This 2-day international conference aimed at the sharing of good practices and discussing common challenges of SMEs in the V4 countries along different aspects. The event was held on 24-25 September in Budapest  organized by HETFA, coordinator of the Visegrad Fund project Visegrad Network on Entrepreneurship. Participants included academics, researchers, experts from public authorities as well as representatives of businesses and other organizations working on various aspects of entrepreneurship. Therefore, the event represented a special opportunity for getting involved in interactive and discursive knowledge-sharing and networking as well as for formulating messages that can be channelled into decision-making.

The first plenary session was dedicated to give an overview on the current state of competitiveness and innovation potential of V4 countries. Invited experts from all V4 countries had significant experience in policy forming and/or evaluation. Experts agreed that the most pressing issues for SMEs are taxation and regulation. It was also confirmed that through the various instruments of Cohesion Policy an important amount of subsidies or other forms of financial support are available for SMEs. However, policy-makers have to pay attention to the following factors:

  • spend the financial assets in an efficient way,
  • not to distort the market in the meantime,
  • raise the competitiveness of special segments.

The most important need of the sector is that SMEs should be left alone to work and only the necessary conditions for their optimal operation is expected to be secured by decision-makers.

The second plenary session touched upon various trends in the Visegrad countries. First, V4 SMEs’ position was presented with regard to circular economy through the eco-innovation index. Accordingly, the region lags behind and there are a number of important steps to be taken to reach an advancement, e.g.:

  • waste and resource management should be better connected,
  • new business models should be launched and promoted,
  • costs of meeting regulations should be decreased,
  • companies should get access to relevant information and exchange of good practices.

Apart from policy changes in this field, spreading innovative and entrepreneurial thinking through education is a must – which also represents a key asset to boost entrepreneurship among young people. Providing support for those who have entrepreneurial idea can be done not only through making available financial assets, but providing mentorship and networking is also of key importance. For start-ups, challenge and innovation are the key words which can be easily embraced by youngsters. Penetration of digitalization and the so-called e-cohesion is supposed to give momentum to the rise of start-ups on our region if we are able to mitigate the problem of the lack of adequate human resources. Related to this, the example from Poland was outstanding: regardless governmental initiatives certain cities decided to develop strategies and provide an attractive environment for start-ups: as a result, a number of accelerator and start-up centre programmes were launched.

Speakers of this session agreed that more trust would be needed towards people using governmental/EU funds to enable them to use efficiently these funds and ensure the growth of their SMEs instead of dealing with administration and reporting. Moreover, enhanced cooperation among programme owners and beneficiaries at regional or international level could also strengthen the position of the regions, V4 economies and SMEs.

Afterwards, fours parallel sessions were held with different focuses: female entrepreneurship, social enterprises, family businesses and generation changes as well as digitalization and industry 4.0. These workshops were organized through diverse methods including pitch session, pechakucha presentations, use of digital tools and roundtable discussion. Each of them pointed on the most pressing issues of related SMEs and entrepreneurs.

The most important issues can be listed as follows:

  • vocational and higher educational institutions’ curriculum lag behind the needs of the sector,
  • creative and entrepreneurial thinking should be reinforced as early as possible and the culture of entrepreneurship should be promoted,
  • there are many financial schemes available for entrepreneurs and SMEs but the way and focus how they can use them should be made more efficient,
  • there is a need for reinforcing regional networks through V4 countries to discuss their specific needs and better articulate their interests,
  • opportunities for mentorship, knowledge sharing and networking should be further promoted
  • discusson on the specific needs of different segments of entrepreneurs and SMEs needs to involve the relevant decision-makers too.

More details and follow-up materials of the conference can be checked here. The next event of the project will take place in Bratislava in January 2020 aiming to channel these outcomes towards decision-makers of the V4 countries. In the meantime, stay tuned for regular updates of our activities at http://hetfa.eu/v4-network-on-entrepreneurship/! You can follow us also on LinkedIn or Facebook.