The Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs initiative allows citizens of Balkan states and Turkey to test their knowledge abroad.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 01/04/14
Participants gather for an informational meeting about Erasmus for Entrepreneurs in Macedonia. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
A five-year cross-border exchange programme that provides opportunities for young entrepreneurs in Europe is also benefitting individuals in aspiring EU countries across the region.
Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs (EYE), which is partially funded by the EU, was started in 2009 and has been open to the Balkan countries and Turkey since February 2013.
Participants come from the 28 EU nations and nine others and work alongside experienced colleagues running small businesses.
The programme aims to help entrepreneurs from the Balkans and Turkey gain expertise. Host entrepreneurs receive fresh insights about their businesses and co-operate with foreign partners leading to new business relations.
The potential benefits are broad, as entrepreneurs from outside the EU are able to learn about the functioning of the single market, which can help facilitate the integration process.
Typhaine Beaupérin, co-ordinator of the EYE programme within EUROCHAMBRES, told SETimes it is too early to say that the initiative has increased the ties between the entrepreneurs from EU and non EU-countries.
"However, based on the five years' experience of the programme in the EU, we can confirm that Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is a concrete initiative, which facilitates direct and personal contacts with other European entrepreneurs, learning about other markets and the different business practices in other countries, and discovering possibilities for co-operation," she said.
Turkey has established contact points in four cities to inform aspiring entrepreneurs about the programme arrange their applications.
Sinem Vurkaya, a chemical engineer from Istanbul, is heading to London, to increase her knowledge on renewable energy resources with a small business that has expertise on the subject.
"I will spend three months there and I will get in touch with British people who have deepened their skills in this area. In the past, I was an exchange student with EU-funded Erasmus programmes, and now it will be also a great opportunity to get fresh ideas from my specialisation field," Vurkaya told SETimes.
Vurkaya added that such programmes change Turkish citizens' perceptions of Europe and allow European citizens to see Turkey in a new light, full of dynamic entrepreneurship that might feed into their companies.
There are approximately 150,000 Turkish entrepreneurs throughout EU countries producing almost 62.8 billion euros of profit per year, according to the data from the Turkish-Germany Education and Scientific Researches Foundation (TAVAK).
Macedonia also benefits from the programme, with the Business Confederation of Macedonia and the Centre for Institutional Development providing contact points to help local businessmen connect with entrepreneurs in the EU.
Erasmus for Entrepreneurs offers the opportunity for Macedonian businessmen to stay for up to six months in an EU member country or candidate country to gather practical experience.
"So far over 30 young entrepreneurs have contacted us and expressed interest to be included in this program, and in the middle of April we expect the first exchange -- an entrepreneur from Macedonia will leave for training in Slovenia," Branko Dokuzovski, who runs the project at the Centre for Institutional Development, told SETimes.
Local contact points are selected by the European Commission to guide participants throughout the process of the exchange.
According to a recent poll conducted by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which assesses entrepreneurial activity in more than 100 nations, 33 percent of Macedonians said there are good conditions to start a business in the country, and a little more than 50 percent said they have the necessary skills and knowledge to start their own business.
An EU country since 2007, Bulgaria joined the pilot phase of the EYE programme in 2009. More than 20 young entrepreneurs from the country have participated.
Todor Balabanov, an IT specialist from Sofia, was among the first to take advantage of the opportunity. He travelled to Estonia, which he described as "an amazing country with an IT sector that is significantly better developed than Bulgaria's."
"I took part in an Erasmus student exchange programme in 2005 and the reputation of this programme is extremely high," he told SETimes. "When I was told that there will be an analogy of this programme for young entrepreneurs, I decided to join it immediately."
Balabanov said he was lucky to meet an exceptional person and a greatly experienced businessman.
"He taught me a lot of things, mostly about commercial channels. Besides, the financial support you get helps you work on your own ideas of goods/services, instead of spending the summer as a bartender or waiter at the Black Sea," he said.
Balabanov, who has a software company, said he would recommend the EYE programme to any ambitious young individual.
"This programme is unique and it is up to every individual to get the best out of it," he added.
Correspondents Tzvetina Borisova in Sofia and Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje contributed to this report.
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