Introducing Whiteboard: a grassroots platform for European entrepreneurs and innovators10 Oct, 2012
‘If it’s not talking to each other, it’s not a market.’ Europe, despite being a political union (of sorts), does not yet feel like a real market. Part of the solution would be to know more about each other, and to talk to each other more often. That’s what ‘Whiteboard’ wants to offer: a place to find information about interesting businesses and innovation, and to talk about it.
1. The Problem
An advertising veteran told me that I should not only be able to explain my “know how”. Everybody can talk for ages about his or her know how. He said: you should have a clear idea of your know why. It’s the answer to the question: what would the world miss if your product or offering didn’t exist. What problem do you want to solve?
The problem Whiteboard wants to (help) solve is this: despite the existence of a European union or market, it’s a fact that European ideas, innovation and businesses lack conductivity: they have difficulties crossing their national borders. Ideas, people and money don’t travel very well in Europe.
The European market is one of the largest and richest in the world, and yet it’s still predominantly a top down construct. It works perfectly fine for large corporations and existing ideas. For new ideas, companies and startups, it feels almost like a union doesn’t really exist. And I think that has a lot to do with how the media in Europe are organised.
Because, in the words of Geoffrey Moore of “Crossing the Chasm” (I paraphrase): If it’s not talking to each other, it’s not a market. I spoke to a very interesting entrepreneur from Portugal this week. He told me: “my startup won a hugely important MIT contest. We made all the national Portuguese media. But in Spain or France, nobody knows us.” So he moved to the US to build his company.
I think we can agree: that’s not a market. European media are organised as silos, each trying to bring comprehensive coverage about their own country and historical market. But the coverage ends at the border. When do small but innovative European companies get coverage in their national European media? Mostly when they are adopted by Anglo-American media like Wired, Mashable, TechCrunch, or The Economist, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, you name it. Some entrepreneurs in Europe feel that getting noticed in the Anglo-American press is an entrance ticket to being taken seriously.
Mark Vanderbeeken, a Belgian entrepreneur who lives and works in Italy, wrote a piece about this a few months ago that really triggered Whiteboard into existence. He called it “The English language innovation bias” :
… as an entrepreneur in Italy, one of the many European countries where the native language is not English, I cannot but notice how strongly the discourse on innovation has become determined by the English language, and the media reporting in that language.
This dominance of English language carries with it an accompanying perspective of Europe, both in terms of stereotypes and in terms of relevance (or lack of) to the Anglo-Saxon world. This often puts European businesses and countries at a serious disadvantage that they are too little aware of, and are hardly addressing.
This is a tweet that show how right his analysis is:
— Telefónica Digital (@tefdigital) September 13, 2012
This is what I replied:
— Raf Weverbergh (@rafweverbergh) September 13, 2012
Don’t get me wrong: I love Wired, Economist, FastCompany, etc. But I missed a European equivalent. Media companies in Europe seem unwilling to challenge English language media, or are not interested in the European market, or think that Americans and Brits are inherently better at journalism, or tell themselves that nobody in their country speaks or writes enough English to understand English spoken media. Probably a mix of all these reasons. I disagree with all of them.
This bias extends to experts as well. Name three sales, marketing, management, HR gurus. Chances are you’ll name American or British experts. Why is that? Because they’re good at what they do, but also because they publish in English.
So if the world agreed that we’re going to be using English as the lingua franca, then maybe you should start using it as well, and claim it (minor grammatical mistakes and all), and take part in the international conversation too. That’s where the interesting stuff will happen in the next years. And if you don’t adapt, someone (who writes in English and charges higher fees than you) will come and eat your sandwich.
2. The answer
So what do we need? If you ask me: a lively, grassroots platform where innovative European ideas, people and money can meet and exchange views, where you can find news and in depth reporting about cutting edge companies from around the continent and about the latest research and ideas that will change our lives in the next decades.
A blog about the future, but also a place where experts – the ecosystem around companies, made up of lawyers, marketers, sales gurus, career coaches and analysts can talk about how they see their market and industry evolve, through blog posts in which they share news, trends an analysis. Where they interact with other experts, thinkers and businesspeople across borders. In short, a platform – the seeds of a marketplace.
3. Introducing ‘Whiteboard’
After weeks of people rejecting every single one of the hundreds of names I threw at them the name ‘whiteboard’ bubbled up.
The whiteboard is the place where every innovation, business and business unit is born. Whiteboards are shiny and immaculately white to start with, clean slates promising limitless possibilities. We write random words on them, which come alive with arrows and eventually grow into tentative blueprints. Most of these get erased. A precious few survive to become actual strategies and breakthrough businesses. Those are the ones we will be writing about here.
So for the last months, I’ve been Skyping and e-mailing European startups but also the ecosystem surrounding them: lawyers, HR specialist, career coaches, marketing gurus, analysts, startups and some huge, publicly listed companies too. About a hundred of them committed to supporting and contributing to this project. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. It needs you!
So why don’t you join? You can sign up as a contributor right here. Doubts? Read more about becoming a contributor here.
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