Latvian entrepreneurs have opportunities beyond the border

  • 2012-11-14
  • By Charo Navarro Mateo

GOING STRONG: Taking risks invites failure, but leads to learning, says Bert Twaalfhoven.

RIGA - “Failure is the mother of success,” says Bert Twaalfhoven in explaining the motor for becoming a successful entrepreneurship today. “I have [built] 54 companies, of which 16 were failures. I lost a total of 55 million dollars, and here I am (…); I understood what I did wrong and then I tried to get better and fix my mistakes,” he said.
Twaalfhoven was one of the lecturers invited to the High Impact Speaker series event held at Riga Business School in October.

Twaalfhoven is a 45-year career entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to learning, and this has carried him through 54 ventures. It has also given him insight into how entrepreneurship grows and dies. The best point offered by Twaalfhoven is undoubtfully how Europe can progressively emerge in the field of entrepreneurship to adapt itself for the next economic changes coming worldwide.

His extensive experience in the aerospace industry gave him the means to found the European Forum for Entrepreneurship Research (EFER) in 1987, to promote entrepreneurship across Europe, especially through entrepreneurship education. Twaalfhoven’s educational system is now comprised of 456 professors from 183 institutions in 43 European countries. This includes the EFER’s successful “Teach-the-Teachers” program at Harvard Business School and Cambridge.

“Entrepreneurship can be engaged in by anyone. You do not have to be an expert to be an entrepreneur,” says Twaalfhoven. For him the job creators are the new companies, because those are the ones which create the new ideas for the new products needed, and this is what creates business. These original ideas join humanity’s current needs with the creativeness of effective new products that will make a profit.

Taking risks
But what is needed to be successful in this business creation process? For Twaalfhoven there are two basic factors. One of them is taking risk, encouraging oneself to trust in the idea and to invest in it. He says failures are a possibility when an entrepreneur works through a new project, one thought of as original and valuable for new markets and consumers, but, as has been said, failure has to be kept in mind in the way that it may be a new opportunity for success. “Taking risks means the possibility of failure, but from failure entrepreneurs understand the reasons why their ideas were wrong, and [work their way] into the improvement,” says Twaalfhoven.

For the students attending the conference, the main piece of advice was to make a comparative analysis as the key to working for success. It means that new entrepreneurs have to understand the concept “what you know that you don’t know.” What Twaalfhoven wants to say with this is that, as the first step for an entrepreneur, there is the necessity of analyzing past ideas, learning about the strengths and weakness of them, and then looking for those items that weren’t in view initially.

The audience wanted to know which qualities entrepreneurs have to develop at the beginning. “Business students want to be entrepreneurs, but to do so they start only during school (…). It is basic to build the first networks with companies and other students thinking on the same goal,” says Twaalfhoven. Even taking a summer job could help to get experience and create the ways to ‘build the necessary network that every single entrepreneur needs to create,’” says Twaalfhoven.

Beyond the borders
The other big factor for success is thinking abroad. “[As an entrepreneur], you have to think about going abroad; all your business has to be focused on exports because Latvia is so small,” says Twaalfhoven. Some of the listeners asked about the requirements needed to start focusing abroad, and, according to Twaalfhoven, this starts from finding new ideas from others as well as finding the imporrtant issues. This starts from the networks of contacts created during school years and the first experiences in the field.

“To become a success and have opportunities it is necessary, mainly for Latvian entrepreneurs, to focus beyond the borders,” said the lecturer. The example given was the comparison between American entreprises, which jump across the United States and the globe, and European ones, which still have to make the effort to not stay at home, as they currently do. According to Twaalfhoven, this is especially the case of the Latvian entrepreneur, whose culture is to stay in their own country.

For Twaalfhoven and the experts at the discussion, what Latvian entrepreneurs and companies need to be competitive in the world is in changing in their the minds what are the markets. Around 95 percent of Latvian businesses have less than 9 employees; they are little companies, and this fact makes it “unquestionable” not to think about doing business abroad.

For Twaalfhoven it is a question of mentality. “If Latvians start to establish cooperation with other universities [and organizations], the mentality can change and develop in terms of exports, risks and challenges,” he asserts.