The main aim of the project is cross-linking entrepreneurs, in order to exchange information and learn from each other. Although the project’s activity is clearly focused on supporting entrepreneurship, according to the project concept, the goal is not defined in the category of strengthening economic performance, since it takes time and is not always a direct result of this type of action.
“Firstly, entrepreneurs need to learn to know each other; the idea of direct cooperation might arise, however, much later, or never. Regardless of the direct collaboration in terms of business, entrepreneurs benefit from being in the network due to the exchange of experience and knowledge which enables them to make better decisions, learn from the mistakes of others.”
Another aim of the project is to create new methods of cooperation between the Warsaw local government and entrepreneurs, with particular consideration of the specificity (genius loci) and local character of the district Praga Południe. The project is considered as a pilot action to check the potential of the city in supporting the entrepreneurs and thus only willing districts joined (6 out of 18 Warsaw districts). The idea of the initiative has its roots in other projects implemented by the City called Warsaw – the capital of ambitious business. One of the conclusions based on the project experience was that the interest of entrepreneurs in training and consulting for entrepreneurs and people considering starting their own business has significantly decreased. In order to support entrepreneurs more effectively, the city authorities need to be engaged in further phases of actions.
The project is targeted at entrepreneurs who are not yet aware of the benefits of cross-linking, thus the main target audience are small firms, often recently established. The participants of the project are also people who are planning to establish their own business. The initiative is characterised by a hierarchical management structure. The City has hired a project manager, a communication manager, six animators (one for each cooperating district) and a moderator who is a researcher at a university and specialised in issues of entrepreneurship. The tasks of the animators in the districts are to organise meetings with entrepreneurs and promote the project. The Moderator is responsible for the substantive side of the project and meetings.
The most important actions undertaken within the project are meetings for the local entrepreneurs which aim is twofold: an exchange of experience (thematic meetings) and networking. Other activities undertaken are video materials of good practice regarding the adaptation of SME and business management in the conditions of economic change, as well as numerous research and scientific publications, meetings and local conferences. The financial resources of the project are based on UE funding. The project is co-funded (up to 85%) by the European Union through the European Social Fund under the Human Capital Operational Programme. The total budget of the project amounts to € 880,770.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The initiative does not explicitly address diversity within its aims but it does have a significant implication for the management of diversity. The project is also related to the aspect of increasing economic performance within the socio-economically diverse area of Praga Południe. In this respect it reflects upon the relation between the economic development of the area and its socio-economic diversity. On the general level, the project aims to take advantage of diversity among entrepreneurs as they represent different and often complementary business activities. The basic idea of the project is supporting the cooperation and exchange of experience of entrepreneurs representing diverse types of business activity. The development of networks is expected to strengthen the area’s economic competiveness and the level of social capital.
As far as the district of Praga Południe is concerned, the local animator distinguished three main types of project participants: representatives of traditional services, IT technology and so called ‘creative’ sector including different types of artists and culture animators. She explains as follows:
“we want to reach diverse groups of entrepreneurs, the easiest category to engage in the project are people involved in the IT business, the most difficult to reach are representatives of occupations such as bakers, shoemakers, watchmakers. In contrast to other parts of Warsaw, these jobs are frequently represented in Praga Południe.”
Main factors influencing success or failure
An important external factor of the project’s success is the increasing demand for networking services. The demand was diagnosed during the previous projects implemented by the City and further confirmed by the WFoE project. The number of participants in each district of the city who participate in the arrangement systematically increased.
From the internal perspective important factors are the personal engagement and experience of the project team were important. According to our interviewee the main proof of the project’s success is, apart from the increasing number of participants, the involvement of entrepreneurs who start to organise a network beyond the project’s structure.
The most important barrier to the arrangement are financial resources. After the formal end of the project no financial means are available. The development of entrepreneurship is not listed in the obligatory tasks of the city and without external support the imitative is unlikely to be continued in its present form. As the coordinator of the WFoE project claims:
“the City of Warsaw cannot afford the continuation of this project after the EU funds run out. An opportunity for the continuation of the project is the participatory budget, an initiative to engage the residents of Warsaw in deciding about budgetary allocations and introducing own ways of spending available money. This will test the maturity of the project and the commitment of its participants. However, there is a large risk that the project will not be continued.”
The Warsaw Forum of Entrepreneurship is an example of a publicly coordinated group-based initiative developed upon a diagnosis of local needs and engaging private actors – local entrepreneurs. On the city scale (Warsaw scale) it introduces an innovative component, as it builds the city’s potential while supporting entrepreneurship and economic efficiency – an area of intervention which is new to the Warsaw authorities. A major barrier to further development, however, are financial resources. The development of entrepreneurship is not an obligatory task of the local government in Poland, and the end of the grant project funded by the EU is a threat to the future of the initiative.