Innovation policy starts at school, says young fashion entrepreneur

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As Junior Achievement Young Enterprise releases the results of its European youth survey, Estonian entrepreneur Karoli Hindriks, 22, tells EURACTIV how she transformed her school mini-enterprise into a thriving fashion business.

Could you tell us briefly how you went from a school mini-enterprise to a successful company? 

The beginning was really simple. In our school we had the Junior Achievement (JA) Estonia “Economics” program. As part of this JA program we had to create a student company. While thinking about it at home, I had an idea to create fun and fashionable pedestrian reflectors since the ones which existed were quite dull. We did some good sales and teamwork. To tell you honestly, before that project I had not even thought of becoming an entrepreneur. After high school and a year in US as an exchange student, I decided to go on and found money to start up a business. Being very young, I managed to get quite a lot of media attention and that helped in marketing. I am really glad that I started that early, as that way I have had more time to make the mistakes earlier and therefore become wiser in the future. 

The ‘enterprise 2010’ survey shows that – at school age – the majority of European students wish to become entrepreneurs. But the reality is that, later on, few actually do it. Why is that? Is it reduced enthusiasm a fatality of ageing? What were the key factors to sustain your motivation? 

I think in the second part of the question you already answered some of it. I believe that in some way it is part of the tragedy of life, when in the childhood there are thousand dreams and everything seems possible, then we go to school, then to university, then look for a job. In many cases people think that someday when they have enough money, they will do what they dreamed, but in many cases people have then too many responsibilities (family, children, loans etc) and do not have courage to take any risks. That is why I feel that the best way is to start while being young. Young people have fewer responsibilities and ties. Also they have enough energy to stand up after failure. I get my motivation by thinking that I make a difference and live my life in a way that few years ago I did not dare to dream about. 

Apart from supporting JAYE programmes, what could schools, governments and corporations do to sustain the motivation of young entrepreneurs? 

I believe there are many possibilities. One thing would be different business idea competitions – innovation competitions. The best ideas would get financing to start up business and maybe to finance the intellectual property rights? It is also important that governments could provide free business counselling at the local level, as there are many questions when thinking about starting a company. I think our mission should be to tell young people that failure in business is part of it – after failure you know how to do things better. Failure is not the end, it’s just a lesson. 

The figures show even more interest for entrepreneurship in Central and Eastern Europe than in the West. There have been deep economic reforms in these countries, especially Estonia, and there is less ‘safety net’ than in the West. What does the Estonian government do to promote entrepreneurship? 

The Estonian government has created different programs to support starting businesses, exporting businesses and also innovation in the technology. I also believe that Estonia has made it quite simple and cheap to start a business. And the mentality of taxes (both for individuals and businesses) is to tax the consumers not the investments and saving. 

You will be speaking at the Enterprise 2010 conference on 6 October, in the European Parliament this week. Did you read the Lisbon competitiveness objectives? Do you think they are well known to business and social decision-makers in Estonia? What is your main policy recommendation to the EU institutions to increase Europe’s creativity? 

I myself have read it briefly and I believe that of course many goals that have been taken are quite difficult to reach. Like for many other political documents, we should not look at it as the source of true or false. The importance of it is the symbol which it represents – the will of Europe to develop and modernize. Estonia today has taken steps to develop a knowledge-based economy. There are more and more internet and high technology based services – starting from e-government and ending with mobile car parking. For example over 50% of Estonians already use internet banking and 90% of the money transfers are made via internet banking. 

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