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What’s it like doing an international exchange with another entrepreneur? And what do people get out of it? Read some success stories from across Europe and beyond to find out.

International Trade

New entrepreneur: Moncef Ben Rajeb, CEO and cofounder of Qartaj (Tunisia)
Host entrepreneur: Karin Reinders, founder of Fair Fabrics (Netherlands)
Sector: Crafts and fair trade / e-commerce
Duration: 3 weeks

Moncef joined SEED EURO-MED to learn about social entrepreneurship and project management as well as to explore growth opportunities for Qartaj, an online marketplace that connects artists, designers and small businesses to buyers. For Fair Fabrics, which sells fair trade homewares sourced from several countries, the exchange was a chance to explore working with Tunisian partners.

Moncef travelled to the Netherlands and the pair soon realised they faced similar experiences in working with artisans and cooperatives. Sharing a workspace over three weeks allowed them to discuss ideas and learn from each other as day-to-day issues arose, including how to handle cultural differences.

“The exchange helped us to understand the market and how to solve common problems”, says Moncef.

The duo met again at the SEED EURO-MED bootcamp in Tunisia, where they shared their experience with participants and together explored the local craft sector.

Since then, Moncef and Karin have teamed up to bring Tunisian-made products to Dutch buyers, and recently agreed to supply over 40 rugs to the online shop of NRC Handelsblad, a national newspaper. The partnership is good for business on both sides. Karin saves time and money because Moncef, acting as her trusted partner, handles all local contact in Tunisia. For Qartaj, the arrangement has opened up access to a previously untapped market and to Karin’s networks in the Netherlands. Moncef and his suppliers are protected from risk by Fair Fabrics, which has committed to buying their products and also pays an advance to cover the cost of materials.

“We would definitely recommend the programme, especially to those willing to invest time in future business relationships”, says Karin. “It offers a better understanding of working with entrepreneurs from other cultures, and a lot of insight into how things work there.”

Mentoring & Feedback

New entrepreneur: Joana Lacerda (Portugal)
Host entrepreneur: Marcus Bittner, manager of Social Impact Lab Leipzig (Germany)
Sector: Social economy / social entrepreneurship and refugees
Duration: 3 months

As a young entrepreneur, Joana was keen to develop professionally and excited to learn about social businesses abroad. For Marcus, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs was a chance to get a fresh perspective of his work.

Together they discussed ways to develop Joana’s project, an easy-to-assemble refugee shelter that enables direct communication between the shelter’s inhabitants and those who’ve funded it. Marcus explained techniques and methods (such as the business model canvas and network and stakeholders mapping) and involved Joana in workshops on design thinking, business model development, sales and more. She also attended networking events and met startups in Berlin working with refugees.

These experiences deepened Joana’s knowledge of her subject area and expanded her international contacts. “I recommend the exchange to anyone seeking a professionally enriching experience and a step up to a higher level”, she says.

Joana gave her host feedback on his approach to coaching startups at Social Impact Lab and together they devised new approaches, for example coaching outside an office environment to boost motivation and creativity. She also provided insight on social businesses in Portugal and created a database of potential partners.

Marcus learned to look at his own role differently, and remains a strong advocate of exchange programmes. “It was great to host Joana and her inspiring project”, he says. “She was highly motivated and always interested in learning about my work, and giving her point of view.” He continues to advise Joana from afar on her project.

Developing A Business

New entrepreneur: Polly Robbins, founder of social enterprise OurKive (UK)
Host entrepreneur: Mariana Duarte Silva, founder of Village Underground Lisbon (Portugal)
Sector: Arts/culture and urban regeneration
Duration: 3 months

With an interest in regenerating public space for local communities and artists, Polly was keen to learn from the vibrant Portuguese capital. She came across Village Underground Lisbon, a complex that hosts a co-working space, café and numerous events, and Mariana quickly agreed to host her.

Polly’s placement focused on generating new business, building audiences and developing the co-working community. She helped by promoting Village Underground to expats and tourists, developing ideas for cultural events, and creating new ways for co-workers to interact. The two entrepreneurs also shared business tips — everything from hiring strategies to communications to developing networks.

The result was new audiences, new partnerships and relationships, and more clients. “The placement has been very beneficial”, says Marianna, “particularly because Polly already had extensive experience.” Village Underground plans to host similar placements in future.

Polly benefited from new contacts, improved communication skills, and new international funding opportunities, as well as support to develop her business plan.

“This has been a life-changing experience”, says the young entrepreneur, who stayed in Lisbon after the exchange. “I’ve gained a really deep insight into the structure, strengths and challenges of another business, taken time out to focus on my own business plans, and got to know a new country, city, language and culture.”

Deepening Understanding Of Social Enterprise Models

New entrepreneur: Jenny Gellatly, cofounder of School Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) (UK)
Host entrepreneur: Blanca Crespold Arnold, founder of Red de Economia Alternative y Solidaria (REAS) Andalusia (Spain)
Sector: Food and social economy
Duration: Four months

School Farm CSA is a social enterprise aiming to provide good quality ecological food and sustainable horticulture education, while REAS-Andalusia is a network of social enterprises seeking alternatives to socially and environmentally damaging economic practices.

Jenny worked with Blanca on REAS-Andalusia projects including with food producers El Enjambre Sin Reina, and with La Transicionera, an organisation exploring the transition to a more sustainable economy. She attended training in strategies for local resilience, designed workshop materials, contributed to research on local currencies and carried out food-growing activities in schools.

The exchange helped both entrepreneurs deepen their understanding of social enterprise models within the wider economy, and led them to develop new networks and contacts. It provided Blanca with inspiration and ideas for training and educational activities, and Jenny with the opportunity to refine her own business plan and budget.

“There is a vibrant social economy in Spain helping to address problems resulting from the economic crisis and from environmentally and socially damaging economic practices”, says Jenny. “It’s been a pleasure to be a part of that and to learn from it.”

Says Blanca: “It was good to learn about Jenny’s experiences in the UK and to have her input, knowledge and insight.”

Learning & Growing Networks

New entrepreneur: Alijca Gladysz, graduate in sustainable rural development (Poland)
Host entrepreneur: Filipe Alves, founder of Biovilla (Portugal)
Sector: Sustainable agriculture
Duration: Four months

After finishing her master’s degree, Alijca wanted to start an organic farm in her native Poland, in which end consumers help decide what will be grown and how it will be grown. Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs offered the opportunity to work with a cooperative with the same aim, to understand how the organisation worked and to make new contacts. For Filipe, whose business grows organic produce, teaches sustainability and hosts ecotourism visitors, the exchange was a chance to learn something new and gain a fresh perspective.

In Portugal Alijca helped organise events and talked to farmers in the region, while working in the gardens gave her a hands-on education in planning and designing according to biodynamic and permaculture principles. Alijca says she was inspired by her time in Portugal and “totally happy” with the collaboration with Filipe and the cooperative. “We fulfilled all the foreseen activities and outputs, and had time for a lot more learning, activities and extra inputs that made this experience very valuable”, she says. Their partnership was “productive and very much aligned in terms of values and visions”, Felipe concluded.

EU-funded exchanges

Ready to explore an exchange for your own business? We currently have exciting opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to take part in EU-funded exchanges in the following sectors:

Social and Innovative entrepreneurs:

  • Eco-tourism
  • IT platform, Events, Networking platform between research and SMEs
  • Training, employment and skills/social enterprise
  • Employability improvement, vocational training, workshop organization
  • Education & training through web application development, IT

Creative entrepreneurs:

  • Yoga and wellness centre
  • Fashion designer/luxury furniture
  • Wedding and corporate video-making

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