The Focus Magazine represents the stories of Ukrainian entrepreneurs who, after training under the “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” EU program, launched their own projects in Ukraine.
To learn not only from the mistakes of others, but also from victories – this is one of the secrets of successful entrepreneurship. The adjacency of industries and even the geography of the markets are desirable in this case, but secondary. The basic principles of successful entrepreneurship – the ability to respond to challenges and cope with crises – are applicable in any field of activity and in any country. The European Union’s “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” program gives the opportunity to learn this in practice to beginner Ukrainian businessmen, within the framework of which the entrepreneurs with up to three years of business experience get a chance to learn from their colleagues who manage small businesses in European countries. The program is unique in that it provides complete immersion in the business system: the exchange of experience takes place during a stay in the company of a “senior colleague” for up to six months.
The Focus represents the stories of two Ukrainian entrepreneurs who, after studying under the program, transformed their business realizing their knowledge.
Izolda Lebedeva from Zaporizhzhia has worked in the beauty industry for many years. A year ago, she thought about opening her own salon. “I was offered a partnership at a time when there was a very good free room on the territory of one of the city hotels where there is always a stream of potential customers,” says the entrepreneur. She learned about Erasmus by chance in English courses.
“At first I was embarrassed that Erasmus is declared as a program for start-up entrepreneurs, because I associated it with young age, students. But it turned out that the age factor is not important. This makes it possible to drastically change your life and find yourself in business,” she says.
The first stage of Erasmus involves the submission of an application form and a business plan for a future project. Already here, Lebedeva realized that her ideas about future business were far from reality. “I indicated a payback period of two years, but they explained to me that this figure should be significantly increased. As a result, learning something new, I adjusted my business plan three times,” recalls the entrepreneur
“The country in recent years has made a huge step forward in simplifying the procedures for starting a business”
After the application is approved and the applicant is checked for compliance with the program’s rules (for example, bankrupts or persons suspected of fraud are not allowed), the “couples” start to form – for the Ukrainian businessman the European colleague should be chosen, whose experience can be as useful as possible. Training takes place directly at the workplace in an EU country, allowing you to see the process from the inside.
Such a visit can last from one to six months with the ability to split the stay into several countries and study with several practicing businessmen. There are scale restrictions for the participants from both sides: it should be a small-scaled business.
Moreover, the Erasmus representatives accompany all the procedures preceding the visit, including legal ones. And the parties, even before the start of the visit, have the clearest ideas about their expectations. Participation in the program is limited at one time, so the selection of a partner and sphere of interest should be taken responsibly. In the case of Lebedeva, it was a beauty salon in Lithuania, which was owned by two sisters. One of them lives and works in Germany.
The program participant’s stay in the host country is paid partially by the project. “I lived in a dormitory for students. The opportunity to observe European youth, to plunge into this atmosphere was a bonus to the knowledge gained,” says Izolda Lebedeva.
An entrepreneur went to the salon in Lithuania like to work: she studied business processes, exchanged experiences, was interested in problems and development opportunities. The owners spoke in detail about all the nuances. One of the most interesting blocks was the experience of online business and marketing techniques of promotion. “So, the co-owner of the salon in Germany leads active video sales, she has a unique marketing experience. It turns out that in one visit I had the opportunity to get acquainted with the experience of businessmen from two European countries at once,” Lebedeva says.
Izolda found a lot in common with Ukrainian realities. A pleasant surprise for the businesswoman was the fact that Ukraine is closer to Europe than it seemed to her: the process of starting a business here became quite comfortable and, at some stages, even less bureaucratic. “The country in recent years has made a huge step forward in simplifying the procedures for starting a business,” she admits.
But there are things that are strikingly different. For example, the inviolability of the lease agreement. “Having taken a room in Lithuania, for example, for five years, you can safely plan your business, knowing that you definitely have the room for a term in the contract. In Ukraine, there is no such guarantee yet,” says Lebedeva.
The businesswoman returned to Ukraine and embodies her project. “But even today, when business questions arise, I open my notes from Lithuania and find answers to many of my questions there.“
To work together
Regularly communicating with entrepreneurs, a business consultant from Zaporizhzhia Yevgeny Vasylchenko understood the importance of organizing space for comfortable work of businessmen better than others. So, the future entrepreneur had the idea of creating co-working – a modern open space, a kind of collective office for businessmen from various fields and trends. Vasylchenko had no experience of implementing an innovative project for Zaporizhzhia. But there were other important components of success: perseverance, a clear understanding of the goal and readiness to learn.
He learned about the “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs“ program at Zaporizhzhia National University, where he studied. “Representatives of the Regional Fund for the Support of Entrepreneurship came to us, presenting opportunities for developing one’s business. Later I went to their office to find out more. Following the meeting, I decided that I would apply for participation,” says Yevgeny Vasylchenko.
