Written evidence from Mr Rob van der Horst
I work for an organisation called EIM that carries
out economic research about the business sector, and entrepreneurship
and SMEs in particular. EIM was founded about 75 years ago as
a joint initiative of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and business
associations. Our work is providing input for policymakers at
national and supranational level, based on independent applied
One of the major research projects we are carrying
out is called Observatory of European SMEs, a project for the
Enterprise Directorate General of the European Commission, which
is also the Directorate General that produced the Green paper
on Entrepreneurship. In the framework of this project since 1993
an annual report is produced providing quantitative and qualitative
information about SMEs in European countries. Through our network
of national member institutes we also collect information about
national policy measures implemented to enhance the development
of SMEs and stimulate entrepreneurship. So, that is very much
linked to the set ofvery interesting and relevantquestion
you have sent me last week.
Nevertheless, I have to confess that it has
not been so easy to prepare answers to your questions. The major
reason is that very few proper evaluations of policies have been
carried out. Another reason is that in the EU there are a few
thousand national policy measures in the area of entrepreneurship
Question 1Looking at the national policy
of individual EU member states to promote entrepreneurship what
in your view has been the most successful national policy as a
whole and why? What lessons could be drawn for thinking about
future EU policy and policy in the UK?
In order to answer this question we should look
at the major bottlenecks for entrepreneurship. I think those are:
(2) the fear to fail and the stigma of failure;
(4) lack of management skills.
But even if we would agree on these bottlenecks,
we have to agree on: what a "successful" enterprise
A large amount of additional starters?
Improving the survival rates of starters?
Bringing down the number of business
Creating additional jobs?
Realising higher profits?
Let me focus on enterprise policies that aim
to stimulate more people to start a business. Then I personally
would consider policies successful that:
(1) have managed to change the culture; and
(2) have managed to co-ordinate and simplify
enterprise policy instruments.
I will try to explain myself.
So first, changing the culture. Changing the
culture of a society in which it is accepted and encouraged to
start your own business and where successful entrepreneurship
is considered a valuable contribution to welfare and well-being.
A society in which failure is not a stigma any longer. In most
European countries it is still a big problem to get a bank loan
after a failure or bankruptcy. In the US failure is sometimes
even considered "a useful experience".
Changing the culture is of course a long-term
objective, but it can have a major impact. Of course the government
cannot do it on its own. There should be a breeding place for
such a change, and other stakeholders should support the attempts
of the government. What could a government do? Let me give you
just a few examples of actions taken in different countries, also
in the UK, that I would consider at least worth considering:
launching a public campaign: start
your own business;
training teachers at primary and
secondary schools in entrepreneurship (the Household Survey in
your country has for instance found that those previously exposed
to entrepreneurship through education are more likely to seriously
consider starting a business);
introducing entrepreneurship in the
curriculum of primary and secondary schools;
training people who are in regular
contact with business people, to make them better understand the
needs of small businesses;
appointing former business people
in government departments that develop policy measures, tax schemes,
appointing a former businessman or
woman as Minister of Industry;
launching awards for the most successful
starter in different fields (students, women, ethnic minorities,
appointing former business people
as directors of small business agencies, innovation; and
adjusting taxation and other laws
to make it easier to start a business and to facilitate a re-start
after a failure.
My second point in this respect is about policies
that have managed to simplify and co-ordinate enterprise policy
instruments. Let me again try to explain myself. In the late eighties
and the nineties there were quite some countries where an awful
lot of policy instruments to stimulate entrepreneurship andespecially
to support SMEs had been implemented. A policy was introduced
for almost each need and bottleneck identified. In the end the
poor entrepreneur could no longer manage to keep in mind the wealth
of subsidies, support organisations, etc. A whole army of civil
servants was needed to manage the programmes and many consultants
had to assist the enterprises to make use of the support programmes.
The situation had also unintended effects. As some policies were
restricted to enterprises of a certain size, eg 10 employees,
entrepreneurs were sometimes reluctant to grow, or set up a second
business in order not to loose the benefits of the policies.
Apart from that, evaluations sometimes revealed
that objectives were not met at all. For instance financial policy
schemes that were supposed to stimulate enterprises to innovate
or to start exporting, just improved the financial situation of
the businesses; they would have innovated or started exporting
What has proven to be a success is first of
all co-ordinating all policies relevant to the business sector
between all ministries. Another success has been: abandoning the
overwhelming amount of instruments, keeping a few clear and successful
schemes that do not discriminate by size, and at the same time:
focusing on a general enterprise policy rather than an SME policy.
