Since the beginning of the health crisis, the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, through the intermediary of the House of Entrepreneurship – currently headed by Tom Baumert, has launched several initiatives to accompany and support entrepreneurs. Restaurateurs, hoteliers, craftsmen, and businesses benefit from a range of tools to help them transition digitally, in addition to government assistance. One year after the beginning of the crisis, Silicon Luxembourg takes stock of the effects of these measures with Tom Baumert.
Photo: Tom Baumert, Director of Entrepreneurship at the Chamber of Commerce and CEO of the House of Entrepreneurship / Credits © Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce
Go Digital, #React, JobSwitch, helpline… Numerous schemes were launched in 2020 to support entrepreneurs in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. One year later, what are you seeing?
Apart from JobSwitch, which was an emergency device, all of them are still active. Go Digital already existed before the crisis. In 2020, we registered 6,203 participants in 131 workshops on digitalization-related topics, with an attendance rate of over 70%. This rate is 15 to 20% higher than in face-to-face sessions. For each webinar organized, we have more than 100 registrations, which would be unimaginable in person because of the capacity of the rooms. In 2021, more than 200 companies have already participated in these workshops.
Overall, we can say that it’s a success, although we have to put it into perspective, of course. We have set up a funnel principle to help entrepreneurs at 3 levels in their digital transformation: workshops, accessible free of charge upon registration for 1 to 2 hour sessions, an individual analysis of the company’s digital progress and support packages. Very small companies, such as hotels, shops, craftsmen, small architecture firms… do not have the internal skills or the means to invest in digital.
“It can be said that digital competence is not related to the size of the company, but to the open-mindedness of its manager. It’s also a generational issue.”
Would you say that the digitalization of companies in Luxembourg is a cyclical phenomenon (response to an emergency) or a structural phenomenon (sustainable awareness)?
It’s hard to answer… Let’s take the example of retailers who have joined the Letzshop online marketplace. I would say that those who have put a lot online have sold a lot and are convinced that another model – the phygital – is now possible. On the other hand, those who have only put 2 or 3 products online are not convinced and are waiting for a return to the previous business model… But nothing will be the same anymore.
Restaurant owners who have developed take-away sales have understood this: they will be able to increase part of their turnover by keeping both models after the reopening. They think in concrete terms: “Will I be able to amortize the cost of my new CRM by the time I retire? “They don’t realize that this CRM may add value to their business when they pass it on or sell it. It can be said that digital competence is not related to the size of the company, but to the open-mindedness of its manager. It’s also a generational issue.”
Overall, how is the morale of entrepreneurs in March 2021?
They are as worried as they were in March 2020, perhaps not because of the prospect of liquidation, but because of a lack of prospects. In Luxembourg, we are lucky that the government follows a relatively stable protocol. But the state will not be able to provide them with aid until 2024… If the reopening of the terraces is authorized at the beginning of April, it should not be accompanied by a total halt in the subsidies, because the activity will not immediately resume at full capacity.
The Ministry of Labor’s criticism of the use of funds to support entrepreneurs was misplaced. Most of them have done everything to maintain jobs and keep their teams, even if it means dipping into personal funds and taking a lot of risks. They adapt and find solutions. I even regularly meet with restaurant project leaders who are ready to launch their business as soon as it reopens. Their project is complete, and yet they reinvent themselves. This is a great symbol of hope and we are lucky to be around people who have dreams and believe in them.
This article was first published in Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read our full Digital Entrepreneurship edition.