Euroregion Consulting was founded to act as a translator for businesses who are seeking European funds in Udine, Italy. A translator, as co-founder Mattia Anzit puts it, “for dummies”. The problem for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is that they are often engaged in such complex, technical work, that if they want to gain access to European regional funding, they are going to need a team capable of navigating a dense bureaucracy and translating high floating concepts into understandable plans. Mattia and his co-founder, Selina Rosset, are Udine’s solution to this problem.
The Italian founders of Euroregion Consulting, are an energetic team, bouncing back and forth off each other throughout the interview, finishing each other’s sentences and lending each other the odd English phrase or two. Having met during the Euroculture Master program, which they both studied in Udine and Strasbourg, Selina says that if it were not for the program, Euroregion Consulting would never have been founded. Despite the fact that the two of them have lived in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy all their lives, they had never met before. As Mattia explains, he is not from the capital, Udine, like Selina, but from a small town, which he insists that I have never heard of. Vibrant and chatty, the team joked about Italian bureaucracy, confused entrepreneurs and the problems facing young people and students in today’s economic climate. My interview with these two former students of European studies through Euroculture touched on life after graduation, entrepreneurship and European business in a Eurosceptic age.
Hi guys, thanks for meeting with me today. Before we begin talking about your new enterprise Euroregion Consulting, as former Euroculture students you both studied at the University of Udine and the University of Strasbourg. The EU parliament in Strasbourg is even your cover image! Did you enjoy your time there?
Selina: We did! I loved Strasbourg both because the courses were interesting and the people were very nice. The town is also really lovely. And Udine, you know, is Udine, we grew up here.
Mattia: Udine is Udine!
During the Euroculture program, did you have any standout courses or professors?
Selina: I remember Professor Samim Akgonul and his class on Old and New Minorities in Europe. That was very interesting and he was very passionate. It was a pleasure to be there. We also had a fascinating class on the relationship between the EU and India.
Mattia: But the professor who teaches that isn’t with the program any more, unfortunately. In Udine there was Professor Knapton, who taught us Modern European History and who was my thesis supervisor. We both thought he was a really great professor, and I can say he was a brilliant supervisor as well. He was very kind.
A European Start-up
Turning to business, let me ask, when did Euroregion Consulting launch?
Selina: We informally started in November 2016, but only now, just now, we became fully operational because we have the website online. Now we are ready to start on an official basis.
Mattia: We are ready now, yes!
Euroregion Consulting is a consultancy. For our readers, in your words what exactly is a consultancy? In fact, in terms of the EU, what is consulting?
Selina: In our words, it’s a company that provides practical, but not only practical, services to clients. In our case, clients are enterprises mainly, and municipalities sometimes, and our consultancy offers both a practical service and more of an advisory service as well. Our practical service is writing a project for them, based on what they are looking for European regional funding for, and turning that project into an application. Then we help them collect the necessary documents that they need for the application to be accepted. But we also share information with them, a more advisory service.
Mattia: We help them. I mean, our work is based on time. Enterprises and their owners, they don’t have time to look for information on European funds. So we help them to-
Selina: Collect information.
The expertise of your consultancy is European regional funding. What exactly is that? What are its sources? Why did you choose this particular focus?
Selina: Well regional funds are regional. The region in our case Friuli-Venezia Giulia, collects and manages European and state funds in order to provide funding lines for projects in the region, but nearly only for enterprises and people who live in the region. There are some funds that help corporations in Africa, for example, but they are still managed by our region.
There are four main funding lines we work on. Well actually we work on two mainly because they are the most important, let’s say. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) are the most important and then the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD)and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which you know, are not so important but they are funding lines. These are the regional funds we work on at Euroregion Consulting.
What can such regional funding be used for?
Mattia: For example enterprises use the money to help them buy machines, industrial machinery. Or there are some agreements with banks so they can obtain loans with a lower interest rate if they have this funding.
Selina: And they can also- well actually it depends on what project is open on that date. For example, there is a call for proposals that funds enterprises and start-ups so that they can buy machinery. So it is only for them but there is a also call for proposals for social inclusion, which can only go to projects aimed at improving social inclusion. So it depends on what is open but basically it is to buy things, to improve their enterprises, to-
Selina: Yeah to improve research, like research on products, in order to develop a better product for their enterprise.
You’ve mentioned funding for social inclusion projects and industry. What is the most readily available funding, in your experience?
Selina: Well unfortunately, because social inclusion is more important to me ethically, the European Regional Development Fund, which is for enterprises, is more active. It’s also better structured because the European Social Fund, we discovered, was very disorganised. We had to go to Trieste physically just to speak with the people who manage the social fund, and to understand how it works- because it’s crazy. It is a bit unfortunate.
That’s interesting! Why is it so disorganised?
Selina: That’s Italy!
Mattia: That’s Italy- that’s the point, they don’t understand the potential of European funding, especially for social inclusion. Actually we are working on a local level, that’s the point. So at the local level they are interested in, I don’t know, machinery. They are not very interested in the social inclusion, equality or rights.
Would you say that these funds, and therefore Euroregion Consulting, are focused on small and medium enterprises (SMEs)? Are larger groups even allowed access regional funding?
