8. Entrepreneurship and social ingenuity

Let sustainable entrepreneurs loose in the 21st century.

There is need for a much stronger entrepreneurial and business culture in Denmark that is useful for the community. This applies in schools, in education and training, and in the workplace. We must be far better at grasping the opportunities we have in order to get started, whether alone or with others. The Alternative therefore focuses on the community’s, as well as the individual’s creative power. It is entrepreneurial diversity at its best.

In Denmark, we have a labor market and a social safety net that can help to support an even more dynamic entrepreneurial culture, but it often seems as if we are afraid to let our entrepreneurial talents loose. Why should students and the unemployed, for example, spend more time searching for jobs that in actuality do not exist, instead of getting support to start their own business? Small companies can become big companies. So let us pay tribute to the small, green pioneers that every day go against the grain, and let us give them a real chance to take command. Why are established businesses the public sector’s preferred partners? Let us give hope to the small, start-up entrepreneurs. Let us show that there is room for innovation.

The Alternative’s ambition is that Denmark should be a pioneer in sustainable entrepreneurship and job creation. Social ingenuity and entrepreneurship must be anchored in the Danish mentality, culture, and process of personal formation. We will recognize and promote entrepreneurship in general, but we want, in particular, to create better conditions for the entrepreneurial forces that take a serious, sustainable responsibility for Denmark and the world.

The Alternative has three key issues: 

  1. A new sustainable entrepreneurial culture
  2. Internationalization of the Danish entrepreneurial environment
  3. Diversity, creativity and the fourth sector

8.1. New sustainable entrepreneurship in Denmark

The Alternative will work to develop a strong and sustainable entrepreneurial culture in Denmark. Here, we believe that the public system, which is designed for a more rigid and traditional labor market, needs to be able to support entrepreneurs and new businesses to a much higher degree. It should simply be possible for unemployed people to become entrepreneurs.

Educational institutions should help to provide future entrepreneurs with the best requisites to think about entrepreneurship and sustainability together. We also believe that it is in our educational institutions that a change of attitude must take place, from that of taking an education to get a job after graduation, to taking a course to create jobs in the community.

Two-year targeted entrepreneurial performance

People in the unemployment benefit system with entrepreneurial ambitions have difficulty starting their own businesses as they must be available for work. Moreover, many Danes refrain from establishing themselves as entrepreneurs due to the fear of going bankrupt.

Against this background, The Alternative suggests a more targeted entrepreneurial allowance (80% of the normal rate of unemployment benefits) and specific advice for people with the right qualifications.

The allowance would be awarded to people on the benefit system who have the skills and intentions of pursuing a life as an entrepreneur. The allowance’s reduced size ensures the state proceeds and that only motivated people make use of that option.

After more than two years, the entrepreneur should be able to receive his or her own wages through the newly established company.

It is vital that the entrepreneurial allowance is targeted at unemployed people who want to develop a sustainable business idea and have the courage and will to work as independents. Therefore, a tailored training and mentoring program will be offered with one or more competent business consultants, professional coaches and personal coaches who will continuously evaluate the business plan, economics, leadership, etc.

There will be continuous reporting back to the unemployment fund, which will evaluate the company each quarter. It is therefore vital that the entrepreneurial allowance is targeted so that at least 50 per cent of businesses survive.

Increased education, training and awareness of sustainable entrepreneurship

The Alternative suggests that primary and secondary schools and higher education increase entrepreneurial education under the title ‘from job taker to job creator’.

In studies from the Foundation for Entrepreneurship (figures from 2012/13), only 10.6% of the primary and lower secondary schools’ 700,000 students, 31.5% of the 270,000 upper secondary school students, and 10.9% of the 258,000 students in higher education have participated in education and specific activities within entrepreneurship. At The Alternative, we have the ambition that all Danish students during the course of their studies experience stimulating and creative teaching in the startup of businesses, projects and other initiatives.

At The Alternative, we believe that an entrepreneurial culture must be incorporated into, and form a natural part of the teaching or setting of all subjects, and not just act as a separate course on entrepreneurship. The training must ensure that students are enriched with insights and knowledge, acquire the courage to act and the skills that enable them to transform potential into concrete sustainable solutions and fruitful business ideas.