A general enterprise policy is a policy that aims to create and
maintain a healthy business environment for all enterprises. When
developing new laws and regulations the government should take
into account the specific characteristics and circumstances of
small businesses, rather than develop specific policies to overcome
the negative effects of these laws and regulations. That means
that some kind of watch-dog unit in one of the ministries should
have the role to introduce this way of thinking in all ministries
dealing with laws and regulations that may effect business. That
means for instance:
simple requirements and formalities
to start a business;
reduction of administrative burden;
simplification of the tax regime;
creating a transparent labour market;
setting up effective and efficient
information services at regional or local level; etc.
Question 2Looking at the national policy
of individual EU member states to promote entrepreneurship, which
provide the best practice in terms of the evaluation of individual
I rather would talk about good instead of best
practices, for two reasons:
in order to identify the best, one
should have a complete overview of all policies that have been
implemented and evaluated, and I'm afraid no one has;
national policies have been developed
for the situation in a specific country. Bottlenecks, hindrances
and circumstances in countries differ, so one cannot simply copy
a policy from one country to another.
Let me give you one example of policies that
seem to be a good practice. May be I am a bit biased, but it is
the Dutch system of carrying out SME and enterprise research.
Already for more than 70 years the Ministry of Economic Affairs
wants to base its SME and enterprise policy on proper applied
policy research. To that end a research programme is carried out
providing the policymakers with information about structure and
development of enterprises in different sectors, and of different
size classes. Also fundamental research is carried outin
co-operation with universitiesto improve the knowledge
about entrepreneurship development.
The outcome of the research is not only used
by government officials, but also by the social partners in their
process of negotiating labour conditions. Consultants, advisors,
are other users of the information, as well as individual entrepreneurs
and of course students. The website that presents all the research
findings (www.eim.nl, then click SMEs and Entrepreneurship) had
more than one million hits last year, although not only from The
Netherlands, as much information is now available in English.
This research programme with an annual budget
of four million euro is carried out by EIM. In the past the budget
was even much higher, but part of the research projects are now
commissioned by the Ministry based on public procurement procedures.
This research programme, co-ordinated by Sander Wennekers (see
Literature overview in the annex) has served as an example for
many countries. Presidents, ministers and other officials from
all over the world have visited our office to get acquainted with
this programme. My colleagues and I have worked in many countriesamongst
which are almost all Candidate Countriesto set up similar
programmes, although always much smaller than the Dutch one. Currently
we are doing so in South Africa and Dubai, one of the United Arab
So, the advantages of the research programme
are among others the following:
policymakers are provided with an
ongoing stream of independent information to do their work;
there is no discussion amongst social
partners and the government about the facts and figures: EIM is
considered as a reliable, independent organisation; and
the programme is well co-ordinated,
so overlap by different governmental departments is avoided.
Of course enterprise and SME research is also
conducted in other countries, but almost never in such a structured
and co-ordinated way. I have for instance attended several annual
small business research conferences in your country. I have always
been impressed by the wealth and quality of research carried out
in the UK, which has a number of famous researchers in this field.
The research is however carried out in many different university
institutes in a non-co-ordinated way, as far as I know. So, there
is not an ongoing stream of information to the policymakers.
Question 3Do you think that the way in
which policies at the EU level to promote entrepreneurship are
evaluated is satisfactory?
I am afraid not many evaluations have been carried
out. To be honest, it is not easy to do so, because for a sound
evaluation, clear quantitative, measurable targets have to be
set in advance. And most policies at EU level are rather vague,
identifying good practices; and
exchanging information and experiences.
I am not blaming the EU for this; I think it
is the consequence of the fact that Member States do not want
the EC to implement concrete policies at EU level. Either because
they do not want the EU to take over the responsibilities from
them or because it is more effective to implement the policy at
national, regional or local level.
For example, the European Investment Bank gives
medium and long-term loans to financial institutions that lend
on to SMEs. In 2000, this lending amounted to 5.7 billion euro
and helped about 27,000 SMEs. The amount of money spent every
year is precisely measured, by country, sector, etc. But the impact
the loans may have had on the enterprises' performance, competitiveness,
survival rates, production growth, or ability to create jobs,
is not absolutely clear.
Another example is the EICs, the Euro Info Centres.
There are hundreds of EICs, all over Europe, including the Candidate
Countries. The number of clients asking for information is measured.
In my opinion that's only an indication of the awareness amongst
SMEs of their existence and one may have asked the clients whether
they were happy with the information they received. But what has
been the impact of the information on the enterprises in terms
of competitiveness, employment growth or whatsoever, in relation
to the costs of the EICs, is not measured.
