EU seeks to boost start-up and scale-up support with new industrial strategy

The European Commission has revealed a new strategy to help Europe’s industry lead the twin transitions towards climate neutrality and digital leadership. The strategy aims to drive Europe’s competitiveness and its strategic autonomy at a time of moving geopolitical plates and increasing global competition.

The package of initiatives outlines a new approach to European industrial policy that is firmly rooted in European values and social market traditions. It sets out a range of actions to support all players of European industry, including big and small companies, innovative start-ups, research centres, service providers, suppliers and social partners.

A dedicated strategy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) aims to reduce red tape and help Europe’s numerous SMEs to do business across the single market and beyond, access financing and help lead the way on the digital and green transitions. The new initiatives also include concrete steps to address barriers to a well-functioning single market, Europe’s strongest asset, to allow all businesses to grow and compete in Europe and beyond.

Introducing the new strategy, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said: “Europe’s industry is the motor of growth and prosperity in Europe. And it is at its best when it draws on what makes it strong: its people and their ideas, talents, diversity and entrepreneurial spirit. This is more important than ever as Europe embarks on its ambitious green and digital transitions in a more unsettled and unpredictable world. Europe’s industry has everything it takes to lead the way and we will do everything we can to support it.”

Thierry Breton, commissioner for Internal Market, added: “Europe has the strongest industry in the world. Our companies – big and small – provide us with jobs, prosperity and strategic autonomy. Managing the green and digital transitions and avoiding external dependencies in a new geopolitical context requires radical change – and it needs to start now.”

The strategy for SMEs – which provide two thirds of the EU’s jobs – is central to the success of the new industrial approach. The strategy aims to help SMEs to lead the twin transitions, which also means securing access to the right skills.

To build SMEs’ capacity for these transitions, the Commission will upgrade the European Enterprise Network with dedicated sustainability advisors. It will also expand Digital Innovation Hubs across every region in Europe to empower SMEs to integrate digital innovations. It will open up possibilities for volunteering and training on digital technologies.

To make it easier for SMEs to operate in the single market and beyond, the Commission proposes actions to remove regulatory and practical obstacles to doing business or scaling up.

Among them, the Commission aims to make it more accessible for SMEs to go public in Europe by supporting an SME Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) Fund under the InvestEU SME window. It will also empower female entrepreneurship by stimulating investment in women-led companies and funds.

Furthermore, the Commission has invited member states to ensure one-stop shop assistance to companies. The objective is to make Europe the best place to start a business and grow. It will work with member states on an EU Start-up Nations Standard to share and adopt best practices to accelerate growth of high-tech SMEs and start-ups.

To ensure political commitment for these measures, a high-level EU SME Envoy will guarantee close partnership and coordination with EU member states through national SME envoys, as well as with regional and local authorities. It will also strengthen the SME perspective in EU legislation.

Start-ups across Europe have welcomed the new strategy.

In an open letter, CEOs and founders of some of the region’s biggest start-ups, including Bolt, Pitch and TransferWise, claim that the strategy will be “a major step towards unleashing the full entrepreneurial firepower of Europe.”

“We applaud the EU’s ambition of seeking a pan-European solution to address the needs of start-ups,” the letter reads. “We are also encouraged that the Commission has specifically called out the treatment of stock options as one of the key issues.

“That’s why we are today calling on all member states to sign up to the EU Start-up Nations Standard, including a commitment to increase the attractiveness of employee ownership schemes.”