Green Lab

The future model for cooperation between businesses, municipalities and the state must be based on new social cooperative agreements and contracts – the promise of better framework conditions in return for companies undertaking to create a sustainable society. Examples here include creating jobs, setting up internships, conducting research, investing in the environment and increasing businesses’ focus on social responsibility.

There is a need for research, information and the development of ideas on how we in Denmark can create better framework conditions for sustainable entrepreneurs and businesses.

Some of the issues to be examined are:

– How can the public sector cooperate to a higher degree with small start-up companies that compete on quality and not only on price? How can the public sector create better conditions for green entrepreneurs? How can the state engage small businesses and entrepreneurs as suppliers?

– Green Lab should be an inter-agency development unit that involves both citizens and businesses to create new, sustainable solutions and projects that provide increased value to society.

– In addition, employees in the public sector should be able to come together to create a new type of business that ensures employees’ ownership of the public companies in a “not for profit” framework. This could, for example, be an independent institution and apply to schools, nursing homes or kindergartens, as well as to recycling centers and other publicly owned enterprises.

– Therefore, new business types and structures should be developed similar to the private institutions that are discussed above.

– Green Lab should be a public entrepreneurial zone, meant to inspire creativity, innovation and collaboration across ministries and in the public sector.

8.2. Internationalization of the Danish entrepreneurial environment

One of the Danish entrepreneurial culture’s mental challenges is that business ideas that see the light of day in Denmark are often too locally oriented. This trend is detrimental to the unfolding of business potential and the professional development of the relevant industry in which the entrepreneur operates. We will therefore work to develop an international approach to sustainable entrepreneurship, where international cooperation and partnerships are supported, celebrated and valued. We believe that a future Danish sustainable entrepreneurial culture has the potential to be successful worldwide. We also believe that a strong sustainability culture can create entrepreneurs who are not just good for Denmark, but good for the whole world.

Danish entrepreneurs out into the world

The Alternative wants to motivate the new generation of entrepreneurs to see the economic as well as professional opportunities of engaging in international collaborative projects. Therefore, 100 international labor and travel grants (equivalent to 3 months of research stay) will be offered a year for particularly promising young Danish entrepreneurial talents. 50 of these work and travel grants are earmarked for stays in the Nordic countries.

The criteria for obtaining these work and travel grants are a combination of the entrepreneur’s past performance, the potential business idea measured in terms of economics, social significance and environmental sustainability, as well as the international partner’s professional reputation.

The international entrepreneur grants will be administered by the The Danish Agency for Trade and Industry, but the responsibility for the selection of the 100 scholarship recipients must be with an independent disciplinary committee consisting of experienced entrepreneurs and business people.

The publication of the year’s scholarship recipients must have the character of an award that aims to celebrate the next generation of exceptionally talented entrepreneurs in Denmark.

Attracting international entrepreneurs to Denmark

Equally important as having our own entrepreneurs spot those opportunities that lie outside of Denmark’s borders, is to have foreign entrepreneurs see the possibilities in Denmark.

Therefore, it should be easier for particularly talented foreign entrepreneurs to obtain work and residence permits in Denmark if they can demonstrate a working relationship with a Danish company.

100 work and residence permits should therefore be offered a year for particularly promising international entrepreneurs. The work and residence permits will be for two years and will depend on effective collaboration with a locally anchored Danish company.

The established Danish companies should be encouraged to provide space for one or more international entrepreneur who wants to start up within the company’s industry.

The international entrepreneurship program is based on similar experiences from abroad. In Chile, for example, for over a number of years, there has been a focus on attracting international entrepreneurial talent by giving them both work- and residence permits, work spaces, and start-up capital.

The scheme will be affiliated with the same department in The Danish Agency for Trade and Industry that administers the work and travel grants to particularly promising entrepreneurial talents.

Once a year, a conference will be held with the Danish grant recipients and the foreign entrepreneur participants. The aim of the conference is to strengthen the exchange of experience and business potential between Danish and foreign entrepreneurs.

8.3. Diversity, creativity and the fourth sector

Both inside and outside Denmark, we have seen in recent years a wide range of socio-economic initiatives and new cooperative enterprises emerge in response to local, social, environmental and economic challenges. These initiatives are reminiscent of a similar period in the late 19th century, when social ingenuity was also paramount.

