What do I mean by micro enterprise and why is it important? A recent classification distinguishes Large Enterprises with over 250 people employed, Medium Enterprises with less than 250 down to 100, and Small Enterprises with less than 100. These last two groups are commonly lumped together under the label Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). By this classification there are only some 12,000 large enterprises in Europe. There are around 17 million SMEs, but 93% are very small with less than 10 people employed, and the average size of all SMEs is 4. Though there are more very small enterprises in the south of Europe, similar statistics apply to the better developed north, including Britain. It is to such enterprises that I apply the micro label, though I am more concerned with spirit than with size.
Micro enterprises offer a very wide range of products and services, bringing diversity to our society. They can be stimulating, creative, personal, flexible, dynamic. Specialism tends to be more in products and services than in worker functions. People who run an enterprise must often be multi-skilled, experts in production, marketing, finance, development, .... Micro enterprises are typically marginal, with no buffering or organised defence systems. Many problems arise directly from this marginality, an artifact of an unstable economic system and an often hostile business environment - no money, no time, no cooperation, no effective support. Micro enterprises need a much more stable and cooperative environment which will require deep changes in attitudes and infrastructure to bring about. They need more and better resources - money, skills, operating environment, information, communications. They need substantial improvements in methods and processes, and time for reflection, continuing education and development.
Europe is socially and economically sick. Unemployment is at a level equivalent to the entire working population of Britain. The recession refuses to go away for most of us. Notions of community and society, reinforced after the disastrous 1939-45 war, are being replaced by personal selfishness and greed. We spend our energy fighting each other for pieces of an ever-smaller cake, instead of working together effectively to make a much bigger one to share fairly. The market economy is an automaton out of control, which we have foolishly made our master. It has destroyed millions of European enterprises and damaged millions of lives in the past few years; 460,000 firms closed in Britain alone in 1992 . The situation is structural and demands urgent correction, based on a rediscovery of rationality and the spirit of cooperation.
Rationality and cooperation are of particular importance in generic research and development, especially in the dissemination of results. By generic I mean work in support of one or more economic sectors. There are many examples of potentially widely applicable publicly-supported projects which have brought the community little benefit. The devil of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) has often stood in the way. I am a firm believer in private enterprise, but not for its own sake. Where the aim of a publicly-supported project is to provide generic tools, market advantage to proposers should take second place to effective dissemination. The Internet and the amazing international projects which it has enabled are convincing demonstrations of the synergy which can come from cooperative development and IPR-free dissemination. The information and communication technology capabilities at the LME depend on many IPR-free tools from these sources. I intend to make the results of our own generic projects available in the same way, hopefully with the same effectiveness.
|Computer Craftsmanship||Laboratory for Micro Enterprise|