their country and use their new knowledge.

But there are also other benefits to these types of best practice exchanges at the EU-level. One is that they can be very useful for helping identify new developments and new practices. This might help participants identify a more efficient way of doing things or filling a gap in the current support system. In addition, these good practice exchanges will help everyone expand their networks. The organised events and discussions are great, but we hope that the participants meet new colleagues so that they can keep in touch and keep the discussions going through more informal channels.

YISU has also been recognized as a fully digitalized project. Is this aspect also being emphasised in entrepreneurial education?

Yes, there has definitely been a trend towards delivering training programmes online. This, of course, was driven by the COVID-19 pandemic when people could not get together in the same room. But we see that online learning can be quite effective, and we also realise that there could be a number of other potential benefits to online training. These include increased reach since participants don’t no longer need to be in the same place as the training and potentially lower costs for the training provider since they do not need as much classroom space to deliver the training. Moreover, YISU shows that monitoring of participants was improved and this has benefits for having programmes that are more responsive to user needs. However, we also need to recognise that some people may be excluded if they have poor internet access or are not comfortable working with online tools.

This trend to deliver support online is not only visible in entrepreneurship training, but also in entrepreneurship support systems more broadly. Many governments are expanding their online training content and it is increasingly common for governments to offer entrepreneurship training and support modules online. There are a range of approaches, some are fully open and offered at no cost while others used more closed models. Some such as the Business Development Bank of Canada are being very creative as training is delivered through online games and virtual simulations.

Another element of this trend is that countries are starting to bring entrepreneurship training and digital education together for children in school. We heard about this at the YEPA launch event last year in Brussels. In Lithuania, they are bringing the development of entrepreneurship and digital skills together in entrepreneurship education and integrating this into the curriculum at young ages.

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