About the BASIS Project Central Baltic Interreg IV A Programme´s funded BASIS programme (Building up Availability of SME Internationalisation Services) started on the 1st of January 2011. The operational environment for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) evolves and becomes increasingly international at a quick pace. It is a well-known fact that strengthening the competitiveness of an enterprise usually requires internationalisation. It is the duty of public business services to support SMEs in internationalisation. However, regional development or business service centres that reach vast amounts of companies are not sufficiently prepared to offer internationalisation services and the public actors lack the required resources for enterprise-specific counselling. The main objective of BASIS is to find ways for public business services to facilitate and support the internationalisation of SMEs. Expanding business activities to international markets is challenging for enterprises, and it is especially demanding for SMEs. Another equally important objective of the project is to increase the local availability of public business services to SMEs. In addition, it is important for the business advisors to have the ability to identify enterprises with internationalisation potential. Therefore, training business advisors during the project is an objective of crucial importance. To reach its targets, the project has taken a slightly different approach from the usual. It will strengthen the business advisors’ internationalisation know-how and their ability to identify potential products’ and services’ international markets; develop organisational and regional operational models in a way that local actors are able to provide high-quality internationalisation services; identify enterprises interested in internationalisation, get them networking with each other; and identify new ways of activating SME internationalisation. There are 14 partners from Estonia, Latvia, Sweden and Finland in the programme. There are universities and regional development centres involved from each country. Turku university´s Brahea Centre for Training and Development serves as a lead partner for coordinating the programme. The project will last for the end of 2013.
Introduction The structures of different thematic workshops in Basis project in partner countries were similar. By doing this we were sure the information we need is consistent and comparable. The format presented here is based on the way a typical workshop is facilitated by the Finland Futures Research Centre. The original ideas of these workshops were to bring together people from various backgrounds who all share an interest in a common issue or problem. In this project workshops were an instrument for collecting information which we need in the project. Workshops were a good tool for tackling complex problems where many, often seemingly contradicting views, have to be fitted together. In addition to collecting and producing information workshops act as an instrument of social learning which is especially beneficial if the people taking part in the workshop are also responsible in bringing about the desired change.
Finland Futures Research Centre (University of Turku) carried out the training of Futures Workshop (FWS) facilitators in partner regions who facilitate FWS’s in BASIS project the workshops according to project plan. The same FWS structure was applied in every BASIS region in order to confirm that the results from each region are comparable for project purposes.
Future Workshops The regional Future workshop participants represented following stakeholder groups: business advisors, agents of small enterprises, development organisations, public officials, universities, SME’s and other actors locally relevant for the topic at hand. Duration of each workshop was roughly four to six hours (including breaks), depending on the amount of participants and on their interest on the topic of the day. Structure of the regional workshops was: FWS 1: State of the art workshop (where we are?) A. B. C. D.
Short introduction of the workshop method and its most common applications SWOT review on current situation on internationalisation services Selection of “top ten” issues in each SWOT category that need to be addressed Reviewing results of the workshop and feedback
FWS 2: Futures workshop (where we are heading?)’ A. B. C. D.
Short introduction of the method and its most common applications Futures wheel (mapping future possibilities) and futures table (ACTVOD framework) Black swans analysis with help of PESTEC framework Reviewing results of the workshop and feedback
FWS 3: Vision and next steps (what is our vision and how we get where we want to be?) A. B. C. D.
Short introduction of the method and its most common applications Defining vision Defining road map for realizing the vision (backcasting) Reviewing results of the workshop and feedback
All the work that was done in the regional workshops during autumn 2012 – winter 2013 was summarized in the International Stakeholders Workshop in Turku 12th of March 2013. The content of the last FWS 4: Joint WS of regional results. In the workshop all groups had an identical task: to vision a desired (yet realistic) future – best possible world – for business advisory services for SME’s in 2020. Work had three phases: 1) Futures table, 2) drafting visions of the future and 3) constructing preliminary action plans describing how to achieve the preferred future. All in all 28 people took part in the workshop. Participants represented all Basis counties (9 form Estonia, 9 from Finland, 9 from Latvia and 1 from Sweden)and regions. There were business advisors, university staff and regional developers. Participants were divided randomly in 5 groups. In the workshop each group approached the subject in its own fashion, this provided 5 quite different views on preferred future of business advisory services, although many common features could also found. Following pages present the results of the day.
