Entrepreneurship is considered one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and job creation (COM (2012) 173 final): it creates new companies and jobs, opens up new markets, and nurtures new skills and capabilities (EU Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan, 2013). However, the key question that still remains is: how can we increase entrepreneurial activity in Europe and worldwide?
Micro and small enterprises constitute the single largest job creation segment of EU economies. However, only a few make it through their first years (Sherman and Chappell, 1998). Although start-ups have a high mortality rate, especially during the first years of their existence, they tend to create the vast majority of new jobs. As specified by the Kauffman Foundation study (2011), virtually all net new jobs in the United States are created by companies in their first five years of existence or by start-ups in their very first year.
Traditional business incubators play a key role and thus have a long history in supporting startups. Incubators have a high impact on the “growth path” of new businesses not only during the incubation period, but throughout the lifetime of the startup, enhancing this way the longevity of these enterprises and reducing their mortality. Currently, however, none of the existing traditional incubators addresses all incubation phases. Usually, the pre-and post-incubation phases are addressed by different incubators. In addition, the “ideation” phase is currently not addressed (i.e., phase where the individual has the need to become an entrepreneur, to innovate, to find collaborators or contribute to existing projects). At the same time, most traditional incubators are physical and thus require proximity in order to serve their purposes.
VOICE is a 36-month (September 2014-2017) project, co-funded by the European Commission developing the innovvoice platform, an open online collaborative ideation system that empowers crowd to innovate and prosper. The VOICE project is being implemented by 9 partners from 6 EU countries (Denmark, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, United Kingdom) and Australia.
Innovvoice, the main outcome and product of the VOICE project, is open online collaborative ideation system that provides support for innovation and startups during and through the following phases and processes:
Ideation Phase: innovvoice stirs creativity and inspiration through targeted personalised content, processes and hatchery services (e.g. content, courses, tutorials, discussion groups); structured registration of the conceived idea (e.g. templates for expressing ideas, targeted recommendations); collaborative ideation environment, matchmaking and team-forming among users and ideas; idea refinement through community evaluation, community-graduation and crowd-wisdom.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Creation Phase: innovvoice supports the development of products and prototypes through synergies in the forms of outsourcing, volunteering or by adding partners to the team, mentorship, consultancy, testing and validation (e.g. coding, creative design); the identification of market segments and key customer groups (e.g. mentorship, consultancy, instructive examples of best practice), safeguarding economic sustainability of idea creation and startup development.
Startup and Grow Phase: innovvoice supports teams in their next steps through traditional incubation services, as well as in collaboration with other online incubators, accelerators and investors.
The main beneficiaries of the innovvoice platform are individuals that have a rough idea but do not know how to further develop it and/or might not have fully conceptualised their idea yet; wantrepreneurs in remote areas with no access to physical facilitators; wantrepreneur communities who are not traditional participants of the entrepreneurial scene (elderly, socially excluded communities); joint ventures & startups; individuals in career transition with lack of entrepreneurial attitude; hackers and students (skilful but with no entrepreneurial eagerness); individuals or organizations with a problem or need (e.g. SMEs that do not have the capability and expertise to define the MVP).
The innovvoice community counts also enablers, namely knowledge creators (educators, academia, research institutions, corporate and government research labs, etc.), including in the area of entrepreneurship and/or ICT services and products; open source communities (foss); professionals / providers of services, individuals or companies (accountants, lawyers, marketing experts, software developers, etc.); mentors and experts in areas that cover the idea life-cycle (ICT experts, business and legal experts, etc.); financing institutions (angels, VCs, investors, banks, etc.); governmental agencies; donours.
The combination of tools, services and crowd-wisdom with the power of an open and virtual community makes our ideation offering unique. Innovvoice serves its target groups, as described above in the following ways:
For main beneficiaries, innovvoice provides a collaborative environment to optimise ideas, build teams and test concepts before going to market; educates and trains wantrepreneurs to embrace an entrepreneurial culture; supports individuals or joint ventures to transform tested ideas to MVPs, start up and grow; eliminates gaps and barriers to entry for underprivileged users & locations; ensures access to financial services to start a business; provides an environment for reaching out to markets well beyond the local area.
For enablers, innovvoice creates demand and market for the provision of professional services (including consulting and training) along with revenue for professionals; ensures access to brains and talents; promotes investment opportunities; provides opportunities for the provision of social responsibility services; collects and shares valuable data and indicators necessary for policy formulation; enhances public policy planning and implementation.
The impact of the innovvoice platform is all short, medium and long term.
In the short term, innovvoice supports individuals and SMEs though ideation services that are not provided by intermediary structures and increases the development of new S-curves within SMEs via decreasing their innovation cycles, enabled by ideation support services.
In the medium term, innovvoice increases startup survival rates, develop societal entrepreneurial skills as well as new areas through idea creation in collaboration among industries and universities.
In the long term, it creates business, jobs, generates tax income, curbs unemployment and social exclusion; fosters social cohesion and regional development; increases innovation, competitiveness and promotes technological advancement; encourages cooperation across sectors, creating social value.