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Unlocking Potential: YEPA’s Vision for Youth Entrepreneurship

Exploring Collaborative Solutions with Yes I Start Up

Flavia Santia, giornalista


Despite high interest in self-employment among European youth, only a fraction are engaged in entrepreneurial endeavors due to barriers like limited access to funding, skills, networking, and institutional support. To tackle these challenges, the OECD and EU launched the Youth

Entrepreneurship Policy Academy (YEPA), aiming to foster collaboration and innovation in policy making. YEPA provides a platform for young entrepreneurs to engage with experts and policymakers, focusing on themes like access to finance, innovation, and sustainability. Additionally, initiatives like Yes I Start Up (YISU) offer comprehensive training and support for aspiring entrepreneurs, emphasizing the importance of business planning, mentorship, networking, and digital literacy. By addressing these challenges through collaborative efforts and practical initiatives, policymakers and stakeholders can create an enabling environment for entrepreneurial success among young individuals.

Rispondendo alla sottorappresentazione giovanile nell’imprenditoria, l’OCSE e l’UE hanno avviato l’iniziativa “Missing Entrepreneurs”. Nonostante l’interesse dei giovani nell’imprenditoria, barriere come il finanziamento limitato e la mancanza di competenze ostacolano il coinvolgimento.

Per affrontare questo problema, YEPA favorisce la collaborazione per sviluppare politiche mirate. Iniziative come YISU offrono formazione e supporto per gli aspiranti imprenditori. Affrontando queste sfide insieme, si crea un ambiente più favorevole all’imprenditoria giovanile.

In an effort to address the persistent issue of youth underrepresentation in the realm of entrepreneurship, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) have embarked on the ambitious Missing Entrepreneurs initiative. This joint venture underscores the pressing need to confront the substantial barriers that hinder young individuals from fully realizing their entrepreneurial potential and contributing to economic growth and innovation. Recent studies have shed light on a stark reality: while a significant proportion, approximately 40%, of young people within the European Union express a strong interest in pursuing self-employment, a mere 7% are currently engaged in entrepreneurial endeavors. The disparity between aspiration and action highlights the multifaceted challenges faced by youth, ranging from difficulties in accessing financial resources to a lack of essential entrepreneurship skills, networking opportunities, and institutional support.

Governments across the European Union have worked to create an enabling environment for aspiring young entrepreneurs by implementing a range of policies and initiatives. These efforts primarily focus on enhancing the overall business climate and providing targeted support in key areas such as entrepreneurship training, education, mentorship, and startup financing. However, despite these attempts, existing policies have fallen short of fully addressing the complex and evolving needs of young entrepreneurs, particularly in the wake of disruptive events like the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions.

In a rapidly changing economic landscape, characterized by technological advancements, demographic shifts, and emerging global challenges, the imperative to foster youth entrepreneurship has never been more pressing. Recognizing this urgency, the OECD and the EU have joined forces to launch the innovative Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy (YEPA) initiative.

YEPA stands as a beacon of hope, poised to address the different challenges threatening the full realization of young individuals’ entrepreneurial potential. At its core, it embodies a paradigm shift in policy making, transcending traditional approaches to youth entrepreneurship support by fostering dynamic collaboration, knowledge sharing, and exploring innovative approaches to supporting young entrepreneurs across different countries and contexts. The ambition is to trigger policy changes that will increase the chances of success for young entrepreneurs, including in the field of social entrepreneurship.

In essence, YEPA represents a comprehensive approach to policy making, one that goes beyond mere rhetoric to effect tangible change on the ground. The academy is structured as a peer-learning network implemented over a period of three years, and started in March 2023. Participants in the initiative have the chance to glean insights from global experts and peers across borders, delving into emerging trends in youth entrepreneurship policy, identifying key success factors, and navigating common pitfalls. This opportunity enables young entrepreneurs to directly engage in policy dialogues with governmental bodies and relevant stakeholders, including the finance sector and business support organizations, to collectively enhance support mechanisms. Notably, the program places significant emphasis on social entrepreneurship, aligning with the OECD and European Commission’s vision for a more socially conscious, environmentally sustainable, and collaborative EU economy. Aspiring social entrepreneurs are encouraged to seize this platform to advocate for change, prioritizing societal impact over profit. By actively participating in biannual online gatherings orchestrated by the OECD and European Commission, participants can actively shape policy development, leveraging their expertise to drive positive change in youth entrepreneurship support initiatives.