Results of the workshop Futures table group 1 Actors Customers Services
Business advisory services for SME’s in 2020 Authorities/ministries Development Banks Centres (public & private) SME’s (in debt) Startups “Generation Change” Planning Funding Networking Contacts
Common Business Database
Private Consultants Growth Companies E-services & Support Funding by Customers
Telephonic advisory services Mix of private and public financing
Electronic database of information
Training staff in English and int. legislation
Appreciation of Differences Obstacles Financing Attitudes Uncertainty (lack of in Political interest) Development Drivers Environment Sense of Effectiveness Customer Unity Needs This group did not specify what items in the future table would make the preferable future state
Goal for 2020 and a way to get there
This group discussed on making business services more accessible and the services provided more effective in a customer-oriented manner. Their idea based on creating a one-desk service, where an entrepreneur could contact one phone number and have his issue, whatever it might be, going after that one call. Service should have a feedback systems and selflearning elements so that as the number of contacts taken and services provided grows over time, one could, based on these experiences, construct a database that would collect answers to most common problems and experiences from users on what advises worked and what didnâ€™t. This feature would improve the provided services in making them more relevant and speeding up the advisory processes. Services would be funded to some extent with public funding but also increasingly with callers paying for the advisory services they use.
Timeline for achieving preferred future Actions: Starting first nationally
Getting the (phone)number Benchmarking
Co-operation in syncronising systems and operations
Main actor: Ministry in charge (varies from country to country)
Training personnell to be able to serve customers in english
Action: Followup and making improvements 2018-2019
Form a database on most common issues and contacts
Main actor: Ministry in charge (varies from country to country)
Futures table group 2 Actors Customers Services
Business advisory services for SMEâ€™s in 2020 Hubs, Clients Providers Connection Centres SMEâ€™s Micro ComStarting panies & Self- Entrepreneurs employed Market Product Sales-pitch Information Development Training (industry specific, structure, players, needs, etc.) Links with Knowhow of Emerging Russia, Belarus Niche MarIndustry etc. important kets Services not to lose (IP right etc.) these)
Lack of Relevant Knowledge (among public advisors)
Financing for cluster experts/ business advisors
Financing for int. cluster development (webpage, publicity, etc.)
Drivers This group did not specify what items in the future table would make the preferable future state
entrepreneurs Expert of clusters
Goal for 2020 and a way to get there
This group was concentrated on how to improve the quality of service that SMEâ€™s experience when dealing with business advisory services. The idea was to make information more accessible and relevant to the customers by forming a network of industry-specific experts that could provide assistance in all information need an entrepreneur might have. The most distinct feature in the way good quality services could be secured was that customer, SME asking for assistance, would only pay for the service according to benefits if felt it got from the business advisors. This kind of performance-related pay system would gradually guide orientation and functions of business service providers towards issues and problem areas that customers would find most important.
