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Brussels,13 September 2005

Students’ “mini-companies” breathe new life into EU entrepreneurship

No new products, enterprises or ideas in Europe? More than 200,000 secondary school students in the EU don’t agree. They have set up “mini companies” offering smart ways of washing boats after fishing, a vibrating pillow as an alarm clock, trendy mood reflectors to increase road safety of children, senior entertainment services, and a multifunctional key to change studs in horseshoes (for more details, see Memo/05/315). These projects are being promoted by the European Commission as a way of tackling the lack of entrepreneurial spirit in the EU and thereby boosting the creation of jobs. Today, SME Envoy Maive Rute presented the new Commission report “Mini-companies in secondary education”. It provides an overview of 82 mini-company programmes in the EU. The Commission is actively promoting the “mini companies” initiatives, which are organised by various actors at European, national and local level. Roughly 15% of the secondary schools in the EU are already involved. The Commission calls upon Member States to step up their efforts to increase the participation rate and public support and to reduce administrative obstacles for these companies.

Commission Vice–President Günter Verheugen, responsible 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-up 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.”

Commissioner Jan Figel, responsible 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.”

SME Envoy 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.”

By running a mini-company students develop a real economic activity, or simulate the operations of real firms. While having a pedagogical objective, student companies can produce and sell real products or services. Students decide upon the product and raise capital. After preparing a business plan, they produce or order the product made to their design. Students will sell their products or services and keep accounts. At the end of the school year the company goes into liquidation.

These activities allow students to acquire basic business skills, but also develop personal qualities and generic skills that have become increasingly important for everyone in today’s knowledge society. 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% of participants create their own company after school.

The report identified 82 student company programmes across Europe involving at least 200,000 secondary school students every year in the EU 25 plus Norway. However, in most countries the number of secondary schools involved represents less than 15 % of the total: this percentage should be increased.

In most cases student company programmes are driven and organised by external actors (notably NGOs) rather than by the education system itself, and are developed with strong involvement from the private sector. The level of public support should be stepped up.

There are only a few countries where student mini-companies are officially recognised within the national curriculum (e.g. Ireland, Latvia, Austria and Norway) and actively promoted by the educational authorities (like in Belgium and Finland). The report recommends how to increase the inclusion of such activities as a recognised option in curricula for secondary education and the take-up of such activities by schools (see Memo/05/315).

The report:

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