Last month I had the pleasure of attending Emax Norge, an initiative designed to inspire young people into entrepreneurship. The event was supported and organised by Innovation Norway, who were keen to hear my thoughts. Here they are...
First up, there’s plenty to be done in this area. I’m in no doubt that a lot of young Norwegians view entrepreneurship as risky, exciting, lucrative, potentially life-changing... but it just isn’t for them.
Why? It’s simple.
Getting a job and then keeping that job is just so easy in Norway. The huge public sector and skills shortage in the energy industry means that well-paid jobs are not difficult to come by for qualified young people. Add to that some of the best working conditions anywhere in the world, and the fact it’s almost impossible to be sacked, and you can see why even talented wannabe entrepreneurs choose the safety net of Norwegian employment.
Of course, I’m not saying the working conditions in Norway are a bad thing: but there has to be an acceptance that they make it difficult to promote entrepreneurship as a realistic alternative.
So it was with great interest that I took the train down to Lillehammer to join the preparations for eMax Norge 2014. First on the agenda was to find out what eMax was all about, so I spoke to Janis Lancereau, the founder of the concept.
“eMax is an idea I had when I met a lot of young people in the 1990s when I was working with entrepreneurship in Sweden. I realised there were many good young entrepreneurs but they were isolated. I wanted to arrange a meeting place for them to meet others with similar skills. So in 2002 I started eMax Sweden. It was a quite provocative thought at the time, but it was recognised early on by the Nordic Council of Ministers, who helped to quickly turn eMax into a Nordic event with participants from across Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.”
Because of changing policies the other countries pulled out, so Innovation Norway decided to put the event on themselves. This is the third year of eMax Norge.”
The idea is straightforward. Young people apply and those who are accepted spend a few days together in Lillehammer, away from distractions, to develop skills, share ideas and build their own networks. It works fantastically well. As I awoke the next day at 7am and opened the curtains, I saw a group of four guys, who’d only met the night before, returning from an early-morning run. The enthusiasm of every single participant was incredible.
Central to the event is the business simulation game, which gave teams a chance to set strategy to meet given goals. The scenario was based on a telecoms company that spread itself across multiple markets and business units.
Business simulation games have their place, but for me that place is in high school or on a business degree course. The participants ranged from 18 to 25 years-old, and I know many 25 year olds who’ve already built successful businesses.
I’m a huge fan of the learning by doing concept so successfully taken on by Startup Weekend. I’ve seen successful events across Norway produce some genuine success stories. The events are always popular with students of business and entrepreneurship as they allow theory to be put into practice in just 48 hours.
That’s not to say the participants didn’t get a lot out of the business simulation event. They all seemed to enjoy it, and for the lucky few who won the trip to China, it was a potentially life-changing activity.
Most participants already seemed committed to the idea of entrepreneurship as an alternative career path, so it seemed a shame to spend time on a game rather than something real. If the business simulation game continues, I would like to see a wider variety of students and young people, not already convinced about entrepreneurship. But of course, finding them and convincing them to attend is a whole different ball game!
Anita Krohn Traaseth, new CEO of Innovation Norway, has a tough job ahead to ensure entrepreneurship can compete with the high salaries and job security of permanent employment. Events like eMax can definitely play a part, but they must be well targeted to meet the specific needs of the Norwegian environment.