This group did not specify a timeline for achieving preferred future
Futures table group 3 Actors Customers
Business advisory services for SME’s in 2020 Enterprises NGO’s National Institutions
Micro Companies Personalised Services (vis-à-vis)
Business Framework Advises (legal etc.) Technology Parks
Ability to Co-operate Project-based Rigid Rules Life
Ambitions and Visions
Business Advisory Model /Structure
Political Environment / Decisions
Different Finance Sources Sustainable Environment Bureaucracy Innovations in High-tech, IT Lack of Natural Resources
EU (or another)
Company Networks Networks
Networks, IT Databases
Business Orientation Wrongly Directed Education Harmonised Legislation
Lack of Finances
Local / Incubators Regional Government Political AcNGO’s tors Matchmaking Coaching
This group did not specify what items in the future table would make the preferable future state
Venture Capital Incubators Mentoring
Goal for 2020 and a way to get there This group presented an idea of network of business services. Business advisors across the Baltic Sea area should be tightly networked, thus having a vast knowledge base on possible markets and an extensive source of information concerning market possibilities in various areas and industries at their disposal. Increased co-operation between business advisors assist companies in seizing various market opportunities and creating new business. Services would be allocated a budget for their operations; this would allow the long-term development of services (current project-based way of working doesnâ€™t support this). Services are provided in more languages that just in each countryâ€™s native language, most commonly English.
Timeline for achieving preferred future Results:
Networked b.a. system
Proactivity of customers
Services, develepoment & fexibility
Activities for funding providers
Main actor: Universities
Political decision to reform b.a. system
Certified b.a.s. association
Decisions of finance Main actor: Ministries
Capacity building Main actor: B.a.s. Units
Futures table group 4 Actors
Services Resources Values Obstacles Drivers
Business advisory services for SMEâ€™s in 2020 Private State Agencies Virtual Service Market Consultants Providers Specific (public/global) Service Providers (China, Russia, etc.) All Intern Companies (1-250 workers) Partner Market Legal Issues Investing Search Information Services HR Internet Global Filtered and (Network) E-services Trusted Information Trustworthy Efficiency Open Access Value-adding (services) Money Knowledgeable Common Cultural (lack of) People Language Differences (lack of) Competition
Items highlighted in green show the elements of the preferred future state.
Tailor-made (services) Projectbased Operation
Goal for 2020 and a way to get there This group focused on visioning common e-services for the use of business advisors in the Baltic Sea region. Common e-service platform would foster co-operation between business advisors and would assist companies in various ways. Most important benefits for companies would be improved opportunities in finding market information, creating international contacts with new business partners as well as finding partners for conducting various projects. The basic services would still be conducted face-to-face, but this platform would serve as a good starting point for companies when wanting to find information on what kind of markets and business advisory services are available around the Baltic Sea Region. The service portal would be most conveniently funded by a separate project funding.
Timeline for achieving preferred future
Actions: Defining quality check system Defining system maintenance issues Fragmented e-services
Defining links (between databases of various information providers)
Defining needed content and functions
Testing the system
Defining basic technical requirements Main actor: Financing bodies : a project or public funding
Futures table group 5 Actors
Business advisory services for SME’s in 2020 Incubator Entrepreneurs Chambers of organisations Commerce
Technical / Funding Assistance Knowledge
Lack of Funding (continuity)
Lack of Business Knowledge
Lack of Political Support
Lack of Will to Succeed
Lack of Ability to Accept Failure
“People from the Street” Networking Private Funding Simplicity
Universities Government & Educational Institutes
Items highlighted in green show the elements of the preferred future state.
Independence Ability to Accept Failure Lack of Ambition
Goal for 2020 and a way to get there Work of this group concentrated on how to create an atmosphere of trust and a venue for collaboration between various actors around the Baltic Sea Region in order to lower the barriers for doing business in the area. The answer was to be found in creating international co-operation on many levels; first among students and science community later developing into startup/incubator activities where actors from countries all over the Baltic Sea combine their ideas and resources to produce new and exciting products and services. Increased interest for entrepreneurship and for internalization thrives in an atmosphere where sharing information between actors in various countries and entering to do business into foreign markets is easy. The final products of the increased co-operation are special incubator centres that are formed based on smart specialization strategy. In the Baltic Sea Region the strategy is given a push via increased co-operation. As people (students, business advisors, researchers, innovators, etc.) gain knowledge on what are the relative strengths of each area and get to know colleagues from other countries, the possibilities of co-operation will become more visible. Incubator centres focus on assisting new companies building business on recognized strengths of the area where the centre functions. Each area is responsible for development of certain business areas and new entrepreneurs from all over the Baltic Sea Region seek to those centres. Timeline for achieving preferred future Action:
Defining core competencies in Baltic Sea Region (BSR) - smart specialisation
Financing Main actors: Students, teachers, business advisors, etc.
