New-age entrepreneurship in the European South: The next big thing?
Something interesting is taking place in the Mediterranean start up scene. In a supposedly doom economic landscape, companies of high risk -and high potential return on investment- can be found in all of the different time zones and seas. Entrepreneurship and new-age ventures coming out of the Southern Europe economies (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) are proliferating while ideas incubators, business accelerators and a significant amount of business funds are providing the proper basis to shape a promising ecosystem.
Interestingly, those web-savvy youngsters involved in start ups, besides carrying the entrepreneurial bug, share something deeper in common: the majority of the new-age ventures seem to be in perfect accordance with the local business tradition and attitude. Start ups, by definition, share some common elements with the typical family businesses – the predominant form of SMEs in Southern Europe. The capital required to start is considerably low and -very often- comes from similar sources: your family’s savings. At the same time the number of employees is considerably small, shaping flexible teams and high levels of creativity. Startup-ing seems to suit the Southern European entrepreneurial mindset.
The cool-ness of the Mediterranean Startups
The South can be proud of extraordinary IT services (like Mobicomp, which got acquired by Microsoft, or Velti, listed on NASDAQ, just to name a few) as well as success stories coming from diverse sectors like energy or medical solutions.
Nevertheless, the “authentic Southern” business ideas can be found among the wide field of Informatics and the Web. Teams that work on implementing innovation in the modern, socially interconnected landscape, build digital products aiming to tackle everyday problems. From how to easily park your car on how to get a taxi or consult yourself and your daily shopping list, start ups focus on proposing innovative solutions and add value to quality of life. And they do it by offering cool tools and fun features to get your hands on.
The list of fascinating Web services or applications never ends: Mobile apps dedicated to culture & leisure content as well event and concerts, digital platforms for boats, websites connecting travelers and the tourism industry, flamboyant messaging apps, platforms that turn your mood into Music or some that bring the fashion industry a step closer.
And, of course, gastronomy; besides numerous food recommendation services, there are wine tracking applications, platforms connecting people that host culinary events, marketplaces for genuine and artisanal foods. In this context, it comes as no surprise that some elements of pure Mediterranean culture are even “exported” to the North, through a platform of sharing homecooked dishes.
What to expect in the future
While any traditional SME operates on a limited customer basis (typically the local market) this “modern type of SME” is de facto aiming high: the global market, by incorporating on assets and ideas based on the local competitive advantages.
More importantly, these initiatives have nothing to do with the so-called necessity entrepreneurship: each one of them is based on crafted plans and months of work on ideas coming from highly skilled University graduates. Therefore, the potential is quite promising: the majority of these companies can generate high quality jobs; jobs that will withhold the ongoing brain drain of the Mediterranean countries. Another important fact is that any such knowledge-oriented enterprise can help the local economies to improve, by supporting supplementary markets and even reviving competitive business sectors. So far, the Southern start ups seem capable of allocating the surplus of local talent and have started showing emerging potential in business fields that Mediterraneans know how to excel on. And this is something to count on.
Does this mean that we should expect Athens to become a Mecca of technology, or Barcelona to be the next digital entrepreneurship hub? This might be too optimistic to say. But, still, don’t look much far away: on the other bank of the Mediterranean sea, Israel’s Silicon Wadi is growing to be the new hotspot of startups. The challenge of shaping a competitive ecosystem, paired with the extroversive attitude of the entrepreneurs will be paying back in favor of the competitiveness of the entire European economy.