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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Students “mini-companies breathe new life into EU entrepreneurship
More than 200,000 secondary-school students in the EU have set up “mini-companies” offering products and services that range from a smart way of washing boats after fishing to a vibrating pillow as an alarm clock, and from trendy mood reflectors to increase the road safety of children to a key to change studs in horseshoes. The European Commission is promoting the projects as a way of tackling the lack of entrepreneurial spirit in the EU and thereby boosting the creation of jobs.
Maive Rute, envoy for small and medium-size companies, presented a new Commission report, Mini-Companies in Secondary Education, which describes 82 mini-company programmes in the EU and shows how the Commission is promoting the initiative, which involves around 15 per cent of EU secondary schools. The report calls on EU member states to step up their efforts to increase the participation rate and public support and to reduce administrative obstacles for these companies.
Günter Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Policy, said: “If we want to create more jobs, Europe needs young people who are prepared to take risks and start their own company. By teaching entrepreneurship at school, mini-companies give students a head start. I would like member states to do more to promote these projects in school and tackle the bureaucratic obstacles that prevent mini-companies from thriving.”
Jan Figel, European Commissioner for Education and Culture, said: “The report confirms that programmes based on learning through practice should be part of any strategy for stimulating entrepreneurial attitudes and skills. These activities need to be promoted as an option within secondary-education curricula.” Maive Rute added: “The report highlights that a significant number of participants in student-company schemes go on to create their own company after school. This is a major incentive for all actors involved – schools, educational authorities, the business world and public authorities – to invest more in such schemes.”
Student companies can produce and sell real products or services, or simply simulate the operations of real firms. Students decide upon the product and raise capital. After preparing a business plan, they produce or order the product made to their design. Students sell their products or services and keep accounts. At the end of the school year the company goes into liquidation. These activities help students to acquire basic business skills and to develop personal qualities and generic skills that are important in the knowledge economy. Through participation in mini-companies, students can display their creativity, build up their self-confidence, learn how to work in a team, and become more willing to take responsibility and initiative. First studies show that 20 per cent of participants create their own company after school. In most cases, student-company programmes are driven and organized by non-governmental organizations rather than by the education system itself, and include strong private-sector involvement. The report says that the level of public support should be stepped up. There are only a few countries where student mini-companies are officially recognized within the national curriculum (for example, Ireland, Latvia, Austria and Norway) and actively promoted by the educational authorities (like in Belgium and Finland).