THE BLOG

Confidence and Coordination: The Key to Italy's Young Business Leaders

29/10/2014 15:33 GMT | Updated 29/12/2014 10:59 GMT

As the UK economy picks up and unemployment drops below pre financial crisis levels, so the tragedy still unfolding in southern Europe becomes starker.

In Spain, Italy, Greece and other southern European countries, there is no clear end in sight to the economic downturn. In Italy, Matteo Renzi's young government is battling to introduce reforms to tackle the crisis, but meanwhile, youth unemployment remains at a 37 year high. For many young Italians, a steady job and regular salary remains a wild dream.

Our research shows that 70% of young Italians think that entrepreneurship is a good career choice, but only 22% see good short term opportunities for starting a business - a figure well below that in countries like the UK, France and the Netherlands. Young Italians profess a fear of a failure second only to their Greek neighbours.

Its clear to us, and many others, that self-employment has to be a major part of the solution to this crisis. But we see two major issues holding back the next generation of entrepreneurs: the lack of confidence among Italy's youth, and the uncoordinated nature of efforts to support the country's young entrepreneurs.

As anyone who has been unemployed for any period of time knows, one of its most damaging consequences is loss of confidence, and the experience of many young Italians is no exception.

There are of course many well established initiatives in Italy targeting job creation, including a growing number of incubators and accelerators and a public sector aim to remove some of the constraints on growing businesses. But our experience is that support for a young person is still hugely fragmented.

In a country where regional identities are so important, building networks that bring cross sector supporters of entrepreneurship closer together is particularly vital. Businesses are not built over night and they need a range of support to get them going in the right direction.

I've seen all over the world that this is particularly true for young entrepreneurs. It is so much harder to start a business when you lack business experience, don't have access to funding, and have not had the time to build up a network of useful contacts.

Something different needs to be done, and soon.

Recently I was in Turin at the launch of Youth Business Italy, a new initiative designed to support young Italian entrepreneurs, developed with the support of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

The initiative aims to tackle these two challenges of confidence and coordination, with a plan to support more than 7,500 young people over the next five years. The initiative is managed by a non-profit organisation PerMicroLab, with loan finance to come from a sister initiative, PerMicro. The initiative gives coordination, not just because it provides a complete package of support for entrepreneurs, but because it will be open to all young Italians, wherever they are based.

And to address the confidence issue, mentoring is at the heart of the initiative. For a young entrepreneur, financing is of course important, but it is far from being the only required ingredient, and a mentor can play a vital role in providing business guidance, and the psychological support.

Take Chiara Casini, an entrepreneur who set up a vegan takeaway near Florence, and who was one of the young people at the Youth Business Italy launch event. She received a small loan, and training from Youth Business Italy, but she said that it was her mentor Ricardo who supported her in everything, guiding her through the intricacies of getting her business going and giving her confidence when she most needs it.

More mentors mean more confidence, and a greater chance of success for entrepreneurs as they start out on their journey.

Entrepreneurs are important in any country, but in Italy, they might just make the difference in reinvigorating Italy as a country where innovation, creativity and style are taken for granted. But to do this effectively, we need more business people to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs.

As the politicians wrangle over macro-economic solutions, a dose of confidence may be just what young Italians, and the country, needs.