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European Theater

Entrepreneurship is finally getting the rave reviews it deserves across the pond.

In the United States, there's that little notion of The American Dream. But Europeans have been slow to seek a piece of the entrepreneurial pie. "New money"--not to mention quick money--was distrusted in the United Kingdom, and failure was like a scarlet F. In Sweden, corporate security was the aspiration.

All that's changed, thanks to the Internet gold rush. While the dotcom bubble burst in Europe as it did here, the boom broke the mold, and now being an entrepreneur is all the rage.

While the shift of values that's occurred since the word "entrepreneur" seeped into the global consciousness may have sparked the rise in European small businesses, evolving infrastructures are what really allow for change. "Countries in Europe [used to be] very protected against foreign goods and trade," says Mauro Guillén, associate professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "[As foreign trade and investment open up,] people realize you not only have to start running faster, because competitors can come in, but also that new opportunities were created. So there's been a total revolution in the number of start-ups."

Last year, one in 33 adults in the UK started a business, as did one in 50 in Finland and Sweden, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) study conducted by Babson College, The London Business school, the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Ernst & Young UK.

Hans Schöllhammer, professor of management at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, says increased support for small businesses has fueled the trend. "There was a time when venture capital markets were not as easily developed [in Europe]," he says. Last year, according to the GEM study, nearly $1.9 billion in VC funding went to UK start-ups, while more than $2 billion went to German start-ups.

It'll take a lot to match America's entrepreneurial drive, but between fear of economic stagnation and a new generation of European risk-takers, expect to hear much more from across the pond.

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This article was originally published in the February 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: European Theater.

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