Quality management and inclusive entrepreneurship support – a new COPIE standard for inclusive business advice

COPIE Story of the Month

99% of all businesses in Europe are small to medium-sized; in fact, 92% are micro-businesses with less than 10 employees. According to the European Employment Observatory Review 2010, the total number of self-employed people in the European Union is 32.5 million, accounting for about 15% of total employment. The report acknowledges that ‘Self-employment is an important driver of entrepreneurship and job creation and thus contributes to the European Union’s goals of more growth and better jobs’. Figures from an EU-commissioned Study on the SME’s impact on the EU labour market published in January 2012 further confirm this.

However, the overall entrepreneurial potential in Europe is far from being fully exploited. People interested in becoming self-employed and those starting or running small businesses still face a number of challenges including access to quality business advice and finance. For people starting out of unemployment or as necessity entrepreneurs this is particularly virulent.

Economic development and labour-market policies across Europe have thus started to address this issue. SME development programmes are set-up and the EU Commission has committed itself to the principle of Thinking Small First. On the other hand, labour-market institutions have established new self-employment support services through the European Social Fund as a means to invigorate employment creation. In the new round of European Structural Funds, there will be significant scope for continuing this type of entrepreneurial support. However, for programmes to achieve their goals in the long run, ensuring high quality of services will be critical. At the moment, systematic approaches to ascertain quality in these services are still in its infancy.

Working GroupCOPIE has therefore chosen to work on this topic. By building upon on the findings of a transnational baseline study on quality management members of the Quality Management Thematic Working group led by COPIE’s Lead partner Germany developed a new standard and a series of tools for quality management for inclusive entrepreneurship advice. Elements of the new system were applied and tested in the COPIE partner regions of Andalusia, Extremadura and Galicia, and by the national start-up support organisation INCYDE in Spain.

COPIE’s approach to quality management...

Establishing quality management systems requires regional and national contextualisation. COPIE’s experts of quality management started by gathering detailed information on each participating partners’ start-up support infrastructure. This was done by using a preparatory questionnaire for regional visits and by conducting a survey among business starters, business owners and advisors on skills requirements for advisors and on the state of the current regional service infrastructure.

The results from this survey in Extremadura and Galicia showed that entrepreneurs and business owners set a high a value on managerial skills, consultancy competence, communication and listening capacity. A particular emphasis however was put on on aspects related to the advisory approach, including honesty, realism and loyalty towards the client. As for the state of the regional support infrastructure the survey revealed that the current services do not reach all groups of society.

Together with the UK-based national support organisation SFEDI COPIE then developed a quality management system for business advisors. The system is based on establishing European centres of excellence and accrediting national and regional award centres. Exellence centres would work towards implementing a homogeneous quality standard system, coordinate award centres, design structured work material and identify good practice solutions for start-up advisors.

Process OverviewAward centres, by contrast, work on the regional and national level and have direct contact with the business advisor networks. Their role is to provide qualification according to excellence centre criteria, manage and monitor business advisor networks, and implement learning and peer-review processes among advisors. To support the work of award centre COPIE’s Thematic Working Group on Quality Management has designed a series of tools for business advisors. These include a business advisor self-assessment profiling, a self-learning handbook, a curriculum for a business advisor training course based on eight modules, and a business advisor passport to document progress toward accreditation.

The involvement of COPIE partners…

The COPIE partner Galicia decided to serve as a pilot region and tested the award centre model with its regional Business Innovation Centre (BIC Galicia) alongside with the Regional Ministry of Labour, which manages the Galician Network of Business Advisors.
In November 2011 they published and distributed the new self-learning guide among the business advisor community in Galicia. The new guide offers advisors in Galicia a series of tools to take charge of their own professional development, and to gain a comprehensive understanding of the skills that are required for delivering high-quality inclusive entrepreneurship support. Case studies from Galician entrepreneurs provide a unique opportunity to learn about what type of advice has benefitted them and what clients generally look for in terms of assistance. Galicia is currently working on finalising the training modules and implementing the course.

COPIE’s regional partners in Andalusia and Extremadura have carried out an in-depth assessment of their regional advisory structures and were presented with a set of recommendations on how to implement the system in their individual contexts. The Spanish national INCYDE foundation also took advantage of the new instruments. INCYDE was set up by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce to encourage entrepreneurship and enhance the viability of new companies. It serves as both an ESF and an ERDF intermediate body and within this framework it runs Europe’s largest network of business incubators and a large-scale national training programme for entrepreneurs. As part of COPIE INCYDE has assessed its internal advisory process and received recommendations on how to align it to the COPIE standard.

More information on the individual tools and partners’ experience with their implementation can be obtained at the COPIE Policy Forum in Berlin on April 16-17, 2012.

For more information on COPIE’s work on quality management and further contact details, please go the Thematic Group section of this website.