Specialiced incubators in each country
Science parks, Universities By 2014: 1 week every half a year
By 2015: International business incubator services available
Raising awareness through networking events, comptitions, social media, consultants
BSR model dissemination to "outside world"
By 2015: 4 events in each country
By 2020: 15 SME's from participating coutries
Questionnaire The questionnaire revealed interesting and innovative future solutions to how SME business advisory services should look like. In essence the answers converged to one important point – collection of different types of business information from all Baltic Sea region countries in one place and faster access to this information. Another crucial aspect that is emphasized by all the participants is a need for greater collaboration among the business advisors from different countries, as this pool of collective knowledge is far better than a single advisor with information from only one country. There were five groups made randomly out of 28 participants from four countries namely, Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Estonia. Only three groups answered the questionnaire. One of the groups suggested the establishment of a ‘one-desk service’ for consultation of entrepreneurs, first on the national level and then scaled up to the Baltic Sea region. This group highlighted the importance of international network of consultants, their communication and sharing of information and best practices. It was suggested that face-to-face advisory services should exist for more complicated and long-term issues. Their idea behind this ‘one-service desk’ is to have the issue resolved at once without any delay or then it is sent for a detailed analysis if complicated. The need to have an electronic database containing information about national legislation, business registry and relevant necessary information from all the Baltic Sea region countries has been expressed by almost every group. Access to this database should be available to all concerned parties and stakeholders for faster information access whenever it is needed without much bureaucracy in the way. Most common issues of internationalization and their solutions, what worked and what did not work, should be freely available through this database. This information can be gathered from SMEs and business advisors and then compiled in an easily readable and accessible manner. It is also suggested that the business advisory services should be monitored for quality control and satisfaction of all the stakeholders should be evaluated. Suggestions for the improvement of services should be taken into account and implemented wherever necessary. The issue of training of the staff in English language has also been brought up in the questionnaire and their information regarding international legislation. Cooperation between national level authorities and business advisory services is greatly desired to share experiences and information, to identify strengths and weaknesses and to provide a joint service with faster and easier access.
An idea of establishing an international â€˜clusterâ€™ where business advisors, industry experts and other stakeholders from different countries of the Baltic Sea region would come together for sharing quality information to facilitate faster internationalization process and to increase the availability of business information about different countries has also been expressed. This will foster new business connections rapidly. The role of the responsible ministries and government authorities of the Baltic Sea region has been recognized greatly in facilitating excellent internationalization services in the future.
Conclusions Groups of the workshop produced various ideas on what the business advisory services around the Baltic Sea region should look like in the year 2020. The results didnâ€™t converge very much and practically all the key elements of the visions presented by each group could co-exist. Most pressing issue seemed to be securing the quality of provided services. According to views presented in the workshop increased co-operation on various levels and networking among business counsellors as (well as other actors) and improved tools for communication and information processing are needed. Services provided for the SMEâ€™s should be easily accessible (one desk service) and they should have reciprocal elements so that the work of business advisors could be further developed according to customer feedback. One impression that came across during the discussions of the workshop was that the business advisorâ€™s community in the Baltic Sea Region is a rather under-used resource. Business advisors from different countries with different backgrounds and skills create a pool of knowledge and network of experts that, as a group, would be able to assist businesses willing to do trade in the Baltic Sea Region (and further) in ways no one single business advisory unit can. At present service providers in the region lack information, habit and tools to cooperate. If these hurdles were to be crossed, the service providers would be able to create more value than at present is possible to the companies of different sizes in the region.