First published on Medium. Written by Andreas Kleofas, Co-Founder emax.digital / former Amazon-Leader / working in E-Commerce & Analytics / Passion for Sailing
In our decade, founding your own company is probably one of the biggest adventures to pursue (at times it can feel like climbing the mount Everest). It is the nature of entrepreneurial adventures that requires founders to grow their skillset continuously in order to cope with the manifold obstacles that stand in the way of success. There are different strategies for acquiring new skillsets — like reading books or trainings.
I found that for me, the most effective strategies are networking and placing myself and my start-up emax.digital in a strong community of likeminded individuals and start-ups. Other entrepreneurs are a valuable resource to overcome the challenges your own start-up is facing. Moreover, discussing your thoughts and plans with a senior mentor unlocks insights into aspects of the business that you might not be aware of. Networking itself probably is a valuable skillset on its own that you would want to train as an entrepreneur.
In order to help founders, train their networking skills and broaden their international perspective the EU has set up a program dedicated to fostering exchange between international founders. From a presentation held by KIZ Sinnova* at WAYRA in Munich, I learned about the EU program “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs”.
The program supports entrepreneurs in two ways:
- A fresh founder (the start-up should not be older than 3 years) is matched with a senior business leader in a foreign country of the founder’s choice in order to learn from their experience. As part of the program, the freshie receives financial support monthly (the amount differs between the host countries) and typically works within the hosting company.
- Senior business leaders, on the other hand, can apply to become hosts for their country (this is what we will try with emax.digital). As a host, you can benefit from the fresh perspective a foreign entrepreneur brings into your company. An additional benefit is the expertise of your guest that can potentially help you with a project.
Since I like the idea of networking, I asked for contacts of past participants I could talk to. I was directed towards David Photien, co-founder of YOOLOX** in Munich, and Sven Franzen, CEO of Tiger Marketing*** near Frankfurt. I found their feedback on the program quite helpful and wanted to share them with you in case you are considering applying for Erasmus for young Entrepreneurs program too:
a) Have a goal (or reason-why) in mind when you want to participate. David participated as young entrepreneur and went to London with the EU program. His goal was to scout the hotel industry in order to prepare for an international launch of their product: wireless charger products. London is full of hotels and restaurants which made it a perfect first international market. Sven is running a successful marketing agency and is a serial host within the EU program. His goal is to broaden his international network and he is intrinsically driven to share his experience.
b) Think about the collaboration and plan it out: If you want to travel abroad you need to apply through the website (David and Sven both agreed the website seems a bit outdated but works fine). Your application requires (definitely) a business plan about your start-up (or about the business you are determined to launch) but could also include a letter of motivation, your CV and a statement why you would like to participate. As a host, you will have to formally be accepted but the actual work starts when your guest arrives. Some of the pointers you would have to think about in advance are the availability of a free desk, who is working with your partner, what is the business rhythm etc. So, think about it in time.
c) Make it a Win-Win-situation: You benefit the most from the program when you understand what the need of your match is and if possible, try to help them with that need. At the same time, do not overload your counterpart with expectations — both of you are entrepreneurs. If you are the one travelling, you could support your host in your area of expertise — David attended fairs together with his host and generated leads for his business from that. Sven is actively seeking outside perspective about his business and integrates the guest within his teams. But he also expects his guests to work independently on their own projects.
d) Give yourself a structure and live it: The program length can be between 4 weeks and 6 months. 4 weeks are easily gone. I like Sven’s approach to having his guests structure their stay along with questions they have that they would like to get answers to. He also blocks time in his calendar to be available for regular feedback sessions.
e) Be open, share your experiences and have fun. Both, David and Sven enjoyed being part of the program and highly recommend participating. One sentence from Sven struck a chord for me “If we want [the EU] to grow closer, then we have to foster this change in smaller settings as well. And at the same time, it can accelerate us as entrepreneurs”.
If you want to apply, you would want to start on the official website (www.erasmus-entrepreneurs.eu). Here you can find the official intermediaries for each country. In Germany, you can find several program agents that can help you with your application like KIZ Sinnova in Offenbach. They will help you with your application and find a suitable match.
*KIZ Sinnova in Offenbach is one of several official German intermediaries, who handle the applications and assignments for the EU program “Erasmus for young Entrepreneurs” in Germany.
** YOOLOX from Munich is pioneering in wireless charging technology with B2B and B2C products.
*** Tiger Marketing is a marketing agency close to Frankfurt with a small core team and a flexible network for scalable solutions