It is fair to say that improvements have been
made over the years. More and more EU policies are and will be
evaluated. In this respect I think we should welcome the initiatives
of the Commission to strengthen the evaluation of Commission activities
as set out by DG Budget.
Question 4AOn the basis of your experience
and evaluation evidence, which schemes across the national states
of the EU, could you identify as best practice in terms of (i)
enhancing human capital aspects of entrepreneurship; (ii) enhancing
access to risk capital and equity for entrepreneurship; and (iii)
enhancing the commercialisation of science and technology through
In Germany sophisticated systems of vocational
training and entrepreneurship training exist for businessmen and
workers in the craft sectors. The systems are based on a combination
of learning and working during a long period.
In several countries entrepreneurship has been
introduced in higher education, not only for students in economics
but alsoand this is very importantin technical studies.
Students are stimulated to set up their own business, either "on
paper" or in reality. One of their teachers, preferably with
a theoretical and practical business background is appointed as
mentor. At the same time an experienced entrepreneur would act
With respect to "Access to risk capital
and equity" and "the commercialisation of science and
technology" I would like to concentrate on high-tech firms.
High-tech firms are very important for an economy.
Last year we did a Europe-wide study about high-tech SMEs. Depending
on the definition applied, their share in production and employment
is not remarkably high, about 4 per cent and 9 per cent respectively,
and only a very small fraction of high-tech firms are rapid growers.
However, on average they still out perform traditional companies
with respect to output and job growth. Their lead is more pronounced
for output than for employment, as they are achieving significant
productivity gains, especially in manufacturing. For this reason
it is high-tech services, which can be regarded as job engines.
Nevertheless, in a competitive world economy, labour productivity
growth is also essential to secure jobs in the long run.
So, the overall direct impact of high-tech firms
on the entire economy, eg concerning employment, is limited. However,
the importance of new technologies and highly innovative businesses
go far beyond their direct contribution to value added and employment,
due to significant spill-over effects to the rest of the economy.
So, as there are significant social returns as well as dysfunctions
or absence of market co-ordination, public intervention is not
only justified but even called for. Based on evaluations, the
following examples of national measures are seen to address successfully
the difficulties faced by high-tech enterprises.
In Germany the Federal Ministry of Economics
and Technology runs a programme called PRO-INNO, together with
the Working Group of Industrial Research Associations. This is
done by supporting the transfer of knowledge between firms and
research institutions via co-operation projects. The support consists
of grants to the firms and the research institutions. More than
80 per cent of the enterprises participating have fewer than 50
employees. The programme covers both manufacturing and the service
industry. Each year approximately 2,000 projects are operating,
employing 6,000 R&D experts. The programme has quickly developed
into an important and strong instrument for the support of innovation.
The programme successfully addresses a major problem in SME-science
relationships, namely the missing capabilities and resources of
SMEs to engage in joint projects with research institutions.
The reasons for the success of the programme
include the following aspects:
the strategic set-up of the project
is defined by businesses;
in co-operation projects with research
institutions, SMEs are strongly involved in product development:
R&D is not merely contracted out to the research organisation;
attention is paid to the market relevance
of the project;
often co-operation between SMEs takes
place in a vertical manner, ie supplier-customer relationships
the projects are of interdisciplinary
nature and designed across technology fields, ie they take into
account the requirement of businesses rather than focusing on
specific categories of technology.
Credit-based financing generally does not appear
adequate in the case of high-tech and innovative enterprises.
Risk is too high for banks and bank staff are not in a position
to assess seriously the innovative investment project and its
risks. Equity financing, and in particular venture capital and
business angels, appears to be more appropriate. The UK is, together
with Sweden and The Netherlands, clearly above the European average
with respect to the importance of private equity investments.
Venture capitalists are often rather reluctant to provide finance
in the early stage of a high-tech company. For that reason, business
angels are a good alternative. In some countriessuch as
Finland, they provide five times as much capital to start-up high-tech
enterprises as the venture capital industry.
A successful programme running in Austria is
called i2, the Business Angels Network. It is run by the Innovation
Agency an institution of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs
and the social partners. The aim of i2 is to close the equity
gap for rapidly growing companiesfrom all sectors and life
cycle phaseswith smart money. The Network matches promising
ideas of innovative entrepreneurs with private investors, who,
not only provide their own capital, but also their know-how and
contacts. Investors may be individuals, incubators, investment
houses or larger enterprises. Entrepreneurs as well as investors,
have to pay a fee for the matching service. A large part of the
matching service is nevertheless covered by public funds (national
and European) and sponsors.
