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EU-Africa: EBN and EU enter partnership to empower business incubators for innovative SMEs and jobs

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The European Union and the European Business and Innovation Centre Network (EBN), the leading community of business incubation and support organisations in Europe and beyond, are joining forces to foster inclusive, decent job creation, and sustainable livelihoods in a collaboration between the African (Sub Saharan) and European continents.

With a first contribution of €3 million, they will create a Regional Network to support business incubation in Africa. The project will start focussing on four target countries (Angola, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Madagascar) with an aim to expand progressively, through increased emphasis on concrete capacity-building, knowledge-sharing, and innovation transfer activities for African incubators. The network will also help to reach out to investors, innovation centres and partners that are needed by African businesses to develop opportunities and markets, and to increase their chances for successful outcomes.

‘’EBN and its global community of certified EU|BICs are pleased to partner with the EU, building on our mission commitment of promoting the internationalisation of European science, technology, and innovation. Our joint efforts will support a better connection between European and African innovation ecosystem actors to promote economic, social, and sustainable development through quality business support services for startups and SMEs.

The partnership will ensure that incubators and incubatees benefit from exchanges and cooperation for capacity building, business opportunities with European companies, and continuous improvement through monitoring of quality standards. Sharing our unique ability in peer-to-peer mentoring, coaching, and engaging key stakeholders in the Regional Network will alleviate funding, governance, training, and regulatory constraints that African start-ups and small enterprises face. Our goal is to promote job creation, empowerment of youth and women and the growth of entrepreneurship’’, said Laura Lecci CEO at EBN.

The COVID-19 outbreak is more than a global health crisis, impacting labour markets and creating a social and economic crisis. Often women and young people face even more difficulties in accessing business and employment support services. With increasing populations and millions of new entrants on the labour market each year in Africa, fostering decent, gender-sensitive, and climate-resilient jobs is crucial to the region’s sustainable future development. As thrivers for economic growth, and diverse job creation, the need for systems that provide support to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation in the African regions is clear. The success of business incubators (BIs) initiatives, to help create and develop new businesses via a range of financial and technical services in various African countries, prompted the European Union to establish and strengthen BIs in Eastern and Southern Africa.

EBN is proud to partner with the European Commission to unlock entrepreneurial potential, directly boosting Africa’s innovation capacity and sustainable economic growth. The European Union and its Member States are key actors contributing meaningfully to business innovation and social development on both continents. With this partnership, both organisations will support the sustainability and resilience of businesses and jobs, with a long-term economic and social impact on the innovation ecosystems. The Regional Network will facilitate knowledge sharing and learning among the business incubation programmes with the incubators from the four countries, stimulate the strengthening of entrepreneurial cultures in the regions and beyond, by communicating the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation as drivers for the creation of highly skilled jobs. The Network will emphasise empowering vulnerable groups, and support to entrepreneurs, start-ups, and SMEs with potential to deliver lasting social, environmental, and economic impact, by implementing ground-breaking ideas.

On an operational level, EBN will work closely with the European Commission and the EU Delegations in the four countries, national authorities and stakeholders, implementing partners in the field such as international donors, and will collaborate with African incubator networks that we currently partner with on other initiatives. EBN and its members shaping the pan-European community of certified EU|BICs and Associates will also be invited to participate as experts in knowledge sharing missions, training sessions, and develop mutually beneficial connections with African incubators.

EBN has built a solid reputation with different public actors active in the support and development of the innovation landscape, such as the European Commission, international organisations (ESA, UNDP, EIB, ECA, EUREKA, EIT), national and regional public authorities, and non-EU territories and agencies. EBN assists in the modelling of many EU|BICs and incubators in Europe, and beyond. It can count on already established partnerships with African and international business incubators networks, with its current involvement in the three ENRICH centres, covering China, Brazil, and the USA, and the recently approved ENRICH in Africa centre working to support European science, technology and innovation organisations connecting with relevant partner organisations. EBN is also a member of the current Africa EU Innovation Partnership, a currently running EU project due to end in 2021.

Background information

This action is funded by the European Union under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF). The action ‘Support to entrepreneurship and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) creation (Business incubators)’ will complement other initiatives already launched by the EU, between Europe and Africa, such as the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership, ENRICH centres, and the International partnership between European and African innovation hubs.

In line with the EU’s Comprehensive Strategy with Africa, and the external dimension of the EU Green deal, the creation of decent jobs and the promotion of investment are core objectives of the EU’s economic, social, and environmental partnership with African states. In addition to this policy framework, the EU also intends to respond to the unprecedented crisis triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak and its potential damages on African economies.

In this context, it was decided to develop a “Programme to support Entrepreneurship and MSME creation (Business incubators)”. The aim of this programme is “to preserve livelihoods and promote inclusive job creation, which ensures productive employment and the right to an adequate standard of living and decent work” and has a strong focus on women and young entrepreneurs. The Programme aims at creating a Regional Network where incubators will be established/consolidated in Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Somalia; and to provide them with dedicated capacity building and networking support, while providing softer networking services to the wider incubation ecosystem in the region.

The Regional Network will: 1) facilitate capacity building; 2) help incubators benefit from exchanges and cooperation with other initiatives;  3) connect European and Africa innovation hubs and develop intercontinental collaboration;  4) explore business opportunities with European companies;  5) ensure that quality standards are supported and respected in all incubators; 6) deploy monitoring and evaluation that will ensure a continuous and effective improvement of incubation professionals, and to create an accreditation scheme to certify business incubators.

EBN is a non-profit, community-based membership network that serves a pan-European, global community of people that use innovative business as a driver for regional (economic) development. EBN’s initiatives include EU|BIC certification, development and distribution of quality business support programmes, facilitation and initiation of project collaborations, global networking, and advocacy for excellent business support actors like the EU|BICs. There are now more than 130 quality-certified EU|BICs and 46 Associate Members shaping our global EBN network. Becoming an EU|BIC means responding to our mission to use business and innovation as a force for regional development with the best possible actions to create vibrant, thriving startups, and SMEs. In other words, EU|BICs take real steps to ensure that their services are best advantageous to their clients and most advantageous to their regions.

The first EU|BICs were born back in the 1980s, as EC-BICs, with the support of the European Commission and private industry actors to stimulate the creation and growth of new enterprises by providing technical support to innovative start-ups, spin-offs, SMEs and entrepreneurs. Through this network, the EU|BICs have developed the EU|BIC trademark, which certifies their compliance to a set of standards known as the EU|BIC Quality Mark Criteria, the only innovation and entrepreneurship quality and benchmarking system for innovation-based incubators and accelerators recognised by the EU. In 2018, EU|BICs actively supported 23,400 innovation businesses, 56% of which are deep tech start-ups and SMEs. Survival rates of EU|BIC-supported ventures are significantly higher than average. In 2018, 93% of companies incubated by EU|BICs were still trading after one year and 89% of EU|BIC alumni companies are still trading three years after graduating from the EU|BIC support programmes.


For more information

EU-Africa Strategy

European Commission – DG International Partnerships

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