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The nominees in BW's annual contest face an intimidating business climate, but these twentysomethings are eager to make their entrepreneurial marks
In tough times, only the startups with the best ideas and management will survive. That's the challenge facing this year's nominees for BusinessWeek's Best European Young Entrepreneurs contest, our annual competition to pick which executives under the age of 30 have launched the most promising companies.
As in previous years, the 2008 contest highlights the breadth of entrepreneurship in Europe. Nominees come from all corners of the region, including Sweden, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, and Israel. The ambition of the entrepreneurs and the variety of their ideas demonstrate convincingly that twentysomethings in Europe are just as hungry to score in business as their U.S. counterparts are.
Unlike the 2006 and 2007 competitions, however, this year's contestants face a more challenging economic environment, which will force them to watch carefully every euro, kronor, and shekel. Venture capitalists and angel investors are cutting back on financing (BusinessWeek.com, 10/09/08), consumers are less willing to part with hard-earned cash, and more firms are vying for dwindling pieces of corporate spending.
burger-flipper to startup star
"There's a lot more competition to get funding—and more people looking to start projects after being laid off from the corporate sector," says Julie Logan, professor of entrepreneurship at City University's Cass Business School in London. "Entrepreneurs have to be particularly clear what they want and how they will get there."
These challenges haven't stopped young businesspeople across the Old World from taking the plunge. Consider Erik Fjellborg, a 21-year-old Swedish entrepreneur, who used his experience flipping burgers at a local McDonald's (MCD) to create a Web-based application that lets company employees schedule their shifts online and fill gaps in the work rotation—sometimes before the manager even knows there's a problem. Fjellborg's product already is used by 83,000 McDonald's employees in four European countries, and he recently sold a stake in his business to outsider investors who could take it to a wider audience.
Israeli Tal Chalozin also is making a splash with his new approach to online advertising. The 27-year-old entrepreneur has devised a way to embed live, clickable objects into Internet video, allowing viewers to point, say, to a hamburger on the screen and get a pop-up window promoting the nearest fast-food joint. Chalozin has received backing from U.S. angel investor Jeff Pulver and Israeli venture capital firm Genesis Partners, as well as signing agreements with top-tier video Web sites.
Big Gains for Survivors
Whether the innovations of Fjellborg, Chalozin, and our 15 other nominees will catch on remains to be seen, of course. Many a bright idea founders for lack of funding or from poor execution. And experts caution that this year's crop of young entrepreneurs must run their businesses especially well to survive the current economic downturn. According to Shai Vyakarman, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, knowledgeable management is essential to keep companies above water in choppy seas.
If the startups survive, Vyakarman adds, their trial by fire could even prove to have given them an advantage. "Companies starting in a downturn often have better long-term prospects," he says. "There's a larger upside when the economy starts to improve."
For an introduction to the nominees and to cast your vote for the best, please see our slide show.