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When Is a Crisis Not a Crisis? Entrepreneurs at Europe’s SME Assembly Look for The Silver Lining


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In this episode of Business Planet, we’re at the SME Assembly in Bilbao to see how European businesses are weathering the storm of multiple global crises through innovation.

Energy prices are falling, and inflation is slowly coming down, but bankruptcies are rising, and many European businesses are still struggling to survive.  How can they stay afloat?

The SME Assembly in Bilbao is Europe’s top event for small and medium-sized businesses. We went to see how firms are coping with the continuing economic headwinds, and trying to turn a crisis into an opportunity.

Spain’s Basque country is one of Europe’s leading innovation regions. Local research centre Tecnalia has designed a robot that has many potential uses.

“We want the robot to be able to do things like sanding, painting or laser cladding,” said Damien Sallé, Tecnalia’s Coordinator of Robotics and Automation.

“We take the information from the camera in 3D and then we compute the trajectories in 3D [so] that we cover the whole part and then we apply it to the robot.”

Finding a niche market can make all the difference, like Orbik which tests cybersecurity levels in the design phase of industrial equipment.

“We work for railways, substations with a smart grid, industry in general and health systems as well,” said Salvador Trujillo, Orbik’s CEO.

“In the past most systems were isolated and the risk of being attacked was rather small, nowadays with the systems being connected to the internet, it is becoming more and more common for systems to be attacked,” he added.

The SME Assembly aims to stimulate European businesses with high-level panels, interviews, and networking opportunities plus the prestigious Schumpeter Lecture, delivered this year by Professor Saras Sarasvathy.

“Uncertainty and crisis are opportunities and that’s what entrepreneurs do, right?” she said. 

“Crisis times are not things that you weather, crisis times are when you get up and change the world.”

It’s been a turbulent few years with one crisis following another and, in September, the European Commission presented the SME Relief Package to bolster small businesses.

“It has different pillars starting from finance,” explained Outi Slotboom, the Director for Strategy and Economic Analysis, and DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs.

“Then moving to access to skills, these often relate to new emerging areas like solar panel installation, new climate activities or digital skills. We also have a chapter on regulation.”

How can European businesses fend off bankruptcy?

Bankruptcies are rising in Europe – they are at their highest level since 2015 and are up by more than 8% on the previous quarter.

In a bid to avoid bankruptcies, the winner of the European Enterprise Promotion Award, the Portuguese Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation, has designed a tool that flags up potential problems with a company’s business figures.

One of the main reasons businesses go bankrupt is waiting too long before they are paid – this year the European Commission proposed updated rules including a maximum payment term of 30 days.

Polish MEP Róża Thun presented the report in the European Parliament and explained why small businesses need to be paid promptly.

“They need liquidity, they need cash flow, they have to be able to make their plans and not wait for money.

“There are very many interesting proposals in this report, not only the famous 30 days but also the execution of those payments and also fines for being late.”

Challenges facing small and medium enterprises

In recent years, small and medium size businesses (SMEs) have been affected by a number of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, high interest rates linked to rising inflation, and the increased price of energy and raw materials following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Listed below are the biggest problems SMEs say they face.

It may seem like a daunting time to want to start your own business, but not for the young entrepreneurs at the SME Assembly.

Ukrainian Mariia Alipatova won the Youth Startup Competition, with Solar Optic, an invention that captures sunlight and brings it into a building, saving money on lighting and improving the work environment.

“This is one of the benefits, to improve the mental health of the workers, especially in the warehouses. I’m an engineer, so I know how it is to work in the factory. You feel sometimes depressed because of the noise and sometimes natural sunlight is needed. But the main benefits are the reduction of carbon emissions and saving money on the electricity costs,” she told Business Planet.

There are no shortages of big challenges for Europe’s SMEs right now but there’s no shortage of big ideas either as Europe’s stakeholders aim to create a sustainable economic climate.

Source : Euronews

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