About 400 innovative projects have been handled
so far. The most important success factors of the programme include:
the speed of establishing contacts
(two weeks after submitting the business plan);
the discretion throughout the whole
the profession supervision of the
negotiation procedure through mediation by the Agency.
In The Netherlands, the Ministry of Economic
Affairs has set up an Agency called Syntens. Its aim is to foster
innovation, especially in SMEs, across all sectors. Syntens has
set up a regional network of about 25 offices. In the past these
regional offices were stand-alone, thus creating an additional
place for entrepreneurs to find their way. Nowadays the regional
offices are more and more located in existing regional focal points
for entrepreneurs, like chambers of commerce. There are 25 regional
chambers of commerce and industry in The Netherlands, and for
many years we have a system of mandatory membership for all enterprises,
so the office of the chamber is for many entrepreneurs a well-known
place to go.
The first phase of the programme was not that
successful, due among other things to the already mentioned problems
entrepreneurs had to find their way to the new offices, but also
as a result of the background of the managers and consultants
employed in the centres. Many had been recruited from a previous
governmental institution for applied technology, and they were
seen by the entrepreneurs as civil servants: they didn't speak
the language of the businessmen and were often not able to understand
the practical problems businesses faced in trying to develop and
implement innovations. In a later stage the Agency started to
recruit people who had been in business and this was a major improvement.
Question 4BOn the basis of your experience,
and any evaluations of which you are aware, which schemes operating
at the EU level could you identify as best practice in terms of
(i) enhancing human capital aspects of entrepreneurship; (ii)
enhancing access to risk capital and equity for entrepreneurship;
and (iii) enhancing the commercialisation of science and technology
I am not able to give an answer on this question,
as I am not aware of many evaluations being carried out.
Question 5Are there any lessons, which
emerge from past EU evaluations, which would help (i) to design
future EU policy; (ii) to judge which types of policy have been
least successful in the past; and (iii) to identify policy failures
and avoid similar failures in the future?
If you allow me I would like to make a few remarks
about policy making in general and enterprise policy making in
The first remark is about the legitimacy of
public support. Sometimes one gets the impression that policy
makers (both at national and European level) implement support
measures just because entrepreneurs have expressed a need for
them. From an economic point of view this is not logical. Needs
are endless; everybody has many needs that are not fulfilled.
This by itself is not enough justification for putting in public
resources. Needs analyses are useful, but not enough.
In my opinion, public support should be based
on an analysis of identified market failures. So, I very much
welcome the call of the European Council in Barcelona to target
state aid to identified market failures, as well as the initiative
of the Enterprise DG to launch a project Market Failure Rationales
for the Provision of Business Support Services. My hope would
be that both the EU and the Member States would base their enterprise
policies on proper analyses of market failures. Conducting these
analyses is often complex, but that should provide a nice challenge
for policy makers and researchers. Such analyses would result
in a more efficient allocation of scarce resources (tax payers'
money) and in fewer discussions with the private sector about
false competition in providing services to enterprises.
My second remark is about the content of support
policies. Much attention, at EU and Member States level, is paid
to stimulating the start-up and growth of innovative firms in
all sectors, with a special focus on high-tech and exporting firms.
A wealth of policy instruments is available for these kinds of
businesses, ranging from information, advice, stimulating R&D
and introducing new technologies, to providing venture capital.
For an area that wants to make itself the world's most competitive
economy by 2010, this is an impressive set of policies and in
several cases market failures have been identified. So, I would
be the last one to criticise them.
The only observation I would like to make in
this respect is, that we have to take into account the reality
of small business. What are we talking about? Let me give you
some recent data. There are 20 million enterprises in the EU;
99.8 per cent of them are SMEs, so have fewer than 250 employees.
