Smart Cross-border Entrepreneurship Accelerator
Project SEA (Smart Cross-border Entrepreneurship Accelerator) is an ambitious cross-border project pursuing tangible and sustainable results built around a comprehensive work programme.
The idea and rationale for this project have originated in several phases. The basic concept has been developed by the Lead beneficiary – Evros Chamber of Commerce (ECC) – and the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), with the view to capitalise and build-on their existing business support (infra-)structures and soft services. Aided by a team of professionals in business mentoring and consulting from Bulgaria and Greece (coming from Business Information and Consulting Centre (BICC), the Technology and Human Resources Institute (IATAP) and YET (Youth | Entrepreneurship | Education | Technology) they brought the idea up into setting-up a single integrated business accelerator (SEA) to serve the entire cross-border region of Greece and Bulgaria.
The initial concept of the project was grounded on the deep insight into the existing business environment, which identified a gap in the target groups addressed thereby – deficiency of services targeting specifically young entrepreneurs and start-ups with untapped potential to turn an idea into a business. Existing services address well-established businesses or ambitious, innovative companies, scale-ups and companies with high potential to scale-up primarily.
Moreover, the entire cross-border region of Greece and Bulgaria is characterised by an ever-deepening trend of having the local start-ups and young entrepreneurs draining out to big cities (Sofia, Thessaloniki, Athens) or even abroad. Furthermore, young entrepreneurs, especially in remote areas or areas lagging behind, often have as a starting point the wrong perception that the only thing their business idea lacks is the missing funding.
Taking into account the specifics of the Cross Border (CB) area economic development and the unfavourable socio-economic impact of COVID-19, the project pursues to support businesses in peripheral and border regions. Ultimately, the GR-BG CB region will accommodate the first Smart cross-border Entrepreneurship Accelerator (SEA), with both its on-site infrastructure and the training content/methodology for its operation. During the second project stage, the SEAccelerator pilot cycle will take place across the entire CB region.
The Smart Cross-border Entrepreneurship Accelerator (SEAccelerator) is an innovative start-up incubator that builds capacity and develops skills across the entire process of turning an idea into a working business. It covers all stages, starting from idea selection, intensive training and mentoring for turning the idea into a product/service, market fit, establishing the start-up, ending up with pitching and interaction with potential investors or financial institutions. The entire acceleration cycle deploys cross-border networking and mobilisation of joint expertise to service a balanced mix of business ideas originating from both countries.
The project’s main objective is to improve the regional business support system and empower the untapped entrepreneurial potential of the area with skills and knowledge on how to create start-up companies. This will be done by establishing the SEAccelerator in the CB area, which will make use of the joint experience of the beneficiaries and experts from both countries. This key objective spells out into the following specific objectives:
- Outline the background for setting up the Accelerator - identify entrepreneurial strengths and opportunities across the CB area
Establish the SEAccelerator via:
• Investment component: prepare the Accelerator on-site infrastructure – refurbish/equip the premises at its regional nodes (Alexandropoulos, GR and Blagoevgrad, BG), and
• Soft component - develop a comprehensive training and mentoring Programme for potential start-ups and new entrepreneurs.
- Pilot the SEA - deliver one full SEAccelerator cycle to its beneficiaries
- Prepare the ground for sustaining the SEAccelerator in the long run
- Bring the start-up ecosystem of the CB area together to benefit from the SEAccelerator.
Over and above the aforementioned specific objectives, the SEA project is expected to enable self-employment for the start-uppers themselves, and increase opportunities for new jobs as the companies grow and spin-off. The rest of the participants in the Accelerator will benefit from expert sessions and workshops, improved knowledge and capacity that will allow them to improve their current employability.
Both the SEAccelerator structure and the phase-gate model to be followed, along with the training/mentoring content, are meant to be innovative and state-of-the-art, tailored to regional specifics and involving mixed teams of participants and experts from both countries.
The CB area business support ecosystem is featured by the regional chambers of commerce, and the EEN nodes that support the existing business with the potential to innovate and grow. To further unlock the regional entrepreneurial potential, the SEAccelerator addresses the following target groups:
- Young entrepreneurs, having already undertaken actions towards new business;
- Researchers and spill-overs from research organisations where R&D results have the potential to be commercialised and turned into innovation while research teams are lacking entrepreneurial knowledge and skills;
- Potential entrepreneurs, to be inspired by the SEA project to start their own business;
- Start-ups that need incubation and scale-up support;
- Existing SMEs with potential and prospects to launch new undertaking(s), including those businesses that enhance internal (within the company) entrepreneurship, e.g. internally generated ideas turned into a new business project or a separate business (spill-overs);
- Experts, mentors, trainers and professionals, part of the regional business support system, working with SMEs and entrepreneurs in the GR-BG CB area.