The topics addressed in the gatherings encapsulate the primary challenges encountered by young entrepreneurs across diverse EU nations. Through gathering insights from young entrepreneurs themselves, YEPA has effectively identified the main issues to be deliberated upon in these sessions.

One of the most common obstacles encountered by entrepreneurs, regardless of their business size or industry, is obtaining adequate funding to initiate their ventures. A recent survey conducted by Flash Eurobarometer sought insights from young individuals aged between 15 and 30 regarding the challenges they face in pursuing self-employment. Nearly 40% of respondents identified a lack of capital and resources as their primary hurdle. This finding aligns with previous research and surveys. While all entrepreneurs encounter difficulties in securing financial support for their endeavors, younger entrepreneurs typically face more significant obstacles in this regard. These challenges not only impact their ability to successfully launch a business but also tend to restrict the growth potential of those that do get off the ground. Consequently, this diminishes their capacity to attract future investments. Barriers to financing are often categorized into two main types: those arising from the entrepreneur (demand-side barriers) and those stemming from the market, including lenders and investors (supply-side barriers).

Another crucial theme is innovation. Young entrepreneurs exhibit a strong inclination towards innovation as a driving force behind their pursuit of entrepreneurship. They tend to engage in innovation at higher rates compared to the general adult population. This demographic is at the forefront of spearheading digital and environmental transitions, and addressing social and environmental challenges on a global scale. Numerous countries have already implemented policy measures aimed at boosting innovation rates and enhancing the growth prospects of businesses operated by youth entrepreneurs. These initiatives encompass various strategies such as providing management training, facilitating access to financial resources, and fortifying networking opportunities.

Additionally, tackling climate change stands as a global policy priority. By supporting young entrepreneurs, governments can harness the potential of the youth demographic in addressing some of the most pressing social and environmental challenges confronting the world today. Young people have been pivotal in driving the shift towards sustainability by introducing innovative practices, establishing more eco-conscious businesses, and generating income, employment, and economic growth through their entrepreneurial endeavors. The need is to explore how policies related to youth entrepreneurship can be further refined to bolster the journey towards sustainability and leverage the untapped potential of young individuals in fostering green and sustainable entrepreneurship initiatives.

It is precisely within this framework that Yes I Start Up fits in, included as a model project within Yepa, complemented by its accompanying project, Selfiemployment.

YISU, a Business Management Education and Training initiative, is overseen by the Italian Agency for Microfinance in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour.. It aims to promote self-employment and entrepreneurship among young individuals through a comprehensive program combining theoretical training and personalized tutoring.

Launched in 2018, YISU offers free training courses designed to equip participants with the necessary skills to materialize their entrepreneurial ideas. Targeting NEETs (young people aged 18-29 who are not engaged in work, education, or professional training), the program provides guidance on crafting effective business plans and navigating the funding application process.

Central to the success of this endeavor is its management model, which relies on a public-private partnership network encompassing various training institutions, businesses, associations, and professional offices. Recruitment efforts for NEETs are facilitated nationwide by 500 training bodies, crucial for identifying and engaging this specific demographic.

Yes I Start Up delivers tailored training sessions and one-on-one support to groups ranging from 4 to 12 students, totaling 80 hours of courses (60 in-class hours followed by 20 hours of personalized tutoring). The project aims to facilitate access to SELFIEmployment, a national-level initiative under the Youth Guarantee program managed by Invitalia. SELFIEmployment offers zero-interest loans ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 euros without collateral requirements.

In response to evolving conditions (COVID-19), Yes I Start Up has transitioned to a remote training program, ensuring high-quality instruction while mitigating costs associated with facility sanitation and safety equipment procurement.

The project rests on three foundational pillars. First of all, the careful selection of training structures: partners must demonstrate expertise in training, support for business creation, well-equipped classrooms, and qualified instructors. The second is the standardization and uniformity of training: consistent education delivery across geographical areas and training institutions is ensured through teacher training, module provision, and standardized instructional materials. Last but not least is the process of constant monitoring: a monitoring platform assesses output, enabling performance evaluation of training bodies and timely intervention to uphold quality standards.

