Network F Supporting the adaptability of firms and employees to structural economic changes and the use of information technology and other new technologies.
Project name Entrepreneurship in the Web, Internet – the Opportunity for Growth of Competitiveness
Project number F0320

Project description

The project's main aim is to increase the competitiveness of small businesses through information technology and widespread access to business support services, including training. A successful small/medium-sized business sector is one of the most important ingredients necessary for a country's economic development. In the initial stages of the political and economic transformation taking place in Poland, there was a dramatic increase in the number of small and medium-sized businesses, but this has not been the case in the most recent times. Business owners are faced with numerous threats and obstacles. In addition, due to Poland's inclusion in the common European market, small businesses have to struggle on a larger and more competitive market. A key feature which is currently the measure of a company's competitiveness is its ability to effectively apply innovative technologies and modern methods of management. Small businesses wishing to remain on the market need to have guaranteed access to consulting services, as well as to information on obtaining loans or grants, and databases concerning institutions offering business support services. Small businesses are disadvantaged with regard to access to information and support services. In contrast to large businesses or corporations, they are not able to have separate departments responsible for analysing current economic conditions or making sure that the business is in compliance with current business regulations. Employing a financial or legal consultant, or an accountant, would constitute a significant strain on their budget.

Oftentimes, the owners of small businesses do not make use of the opportunities available or make bad business decisions based on faulty premises. Studies indicate that only 13% of small and medium-sized business owners use support services. The support available to small businesses is not suited to their actual needs. Often, the distance to information centres, located predominantly in large urban areas, constitutes a significant problem for small businesses. Lack of access to internet service and other new technology constitutes another large obstacle for these businesses. Apart from funds needed to purchase the computer hardware, software and internet access, the skills necessary to use them are lacking. There is little awareness of the advantages that the new technology affords, and this is another obstacle. An insignificant number of small and medium-sized businesses use the internet to advertise and/or sell their products or services, or to take care of legal formalities. Most limit themselves only to using the internet as a source of information. Another significant obstacle is the poor quality of internet access (slow connections and modems). Compounding the above problems, many companies have poorly educated staff, who lack awareness concerning the need for continuing education and adapting previously acquired knowledge to the current market situation.

This is why any form of support makes a significant difference for small businesses, and especially support with respect to professional training, business consulting, information exchange and business networking. The Partnership is aimed at eliminating the barriers listed here and at increasing the number of business owners who are able to utilise support services, thanks to internet access.

Four hundred small businesses will participate in the project (at least one person representing each small company) from the Mazowieckie, Podkarpackie, Podlaskie and Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodships. The programme will be available to businesses specialising in various areas (e.g. printing, footwear, clothing, photography, wood products). The internet will be the main tool used by the Partnership institutions to carry out the project. As a medium, the internet provides small businesses with access to information, but it is also an end in itself, providing IT solutions that can be used in running and promoting a small business. Businesses taking part in the project will receive internet access as well as software (free of charge, paid by the Partnership institutions) to use with their existing computer hardware. The Partners will create a "Small Business Vortal." This is going to be the first complete and interactive set of tools for various forms of business support: e-learning based on self-study modules, business consulting, current information related to commerce, and an e-commerce marketplace. Thanks to this vortal, it will be possible to have widespread and inexpensive access to the most important business support services, including ongoing consulting services in the area of business management. The vortal will also be used to publicise the guidelines and models developed for the support of small and medium-sized businesses. It will also be the perfect location where project beneficiaries and Partnership institutions can exchange information, give advice and share experiences. Products created during the project (guidelines for training and consulting) will also be distributed through the vortal. Aside from the internet, other means of promoting small businesses will be used (the media, direct contact, seminars and conferences) to reach the widest possible audience: the beneficiaries' political representatives, institutions offering support, research institutions, unemployed individuals, local governments and organizations participating in international partnerships. An important aim of the project is to encourage the participants to be proactive, since they are to have a direct say in how the offer for small businesses and the e-learning/self-study packages will look like. Training will also cover the basics of using a computer, computer applications and the internet. This will be especially helpful for users aged 45 and over. A published report will be one of the results of project implementation. The report will focus on access to information, and on barriers preventing the use of information and communication technology by small businesses. It will also include a detailed analysis of educational needs within the small business sector.