The average firm size of these SMEs is four workers. The micro
firms, employing fewer than 10 people represent 93 per cent of
all private enterprises. Please be aware that this vast majority
of 93 per cent of all European firms have an average firm size
of two persons, which means on average the entrepreneur and just
one employee or an unpaid family worker. Should we encourage them
to export, to become a high-tech firm, to use venture capital
and should be develop costly policy programmes to make them aware
of these challenges? I do not think so. In the frame of the Observatory
project we have done a survey amongst nearly 8,000 SMEs in 19
countries and including all sectors. It has revealed that the
main focus of micro businesses is growth, the struggle to survive,
and consolidation. Quality improvement and innovation rank much
lower. Major business constraints are: lack of skilled labour,
access to finance and administrative regulations. Yet these 93
per cent of all firms have to pay their role in making the EU
the world's most competitive economy. They have to deliver products
and services to other firms, they distribute goods and services
to consumers, they are active in all sectors; they are part of
the value chain. Other, often larger firms, rely on them. This
means that these micro firms need to be innovative, although at
their own level, have to look for niche markets and have to improve
the quality of their products and services: and some of them are
indeed extremely innovative and fast growing, but not all, most
are not. What micro enterprises most need is a transparent labour
market, well-educated and trained workers; they need fewer and
simpler regulations that do not change too often, and they need
a simple bank guarantee to start their business or to buy a new
machine. So my message is: let us not forget this "average"
micro entrepreneur with his or her one and only employee when
developing enterprise or SME policy and implementing support services.
My third and last remark in this respect is
about the effectiveness of public support. As said before, in
many countries and at EU level proper evaluations of policies
are scarce. Monitoring has become quite popular these days. It
can be a useful tool for policymakers, but it is not identical
to evaluation. One of the differences is that evaluation seeks
to compare performance of recipients with other groups of enterprises.
Unfortunately, most policy initiatives in OECD countries currently
are merely monitored, rather than evaluated. As said before, I
think we should welcome in this respect the initiatives of the
Commission to strengthen the evaluation of Commission activities
as set out by DG Budget. I would like to refer to an article by
Professor David Storey from the SME Centre at Warwick University.
He argues: "If public money is spent on SME support, then
it is vital that evaluation of the impact of these initiatives
takes place. Unfortunately, evaluation is not possible unless
objectives that are clear and, in principle measurable are specified.
Too often objectives are either not specified or specified in
a way that is overly vague and incapable of being used as the
basis for deciding whether or not the policies are successful.
In my judgement these objectives should be quantified and become
explicit targets." If new enterprise policies are to be implemented,
a budget should be set aside to ensure that an independent evaluation
plan is established. This can be combined with the obligation
to terminate the policy scheme automatically after a fixed period,
or to improve it. I think policy makers owe this to their taxpayers
and to the SME target group. People often argue that evaluation
studies are costly. This is true. This holds for any policy research.
It is however my conviction that from a macro economic point of
view it is much more expensive to refrain from doing policy research.
Question 6Do you think that EU and national
policies are sufficiently well co-ordinated? Can you give any
examples of lack of co-ordination, which have caused problems
and should be avoided in the future?
Co-ordination of policies between EU and Member
States is a burdensome activity. On the one hand national governments
do not want the EU to interfere too much in their policy making
process. On the other hand: as soon as EU policies have been implemented,
Member States want to get a reasonable share of the budgets available
for "their" businesses ("juste retour").
In June 2000 the European Council endorsed the
European Charter for Small Enterprises. Member States have committed
themselves to implement a large number of action points, eg in
the field of better legislation, cheaper and faster business start-ups,
taxation and financial matters. On a regular basis Implementation
Reports are produced by the European Commission, assessing the
progress made with the implementation of the Charter. In 2002
Member States have even accepted to set quantitative targets in
enterprise policy. In my opinion, this has been one of the most
successful policy initiatives. Enterprise policies have thus become
much more transparent. So, everybody can follow the progress made
(or the lack of progress).
Question 7What are the main policy gaps
to be filled at EU level and what is the evidence for the gaps?
1. According to the Global Entrepreneurship
Monitor (GEM) business dynamics in Europe are much lower than
in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This is a major
concern, as it seems to be a structural back-log. Much attention
of policymakers over many years is necessary.
2. Literature and benchmark studies reveal
that this is at least partly caused by much higher "opportunity
costs" of entrepreneurship in Europe. When someone in Europe
changes from employee to self-employed, he or she gives up a lot
of job security and social security entitlements.
3. Recent analyses of the GEM data for 37
countries reveal that a higher share of "social security
expenditures" leads to lower business dynamics. Several other
authors have indicated weaknesses in the "incentive structures"
for entrepreneurship in Europe, eg high taxation of entrepreneurial
income and insufficient incentives for wealth accumulation.
Question 8What would be your main concerns
about the successful design and implementation of future EU policies
in this area?
I would like to refer to the remarks made under
legitimacy of public support should
be demonstrated by identifying market failures;
micro enterprises (the 93 per cent)
should not be forgotten in developing support policies; and
policy effectiveness should be assessed
through proper evaluations, based on measurable targets set by
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