If you haven't seen the original article, click here. The real story is much more nuanced. Those of us who are close to the ground, who have worked with entrepreneurs in Europe for 15 years see the real story, and it goes something like this….
1. There are outstanding entrepreneurs in every continent; Europe has its fair share. More importantly, it’s not just about the superstars, but the ones who are just getting on with it in their corner of the EuroZone. Or those who have tried and not had the home run, but pick themselves up, and dust themselves off, and go back at it again.
2. The financing of entrepreneurship has not kept pace with the high quality of entrepreneurs in Europe, but that’s not the entrepreneurs’ fault, and some of us are working on that problem
3. Web 1.0 unleashed a deep bench of talent into the market; lots of start-up entrepreneurs didn’t win big, but by swinging for the fences, they developed some skills, uncovered some talents, and learned how to manage people, products and projects...there's always another day.
4. The line between success and failure is sometimes a very thin line. Which is why most entrepreneurs I know have the humility to realise it is less about them and more about all of the people who helped them along their way.
5. Those who win are those who create the new common sense.
I’m going to tackle Point Nr 5 as the first four should be obvious and undisputed for everyone reading this.
It’s not merely an idea which wins. Not even a product which has momentum. Those companies which win are those who create the infrastructure around them. Said another way, you can’t just build your company; you have to build the ecosystem in which you operate.
That’s enough to keep most management teams of start-ups working long hours. For this to work though, all of society needs to understand that the cycle of history is what Carlotta Perez so eloquently describes in her Theory of Technological Disruption and Adoption. The world moves from big bang of disruptive technology (the steam engine, the electric motor, the microprocessor) through 60 years of bedding the corollary products, services and companies into a new common sense.
Ground Zero of the last big bang was in Silicon Valley, but the next one doesn’t have to be. What’s necessary though is to have an understanding in society that change is normal. That bottom up, grass roots creation of the new is what has always happened. It’s inevitable, and it’s how the pie gets expanded so that more people can enjoy prosperity. Entrepreneurs and their businesses and management teams start the process, but for it to complete, the institutional framework in both government and corporates has to not only accommodate it, but to integrate it. It’s not just about the installation of new technologies, but the mass deployment into big business and society.
The Knowledge Economy which is in full swing started with the arrival of the microprocessor in 1971 which heralded in the world of computing and telecommunications as we know them today. Ultimately, the web, and all of the derivative goods from the web – social networks, smart phones, gaming-based products, real-time loans, mobile money empower the individual. They unleash the creativity of individuals to build the future.
The real question that The Economist should have asked is whether the ‘infrastructure’ of Europe provides the right playing field for where the world is going. The world is moving from one of collectivist exchange to one of reciprocal exchange. Collectivist labour laws which are rigid will snap. Tax policies which seek to play Robin Hood will have unintended consequences. Whether people work in big companies or small, they think of themselves as Individual Capitalists.
The welfare state throughout Europe and the Euro have had the result of creating a layer of fat that every entrepreneur must fight in building their business. It's a fog of rules, rigidity and bad currency framework which keep one arm behind the back and cripple many would be successful entrepreneurial management teams. The Economist mentions the superstars in their article, but the real ones who are hurt by the feudal framework are the ones that aren't the superstars, but could have been winners.
Capital is like a heat-seeking missile. It’s searching globally for the places where it can reap the best return. Entrepreneurs in Europe are doing their part of the job. The real question is whether society understands that it needs to organize itself – now – to integrate and absorb these new entrepreneurial ventures into the very heart of how the world operates.
Society should be organized around the entrepreneur in order to grow prosperity for the broadest number of people. When this doesn’t happen, then the work of Europe’s homegrown entrepreneurs gets hoovered up by firms based elsewhere, and the benefits accrue to those other geographies as well.
What is needed is more headquartered based major corporations in Europe which have started in the last decade leading the new paradigm. Good signals of this trend include Monitise, the leader in mobile money, listed on the London Stock Exchange, just acquired its US based competitor, Clairmail. Or Thunderhead with nearly $100 million in revenue expanding globally. Or Ten Group who are operating around the globe, or ebuzzing who are doubling every year. yes Spotify, yes Shazam, yes Songkick yes yes yes ....
As with most things, what you focus on is what you get. If you listen to The Economist and treat Europe’s Entrepreneurs as Les Miserables, we’ll get more of that. If however, you focus on building the new common sense of how society is going to work with the fruits of entrepreneurial labour, then we’ll grow the pie, and see a new landscape emerging.
The Economist can say what it will, but History is written by the optimists. Let's just hope that the entrepreneurs don't go on strike.