The initial edition of Yes I Start Up (2018-2020) yielded highly favorable outcomes, replicated in its subsequent edition (2021-2022). Recognized by the European Commission as a best practice, YISU’s innovative model has been adopted in regions such as Calabria, Tuscany, and Sicily, showcasing its potential to support vulnerable groups in launching new enterprises.

In the pursuit to support promising entrepreneurs, we’ve encountered numerous challenges that have shed light on crucial areas for improvement. Through our project, we’ve identified key obstacles that aspiring business owners face, each presenting unique hurdles to overcome.

Entrepreneurs encounter a number of challenges on their journey, and among the most prominent is a widespread lack of awareness regarding the critical importance of developing a well-structured business plan. This deficiency in understanding often stems from a lack of proper training, particularly in nuanced areas such as taxation, which can significantly impact the viability of entrepreneurial endeavors. Without a comprehensive and meticulously crafted business plan, entrepreneurs may find themselves ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of securing essential funding, thereby stymying their prospects for growth and sustainability from the outset.

Furthermore, while support during the initial phases of business conception and launch is undeniably crucial, the sustainability and longevity of entrepreneurial ventures hinge upon the continuity of this support post-launch. Sustained guidance and mentorship from seasoned professionals can prove instrumental in helping nascent businesses weather the inevitable storms of early-stage growth and development, steering them towards long-term success. Particularly during the critical initial year of operation, entrepreneurs benefit immensely from personalized tutoring and support as they navigate the complexities of running a business and overcoming unforeseen challenges.

Equally pivotal to the success of any entrepreneurial endeavor is the cultivation of a robust and expansive network. Both before and after the formal launch of a business, the ability to forge meaningful connections with industry peers, potential collaborators, and mentors can significantly enhance an entrepreneur’s prospects for success. These networks serve as invaluable sources of advice, support, and opportunities for collaboration and growth, underscoring their indispensable role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Moreover, in an increasingly digitized business landscape, the significance of digital literacy cannot be overstated. As technology continues to permeate every facet of modern business operations, entrepreneurs must remain cognizant of the latest digital trends, tools, and platforms relevant to their industries. Mastery of digital technologies is not merely advantageous but essential for maintaining a competitive edge and driving sustainable growth in today’s hyper connected global marketplace.

Additionally, entrepreneurs often grapple with a tangled bureaucracy and a lack of familiarity with the intricacies of the tax system, further complicating their entrepreneurial journeys. These administrative burdens can impede progress, stifle innovation, and deter aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing their business aspirations.

Amidst these different challenges, access to adequate financial support emerges as a longstanding concern for entrepreneurs, particularly in securing non-repayable funds crucial for business initiation and growth. Efforts to bridge this funding gap and develop innovative financing mechanisms, including merit-based non-repayable funds, are essential to fostering a vibrant and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem that empowers aspiring business owners to turn their visions into reality.

In response to the urgent needs of entrepreneurs, immediate support measures are imperative to address pressing challenges and mitigate potential risks to business viability. Such measures may encompass targeted assistance programs, streamlined regulatory processes, and enhanced access to advisory services tailored to the specific needs of entrepreneurs at various stages of their entrepreneurial journeys.

In summation, the challenges confronting entrepreneurs are multifaceted and complex. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic and collaborative approach, leveraging the collective efforts of policymakers, industry stakeholders, and support organizations to create an enabling environment conducive to entrepreneurial success. By identifying and proactively responding to these challenges, we can create a vibrant ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs to thrive, innovate, and drive economic growth and prosperity. These insights have guided us in modifying our project to better meet the needs of entrepreneurs.

Initiatives like the Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy (YEPA) highlight a collective effort to overcome barriers hindering youth participation in entrepreneurship. Through platforms like YEPA, various practical approaches, including projects like Yes I Start Up (YISU), are showcased.

Yes I Start Up, among other practical initiatives featured in YEPA, offers tailored training and mentoring to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the skills and resources necessary for success. These efforts show a commitment to fostering an enabling environment for entrepreneurial growth and innovation among young individuals.

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