The Erasmus procedure involves the submission by applicants in addition to the application form of the business plan of the future project – so future co-working has gained real outlines. Taking into account the stage of mutual approvals and legal formalities, the search for a host – a European “senior” partner who accepts an applicant on its territory and provides access to business processes – stretched over several months. Erasmus assumes legal support – taking into account the long-term practice of the project, a model contract allows to avoid surprises and take into account possible risks. It sets out the duties and rights of both parties, so that all participants clearly understand the rules of the game.
Project participants get access to working businesses and learn the techniques and skills of their European colleagues, plunging into all the subtleties of the inner workings of their companies
The European host was a young entrepreneur, owner of a co-working project in Vilnius. “I stopped in Lithuania for several reasons: the similarity of mentalities, geographical proximity and for reasons of psychological comfort,” Vasylchenko shares. A successful factor in effective cooperation was the fact that the Lithuanian businessman was only 28 years old: “We are close in age, we have similar interests, and this helped to achieve mutual understanding and to center on gaining knowledge,” says our hero.
The peculiarity of the Erasmus program is its emphasis on the practical component of entrepreneurship. Project participants get access to working businesses and learn the techniques and skills of their European colleagues, plunging into all the subtleties of the inner workings of their companies.
What Yevgeny Vasylchenko saw turned his idea of co-working business upside down. “It is possible that there are already similar projects in Kyiv, but I haven’t seen anything like this in Zaporizhzhia,” he says.
The Lithuanian project was a space where businessmen are not limited to work, but interact in other areas – they communicate and establish new connections, which ultimately can help in creating a business. This gives synergy, which significantly increases the efficiency of each individual project, allowing you to make rapid progress by using and supplementing each other’s knowledge and experience. “It was much broader and more complex than I imagined. I realized that my starting project needs to be completely modified,” says Vasylchenko.
In addition to the applied parameters of co-working, the main difference in the conduct of similar businesses in Ukraine and the EU he sees in a global approach to business. If our entrepreneurs often put a premium on earnings and the rate at which they are received, then European businessmen are customer oriented. “It is clear that a business should generate profits, but still not at any cost,” he shares. “In Europe, they understand this. There is no saving on the quality of service provision, so customer satisfaction is in the first place. It sounds pathetic, but in the long run, this approach is more effective than simply “to make a quick buck.“
Of course, the Ukrainian business practice is determined by the specific internal situation, while the European entrepreneurs, relying on the predicted business climate, can afford a long-term approach to business. “In Lithuania, a contract means more than just a signed paper, which in Ukraine may have no value,” admits Vasylchenko. But at the same time he’s sure: even in the irreproachable Ukrainian business coordinates, you can work with a long-term approach to quality and the focus on the needs of people. He also claims that “due to the underdeveloped segment of co-working and co-living in Zaporizhzhia, one can “rush” into this market quite successfully and develop it in one’s own city, because there is a great desire to increase youth’s interest in European business approaches in order to improve the city’s potential and areas in general.“
Returning to Ukraine, he deliberately did not hurry with the implementation of his project, because the obtained theoretical knowledge is only half the battle. Before starting the launch of a large-scale project, the young entrepreneur decided to get a hand and gain managerial experience while continuing to learn, especially since Yevgeny Vasylchenko has such an opportunity. The fact is that representatives of Zaporizhzhia regional business center, where Vasylchenko works as a director, accompany many projects, closing the service component for businessmen: transportation, search for local partners, provide other consultations. In addition to the direct function of helping entrepreneurs in the Zaporizhzhia region, they also accumulate their experience. “Each such case is an opportunity to learn something new about business and then apply it in your own project,” Vasylchenko is sure.
Experienced entrepreneurs, looking back at the beginning of their business path, as a rule, point out that they could have avoided many mistakes and achieved more and faster if they relied on the assistance of more experienced colleagues. The EU programs provide such an opportunity to a new generation of Ukrainian entrepreneurs, while cleverly removing the competitive factor that could reduce candor and help towards newcomers. Moreover, access to European practice, with its longstanding traditions of entrepreneurship and high business culture, creates the foundation not only for a prosperous, but also customer-oriented business in Ukraine.
It is this kind of educational assistance from the EU, aimed at creating a new class of entrepreneurs, according to experts, in the future may be more effective and useful for the state than just direct subsidies.
Four phases of the “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” project
- PHASE OF APPLICATION. A novice entrepreneur applies for participation in the program through an online registration tool, indicating the desired partner in the EU. In addition to the application form, he provides a business plan for his future project. The program representative examines the application and assesses the possibility of participation in the program.
- PHASE OF CONFORMITY. After approval of the application, the project representatives coordinate and facilitate the establishment of preliminary contact between Ukrainian and European parties.
- PHASE OF PREPARATION. The participating parties, and this is the Ukrainian participant, the European host party and the project representatives, coordinate all the formalities, including the rights and obligations of the parties. They are fixed in the contract.
- PHASE OF IMPLEMENTATION. The Ukrainian entrepreneur undergoes a business exchange abroad in accordance with his needs in one or several stages and reports the results. Responsible representatives of the project evaluate the results.
More information about the Erasmus program can be found on eyeglobal.eu and erasmus-entrepreneurs.eu.