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Efficient and digital – how other countries support start-ups

Start-up visa and digital application process

Accessing new markets requires both thorough research and on-the-ground experiences. However, getting into the country of choice may turn out difficult for entrepreneurs from outside the Schengen area. Therefore, digital services and efficient processes in applying for a visa can be priceless.

Estonia, famous for its e-government transformation, has a particular start-up visa, which can be applied for via its digital start-up portal. After submitting standard documents such as business plan, website, CV of founders, etc. a start-up committee quickly evaluates the visa request making the whole process swift and efficient.

In France, start-up executives and founders can apply for a Talent Passport, which authorizes the holder to pursue any commercial activities associated with a planned venture activity for up to four years. Critical requirement is proof of the development of existence of an innovative business project in France.

Despite useful information sources such as Make it in Germany or Wir gründen in Deutschland no specific fast-track procedure nor start-up or entrepreneurship visa exists in Germany so far. All support programs for German start-ups apply for foreign start-ups as well but often there are indirect limitations due to entry requirements. In general, the attraction of foreign start-ups is part of each federal state’s location marketing.

Templates for legal documents

Especially in the early phases, start-ups face major legal challenges in setting up the company, onboarding investors and managing employee and client relations. Without own legal in-house experts, these activities may eat up large chunks of the budget and keep the management team busy.

Therefore, Startup Estonia collaborated with the Estonian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (EstVCA) to offer a remedy for the local start-ups. Together with expert law firms, they published a range of industry-standard legal documents from Founder Agreements and Term Sheets to NDAs. The documents are not only freely available on its website, but also contain explanations of legal concepts and business terms as well as possible alternatives.

Business growth and international expansion support

Growing a business is tough. Most start-ups are built around an innovative offer, but achieving market readiness, building a solid customer base, and even expanding into new markets are truly challenging. Oftentimes, the right network, access to key partners or just a small extra budget at the right time makes the difference. Surely, small and big consulting companies, law firms and other service providers can fill the gap, yet which start-up has the budget for that. This is where public agencies can step in and offer targeted support for young companies.

In Finland, the national economic development agency Business Finland fills the gap by offering funding schemes, advisory services and industry-specific internationalization programs as a one-stop-shop. For instance, wrapped around a simple application process, small grants are available for start-ups to buy information and expertise in new markets (Market Explorer), hire a temporary expert (Talent Explorer), get feedback on the business concept and from potential customers (Tempo) or technical development funding needs (Innovation voucher).

What makes this offer so appealing is that it combines solutions to common needs on one platform and makes it easy to access for start-ups. In other countries, such programs do not even exist or are underutilized, because start-ups do not know about them, cannot easily find them or get lost in the application process.

Implications for Germany

As the largest economy in the EU, Germany is an attractive destination and market for start-ups. Germany still has potential for elaborate support schemes, yet offers valuable funding and business growth programs. E.g., the Digital Hub Initiative plays a vital role in network development and ecosystem connectivity for the whole economy. Serving as a catalyst for digital innovation by matching start-ups with SME, corporates and academia, each Hub offers local as well as foreign start-ups a support network and targeted services to initiative pilot projects, grow and secure its customer base.

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