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Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs Entrepreneurship Project (Swiss EP)

J.E. Austin Associates (JAA) is implementing a project designed to improve the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems in many cities around the globe where entrepreneurs tend to cluster.  Vibrant city economies and national economies tend to be those where entrepreneurs can flourish.  The Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO)  Swiss Entrepreneurship Program (Swiss EP) is supporting the growth of entrepreneurship ecosystems in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang, Vietnam; Tirana, Albania; Skopje, North Macedonia; Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia; Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina; and Lima, Peru. The project design is based on evidence that high growth firms disproportionally drive the sustainable growth of urban and national economies. These firms are best supported by a range of actors that form an entrepreneurship ecosystem, including incubators, accelerators, investors, trainers, and local and regional governments. Swiss EP assists these actors in a number of capacities, from advising incubators and accelerators on achieving sustainable business models, to providing matching grants to angel investors, to organizing peer-to-peer learning trips for startups and entrepreneurship enablers to meet with international accelerators and incubators. JAA is executing Swiss EP along with its implementing partner Swisscontact. JAA is the technical advisor for all project countries, in addition to being fully responsible for the implementation of the project in Vietnam.

The world’s most vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystems are clustered in urban areas where successful entrepreneurs and experienced professionals recycle their knowledge to promising entrepreneurs.  As such, mentorship is a core pillar of the Swiss EP.  The project works with private and city-owned entrepreneurship organizations such as incubators and accelerators to drive connections between mentors and entrepreneurs, and to create a self-sustaining culture of mentorship that provides the foundation for a sustainable entrepreneurship ecosystem.

JAA worked with each country program to adapt and implement the designed methodologies, which were centered on helping ecosystem actors improve their service delivery to start ups and scale ups.  JAA also led the design of an investor matching grants program, designed to unlock more private early stage investment.  JAA also provided training on fund management and is currently advising one firm to establish an early stage fund in Vietnam. During Phase One, JAA facilitated almost $7 million in new capital for entrepreneurs in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Mentor Initiative (VMI) was established jointly between Swiss EP and local partner organizations to support the development of a national platform for business mentoring based around initial STE inputs introducing mentoring to the ecosystem. VMI developed training a manual for managing a mentors network, and it promotes mentoring throughout the country. Driven largely by VMI, Swiss EP trained 1,291 mentors in Vietnam during Phase 1 of the project – more than 10x the target of 135.

To encourage female entrepreneurship, Swiss EP supports Women Entrepreneurs Week (WEW), a weeklong bootcamp in Zurich which brings participants from each Swiss EP country to work with mentors and experts on a range of skills and networking. Following the first WEW in June 2018, Swiss EP supported the establishment of the Women’s Initiative for Startups and Entrepreneurship (WISE) in Vietnam. WISE has grown to become the leading organization supporting women in the growth of Vietnam’s entrepreneurial ecosystems and has developed an accelerator program with Swiss EP support. WISE graduated its first cohort of startups in 2018, several of which have gone on to raise funds, won competitions and 2 graduates and the CEO participated in the second Peer2Peer, and WISE is in the middle of its second acceleration cohort of women.

JAA previously conducted the feasibility study for Swiss EP in Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Macedonia, Peru, Serbia, and Vietnam, which provided the basis for the current project’s design. To carry out the feasibility study, JAA partnered with local firms in each country to identify the critical actors in each entrepreneurship ecosystem, leverage points, bottlenecks and potential economic impacts of the Entrepreneurship Program. JAA designed the SECO EP implementation strategy based on particular characteristics of the entrepreneurship ecosystems in each country and city.

External evaluators determined that the project has had a positive impact at the ecosystem and entrepreneurial level and that JAA was critical to this success. In 2019, the program was renewed for a second 4-year phase.

In Phase 2, the program was expanded to include support to stakeholder-driven policy action and public-private dialogue, collaborative PPP initiatives, and ecosystem development.  Also, Kosovo was added as a seventh EP country.

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