Toby Johnson
21 January 2015

Enterprising Together! and Enterprise Finland

Finland has mainstreamed social enterprise support by integrating a project to develop cooperative advice services within the national network of business advice one stop shops.

Mainstream support – Enterprise Finland

Since 2008 Finland has used ESF support to restructure its business support services to bring them under a single brand – Enterprise Finland. This involved a wide range of departments and agencies dealing with activities such as investment, innovation, patents and tax as well as business advice. In each region the ‘quintet’ of main agencies are present – the ELY Centre, the TE office, Finnvera, Finpro and Tekes.

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The brand was given a communication strategy, logo and website (Enterprisefinland.fi), and a manual was prepared setting out the brand strategy. Customers were segmented and the services to be provided to each segment were defined. The brand was rolled out across the country as agencies reached the required quality standard and signed a collaboration agreement. The unified service is available online, by telephone and through personal visits, and now involves 50 national and 450 regional organisations. Its website receives 1.1 million visitors a year. The programme cost €7.6 million.

The integration of these services involved training for the staff, so that each of them knew how their own work meshed with the work of the other agencies. Social enterprise was included in this integration, in the form of the Enterprising Together! project.

Specialist support – Enterprising Together!

The Enterprising Together! project (http://www.yhteistoiminta.fi/taustaa/inenglish) was supported by the ESF and ran from 2009 to 2013 with a budget of €1.28 million. It was managed by the Tampere Region Cooperative Centre, and was targeted at business advisers, not at social entrepreneurs themselves, so as to build up long-lasting and effective provision of cooperative advice in the mainstream business advice service.

A comprehensive service was offered, comprising a website and knowledge bank, a counselling model, a telephone support service, training material and events. It was accompanied by widespread publicity on the radio, on paper and online. The project reached 831 business start-up advisers all over the country, working for 325 different state, municipal and private organisations. Its legacy is that 146 of these advisers have become members of a cooperative advice network.

In the 2014-20 programming period, the Finnish ESF programme has diminished in volume and focuses on social innovation, while business support, including for social enterprises, is dealt with under the ERDF. It is now easier to combine the ESF and ERDF to add to their effectiveness.

Lessons of mainstreaming social enterprise support

  • Businesses can access support services most easily when they are available under a single brand with an integrated web presence. Where a patchwork of provision already exists, this should be loosely integrated and the staff of each component of the system should know what the other components do so that they can work with them.
  • Social enterprise should be included in any such integrated service, and business advisers specifically trained to advise on it. Where public awareness of social enterprise is low, a targeted initiative can pay dividends by activating potential social entrepreneurs.
  • Restructuring a country’s business support services is a long-term project, but can still benefit from ESF support. However funding cuts and changing priorities can bring promising initiatives to an end.
  • Training mainstream business advisers to deal with social entrepreneurs may have a more sustainable impact than running a time-limited service for entrepreneurs directly.

 

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