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Yes! You can build an entrepreneurial culture -

Yes! You can build an entrepreneurial culture

As I watch the economic and financial crisis unfold in Portugal, I’ve been thinking about the reasons why, as a nation, we became so risk-averse and so dependent on the government and big corporations. I extend this analysis to the vast majority of European countries, as they’re not dramatically different in this particular aspect.

Culture vs. Education

Growing up, I heard again and again that entrepreneurship is something you cannot teach – it’s cultural they say. The US are naturally entrepreneurial because it’s a nation of immigrants that had little to lose and a lot to build. I say that’s bullshit. It’s obvious that today the US have a much stronger entrepreneurial culture, supported by a huge startup community and large amounts of VC money. Can you replicate something like this? Absolutely! It starts with education. How much does a 20-year-old kid fresh out of college have to lose? We need to instill entrepreneurial values while these kids are in school – show them some success cases, let them talk to inspiring entrepreneurs, let them know about the risks but also the rewards. Damn! You just have to put it side by side with the shitty entry-level corporate job they can aspire to and it’s obvious they have very little to lose.

The ecosystem

The second step (with many middle steps) is to build the ecosystem that can support entrepreneurship – VCs, incubators, supportive community, entrepreneur-friendly legislation. This is trickier. I’ll ignore legislation as I don’t think it’s a significant roadblock at this point. For years now, the European Union has tried to build this ecosystem in a centralized and bureaucratic way – the only way the EU knows. Centralize the major funds to support innovation, distribute some more money to national governments, and expect people to be creative. This approach has given very little results – you cannot build many small communities spread around Europe from an office space in Brussels. The ecosystem cannot ignore the education system, which will feed the community with fresh wannabe entrepreneurs that, by nature, will run away from bureucracy and 100-page long application forms.


Finally, in order to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem you need consistent leadership – not one that changes every 4-5 years and is more interested in political results than long-term effects. You need a bunch of very smart people committed to the cause and a long-term vision that they’re willing to sustain. Portugal, as most European countries, has decided that the government is the most qualified agent to lead this process. The results are visibly painful.

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