In the framework of the EU-funded project EU-GIVE aiming at stimulating collaborative economy in Europe, Enterprise Europe Brussels c/o hub.brussels organized a Focus group with stakeholders of collaborative economy on October 23, 2018.
The group included seven promoters of collaborative economy projects (Platform Coop Bxl/Febecoop, SAW-BE, CoopCity, Lumoj, Village Partenaire/Groupe One, Lita.co, Agoria), one digital technologies expert (COBEA Coop), three public authorities (SPF Economie, Conseil Fédéral du Développement Durable CFDD, Bruxelles Economie et Emploi, hub.brussels as observer); one researcher (city4coEN, Odisee).
The purpose of the event was to get the feedback of the stakeholders on a series of needs and challenges facing Brussels collaborative companies, which have been identified in the frame of the EU GIVE project. The stakeholders were invited to reflect about the kind of support they could provide in response to these needs and challenges.
Improving the business model
This was found to be the key point of the discussion: entrepreneurs should first think about their business models and the nature of their services and then think about other features such as legal status, IT tools, communication…. The starting point should thus be the needs of the users to be answered, what is the cornerstone of a good business model.
Collaborative platforms are becoming more and more popular. They are disruptive notably by the externalization of many functions (communication, marketing) towards the users but when considered in depths some business models are not profitable. Moreover, some platforms with social and environmental objectives have encountered difficulty to reach break-even. Support to improve business model and evaluate them was therefore identified as essential.
Public authorities can provide grants to support the development of the collaborative economy but not per se, rather because of the expected benefits for the society as they have requirements in terms of impact.
Besides, entrepreneurs can refer to investment funds and “ethical investment” meeting sustainability criteria is under development.
Nevertheless, entrepreneurs have difficulty finding the right actor to raise funds. Therefore a precise mapping of fundraising for collaborative companies should be develop, building on existing documentation such as on the former website of impulse.brussels and the brochure issued by SPF Economie on financing of circular economy. on business financing might be helpful.
Finding the appropriate legal status
Since no legislation specific to collaborative economy currently exists in Belgium, finding the appropriate legal structure is not easy. The stakeholders acknowledged that there are no ready-made legal structures for collaborative entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs should reflect upon who will be on the platform. If the customers/users are recurrent, they might be involved in the business for instance with a cooperative. Turning the platform into a cooperative might be relevant to involve the customers/users in the governance.
Moreover, as previously identified, diverging legal, fiscal, employment ceilings make it difficult to change from one legal form to another. A recent article by 1819.brussels attempted to help entrepreneurs finding out their way in the different legal frameworks.
Finding the adequate digital platform
Finding the adequate IT solution for digital platforms, is another challenge facing entrepreneurs. Here again, there are no ready-made solutions. In practice, most projects create their own platforms. Nevertheless, a lot of IT solutions/platforms already exist, some open source, and it might be interesting to combine existing tools.
Initiatives (such at CoopCity) already exist to enhance networking but work has to be done to give them more visibility and to foster mutual learning at a low cost. Moreover, networking could help to mobilise a “community of the collaborative economy”.
Benchmarking and internationalization
As for entrepreneurs, they should weigh the pros and cons of internationalization. Collaborative economy is often basically local. Thus, looking for replication and inspiration seems to be more important for the local-embedded collaborative economy rather than internationalisation. Indeed, it might be interesting to foster innovation and creativity by reflecting upon what has been developed in the field of the collaborative economy in other regions or other countries.
In conclusion, learning by doing is the reality in this sector. Some supportive measures are being offered but making them visible and more specific may be necessary. The lack of information goes also with the lack of hindsight as the sector of the collaborative economy is emerging. The need of of the users of the platform but also of the citizens should not be forgotten. Further research and discussion are therefore still needed.
Check the EU-GIVE website www.eugiveproject.eu to get more information about this project in which Enterprise Europe Brussels c/o hub.Brussels is a Partner or contact Camille Lépinay firstname.lastname@example.org