At the heart of the EQUAL partnership is the Garapen network of 20 local development agencies which covers nearly all three provinces of the Basque Country and about 70% of the population. Previously most of these agencies operated more or less autonomously to support business start-ups in each locality. There was little joint work, division of labour or collective learning from each other. EQUAL has allowed the agencies in the network to pool and design common methodologies, develop a web based learning platform and come to a series of joint agreements with financial institutions and other outside organisations. Much of the work focuses on women and young people.
Building an entrepreneurial culture
The Basque country is an old industrial region that has undergone major restructuring. It has not been easy to create an entrepreneurial culture in the townships that had grown used to secure employment in both light and heavy engineering. So the Garapen network decided to encourage entrepreneurship at the earliest possible age in schools and training centres.
Different agencies spearheaded and tested specific methodologies which were then applied throughout the network. These include contact and visits to firms by students, creativity workshops, business idea contests and business simulations. Garapen has produced imaginative support material for both teachers and students This includes: a comic to kick off discussions, a monopoly style board game about creating a business (Imagine your own company), a computer game for primary students (Aukera +), a more complex computer simulation for 14-18 year olds (Trueke) and a resource manual for teachers (which guides them through the different practical and theoretical activities envisaged for students in the different phases of creating a business). In total, 5.740 students have benefited.
A learning platform to improve the quality business support for all
The network first of all produced an exhaustive catalogue of the business support methodologies used by its member agencies. It then organised these methodologies into a menu for each of four different stages of setting up and consolidating a firm. These methodologies and comments on them are available to all the members on a common intranet which is constantly being updated. Training modules were also developed to upgrade the skills of business advisors
The network also jointly developed the Basque government's internet portal for entrepreneurs (www.lanbide.net) and provides a system of on-line business support and advice. The portal is organised into three sections: resources and information; start-up advice and entrepreneurship on line. It receives about 4000 visits per month. The site allowed Garapen to launch the first on-line initiative to improve entrepreneurship skills in the Basque region. One hundred and seven participants took part in this programme leading to the creation of 65 companies. During the first 8 months of operation, advice was also given on-line to 290 people of whom 47% were women.
Finally, one of the innovations to be introduced throughout the network has been a simple six hour programme of after care and follow-up for newly created firms which is reported to significantly improve survival rates (228 firms have benefited. The survival rates of the enterprises that the programme of after care and follow up is applied to have a 93% survival rate. 7 points up of the normal rate).
Collective agreements to improve access to finance
The network has also been able to reach a series of agreements with outside entities to provide favourable terms and conditions for all its members.
For example, it has negotiated a range of cheap loan and guarantee facilities with three savings banks. In 2003, 54 % of the startups requested finance through these schemes of which just over 81% were approved. Applications for finance increased by 14% in the first part of 2004.
These agreements allow entrepreneurs to obtain loans at a 2-2.5% interest rate for up to ten years with no additional commission. People without collateral are also able to obtain guarantees through a mutual guarantee fund created by Red ACCENT. Finally, people from underrepresented groups can also obtain microcredits provided by the Official Credits Institute (ICO) and certain other financial institutions that have signed an agreement with the network.
DP ID: ES-ES329
National Partners: Basque Government (lead), 2 provincial governments, 8 local authorities or national authority federation, the Basque Women's Institute, Caritas, the Basque Network of Local Development Agencies (Garapen), several individual development agencies and NGOs.
Transational Partnership. TCA 1016 Local Hallmark Network. IT-IT-G-BAS-013, NL 2001/EQUC/OO12, PT 2001-322 and ES-ES 329.
Board game creating a business, Comic, Aukera+ (Computer game for young students), Trueke (Computer game based on business creation for older students), an internet portal for entrepreneurs.
Key words: Partnership, networking, microfinance, creating an entrepreneurial culture, educating for entrepreneurship, knowledge management.
Contact: Elisabet Urbieta