While young people of the Barents Region move to the southern parts for the better employment and career possibilities, demographic downsizing should serve as a wake-up call to universities and industry in the region. Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences and Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences (further referred as LapinAMK due to the recent merger) have been for many years on the front line of regional development work in terms of business innovation and human capital growth.
At the beginning of 2012, Lapin AMK in cooperation with partners from Russia, Norway and Sweden launched 3-year project Young Innovative Entrepreneurs (YIE) aimed to address common challenge and to encourage young people to discover wide business opportunities in the Barents region and to inspire them for the entrepreneurship across the border.
In this article we share some of our experiences and achievements:
Building an innovative support structure to make the ideas of young people to happen across the borders
Cross-border INNOBarentsLab (IBL) was established to ensure a full range of resources to provide young people with the support they need to introduce innovative products and services. The IBL includes office space on the base of two universities – LapinAMK in Rovaniemi and International Institute of Business education (MIBO) in Murmansk, Russia. In terms of professional recourses, IBL provides students with the professional support and supervision for real cross-border business development by experts from business and education.
Currently, the operation of the IBL is driven by the cross-border pilot cases worked-out by the test group of students and young entrepreneurs. IBL pilot cases organized within 4 themes: event management, marketing, cross-border development and IBL structure development. By the end of the project the IBL will be integrated into the educational structure of LapinAMK and MIBO and will allow us to test students’ ideas within the study process and turn the best of them into companies.
IBL is truly unique entity for young cross-border business cooperation in the Barents region. In the longer run we expect it to evolve to the broader network which will support young people to challenge the status quo with their ideas and change their regions to the prestigious places to live.
Building capacities and opportunities
It is essential to help young entrepreneurs to build a long-term cooperation network which will support their cross-border interactions and contact development. In this regard the role of the joint event cannot be overestimated. So far we held tree Matchmaking events in Finland, Russia and Norway. We arranged YIE events as arena were regional actors (experienced businessmen, academia and regional authorities) share their experiences and encourage young people. This is also a place where new cross-border business ideas are emerged and new business alliances created.
Previous 3 matchmaking events included pitch presentations and workshops by successful businessmen, business simulation game, pitching training. Feedbacks from the last Matchmaking event in Kirkenes (Norway) indicated that young people have learned a lot about innovation, how to create new products and how to later receive a profit from them, which is an important part of being an entrepreneur.
Sharing responsibilities and encourage initiativeness of young people
From the start, both in Finland and Russia we selected a group of proactive young individuals to be a pilot group for the INNOBarentsLab Lab. Some of them had already built successful businesses and some were just getting started into entrepreneurship. Some had never had business before, but all them had a strong desire to make a difference in the own region.
The first meetings with selected young people showed that the “test group” is too narrow for them. In no time, our IBL participants became and continue to be co-creators and steering force for the development of the IBL and its activities. Understanding that they can make a difference inspired young people to bring up fresh ideas, business projects and new partners.
Ones inspired, young people tend to come up with great innovative business ideas. In this case, our task is to provide support for the actual entrepreneurship and innovative idea development in practice. Increased innovative entrepreneurial activities across the border will also have a great impact on the whole regional socio-economic development. Youth are the future of the Barents region and the foundation that the project will lay for the innovative entrepreneurial activity amongst young people will have a long term impact on the region.
Irina Gerashchenko, Project Manager, Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences, Irina.firstname.lastname@example.org