It was a time when we in Denmark and in Scandinavia, among other things, invented the folk high schools, the cooperative movement, and the Nordic labor market model. It was initiative that helped to form the basis of the welfare state that we take for granted today. Perhaps we are now witnessing the rebirth of the cooperative movement? This is what The Alternative hopes, and it is what we will work for.

The Alternative wants our social entrepreneurs, immigrants and cultural enthusiasts to get the attention they deserve. Therefore, The Alternative will work to create a regulatory environment at both local, national and European level that supports social innovation and strengthens the partnerships that arise at the interface between the public sector, the private sector and NGOs.

Local entrepreneurship should be valued

Public debate and media coverage of entrepreneurship in Denmark tend to emphasize either the high-tech entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs within the creative industry.

There can be many reasons for this, but Denmark should also appreciate entrepreneurs in the traditional retail and service sectors. This includes the many entrepreneurs that today start businesses in areas as diverse as the green trade, small businesses, the purchase- and wholesale business, bicycle repair, hairdressing and cleaning.

There is a vital entrepreneurial undergrowth that enriches Danish society, both in terms of goods and services, but also by maintaining important jobs that ensure the necessary diversity in the Danish labor market.

These traditional workplaces, however, often need a professional and organizational skills upgrade if the business is to develop. Companies must not necessarily grow, but improve in quality so that the customer base can be maintained and expanded.

The Alternative proposes the establishment of a specific initiative that is targeted at traditional service companies. The advisory service should be placed at the regional centers of growth and should include both outreach and coaching at a high level so that this particular group of entrepreneurs feels recognized and respected.

The creative industry must be strengthened

The creative industries in Denmark consist of a minimum of 11 branches: architecture, books, the press, design, film and video, game production and computers, arts and crafts, music, fashion and clothing, furniture and interiors, television and radio, and advertising.

The creative industries have an obvious potential and represent a significant part of the Danish economy. A report from the Danish Design Center estimates that the creative industry in 2010 employed around 85,000 (FTEs) in both service and production, and generated about 200 billion kroner. The creative industries thereby make up 6-7% of the total turnover in Danish industry.

Knowledge sharing between the creative industries and other professions can be strengthened, for example, through regional centers, targeted creative entrepreneurs, and by supporting equal cooperation between creative and traditional businesses.

At the same time, it is important to understand that the creative industry often has a different organizational culture than the more traditional industries. There are other recruitment channels, there are other development processes, and there are other basic rules of the game in the markets.

Therefore, one can not simply transfer the experiences of existing entrepreneurial incubators to the creative entrepreneurs. Instead, we must learn from such entrepreneurial environments as the Københavns Projekt offices, Republikken and The Hub in Copenhagen, Spinderierne in Vejle, and Frontløberne and Lynfabrikken in Aarhus. Based on the experiences from these environments, as well as the experiences from the Center for Cultural and Experience Economy and the Danish Design Center, a new national focus on the creative industries in Denmark should be devised.

The campaign should accommodate both the creation of regional creative incubators, research projects based on the experiences of CKO and CBS targeted at support to exports, and internationally oriented training programs for particularly talented leaders from the creative industry.

The fourth sector must be promoted

The Alternative will, at local, national and European level, work for regulatory frameworks that support social innovation and strengthen the partnerships that arise at the interface between the public sector, the private sector and NGOs. This supports the formation of a genuinely new sector in society. The so-called fourth sector is characterized by companies, institutions and environments that combine the best of the three old sectors: the private, the public and the voluntary.

There have already been positive experiences with the Centre for Social Economy in Copenhagen, and several municipalities have implemented actions to support their socio-economic enterprises. If you, like The Alternative, want a genuine reinvention of the cooperative movement in Denmark, then it is necessary for an ambitious national effort in close collaboration with national actors and relevant international research environments and think tanks, such as The Urban Institute in Washington DC or Demos in London.

There is not just a need to develop the right framework conditions and regulatory basis for these new hybrid companies. There is also a need to further clarify what defines a fourth sector company in relation to a purely private or purely public company.

The Alternative therefore wishes to establish a national knowledge- and advisory center for the fourth sector companies. This includes the establishment of a national database of knowledge about the most inspiring and promising examples of new Danish and international hybrid companies. The database will consist of companies that not only work across the three classic sectors, but that have also developed their own sectoral identity. The database will also contain relevant research articles, the latest statistics, business models and professional networking initiatives.