Unshackle Europe's Entrepreneurs

A Danish folk saying sums up one reason for Europe's anti-entrepreneurial bias: "Don't believe you are anything more than your neighbor." It's an attitude that entrepreneurs find frustrating as they try to duplicate the high-tech successes of the U.S.

Europe's entrepreneurs choke on red tape. They frantically court venture capitalists who would rather place safe bets. They fight to sell in national markets with conflicting tax laws. In short, European entrepreneurs struggle against barriers designed to promote the status quo and keep individuals from achieving wild success on their own. In sociological terminology, it is called "leveling."

Think of what Europe would be like if European society celebrated entrepreneurs rather than viewed them with suspicion. Venture capitalists would seek out young engineers with promising ideas, instead of doing buyouts of established companies. European stock exchanges would create robust markets in small growth stocks, and investors would plow capital into them. And more young managers would dare to start companies, knowing that Europe's financial, economic, and political institutions would support them.

There are enough success stories to prove that Europeans have the technical knowhow, management savvy, and plain hustle needed to pull off a startup, if given a chance. But that often means linking up with American players. Look at the amazing success of Business Objects. It's a French company, but its founders consciously emulated the practices of such thriving U.S. companies as Oracle Software. They courted heavy-hitting U.S. investors--the high-flying stock is listed on the NASDAQ. Even the company's official language is English.

Europeans appoint endless commissions to wring their official hands over the entrepreneur's plight in Europe. Unless a fundamental shift in attitude occurs, the Old World will lack a vital source of social and economic change.

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