Selina: There are more for SMEs, because they need them the most, but also there are funds for big enterprises, so it is not limited to SMEs, even though they are the most important target because (laughs) they need money.
There are also some bigger programs, with direct European funding, such as Horizon 2020 and stuff like that, that can of course be accessed by larger enterprises, but for now we are focused on SMEs. That’s already enough for us because we are just two for now! (laughs)
EU funding is organised differently in every Member State. Do you see your role as helping bridge the knowledge divide for people coming in or are you only working with locals?
Selina: For now we help local businesses.
Selina: Because,-well, to start, it’s easier because we know the territory. I think it could be something we think about in the future. Maybe, I mean why not?
Mattia: Especially because they was interest, actually, in our work. The region officials were interested. They said: “You are doing a great job! We need people like you-”
Mattia: So we were so excited. So I said yeah, that’s good.
What are the major problems firms looking for EU funding run into, aside from no knowing where to go?
Mattia: Bureaucracy (laughs) Bureaucracy is the first one and organization is the second, which is strictly connected to bureaucracy because region officials provide you the documents that you have to complete to get the funding, but most of the time they don’t know how to do it. You just call them and they say “I don’t know, sorry!” That’s Italy you know!
But sometimes people know how it works, and they help us a lot with our work. They tell us “call that person”, “go to that office”, “fill in that document.”
Selina: For an enterprise it is more difficult because they don’t have the resources to lose time looking for these things. This is a very big problem for enterprises, I guess.
Also there was something that we ran into with a client. It was a very technical project and we didn’t understand what it was about. It used very technical terminology, and we were like “So in practice what are you doing?” So this is also a problem because we have to create a project that is actually understandable by everyone, because of course in the European region office, when they look into the project there might be a technical person on staff, but there can also be a normal person who will ask themselves “What’s that?”
Mattia: It’s translation for dummies, or something like that. Another problem is that a lot of entrepreneurs, their mentality is such that they come to us and say “Write me a project” for this fund, and we say “About what?” and they say “I don’t know just write me a project” but we say “That’s not our job. You have an idea, I put it on paper.”
Selina: But you have to have an idea first!
Mattia: Yes, and this is the mentality. And we have to kind of fight against this.
Selina: It’s challenging but it’s fun.
How do you see the company developing over the next two years?
Selina: You go, you’re the visionary. He knows where he wants it to go more than me!
Mattia: (laughs) Well we hope to expand our (laughs) domain-
Selina: Our domain, our kingdom!
Mattia: I mean our plans are to expand our cooperation with other students, maybe, you know with young people, fresh uhh-
Mattia: Yeah fresh meat. Because right now, especially in Italy the economic crisis is bad, so the percentage of young people who don’t have a job is very high. So you have to invent yourself. That’s why we started this agency, this consultancy agency. I don’t know, I hope in the future to work not only here, not only in the Udine region but also in Europe. With other partners. I hope we can achieve that and we will work hard towards that goal.
Business in the Age of Brexit
Has the current political climate (Brexit, Trump, the Italian referendum) changed your outlook on your new enterprise?
Selina: Well actually Brexit is not a problem because we are based in Italy. It’s too bad for British businesses that we don’t help them, but at least that means Brexit is not a problem for us! Of course it’s a problem for Europe, but in terms of how it can affect our business it’s not a problem. Maybe we won’t have clients from England in five years but it’s not really a problem for us.
Mattia: No, maybe in long term. We hope that Brexit will be the only one, you know.
Selina: Yeah we don’t want the domino affect!
Italy has its own Eurosceptic movement. Two of them even, but let’s focus on the Five Star movement. Now they are not publicly anti-Europe but are anti-Euro, do you worry what a victory for them could mean for Euroregion Consulting?
Selina: No, they are actually against the European Union as a whole, I think. They are not very coherent (laughs) so sometimes they say “The European Union is good” and other times “We have to fight against the EU”, so I feel like they should decide already. I mean think about what you say. I think that could be a real problem for Italy, but I don’t think Italian people are so stupid to vote for a Brexit. I mean not that English people are stupid. England can do it without the EU, it will be difficult but they can do it. Italy cannot do it without the EU. I mean we are a weak country, let’s say it. We are not masochist. I don’t think we will exit. Also, our politicians live by the EU, so I don’t think they really want to leave. They get paid. Once money is involved! (laughs).
With everything being pro or anti-European these days, do you consider yourself European?
Selina: Sure, yes, definitely. Especially after New York. I spent five months in New York. After that I definitely feel European. When I was there what I said to people mostly was that I’m European and then I’m Italian. That definitely helped.
Mattia: Yes, but some things should be improved. Because right now nationalism is rising. Why? Because of Europe? I don’t know. For me it was a bit difficult to understand why Europe didn’t rise from the lower levels of society. Europeanization of the youth, you know? Here in Italy in school we don’t study about Europe. We study history but only Italian history, not European history. But still, I feel European actually, like a European citizen.
The Value of European Studies
Do you think European studies, through the Euroculture MA, has been helpful in starting Euroregion Consulting?
Selina: Yes. First because we met- because if I didn’t meet him I wouldn’t be here. We had Eurocompetence II and III, which were useful. Especially III because it was project management and it helped give us the motivation we needed to plan our project. So yes, actually it was really useful.
Mattia: But also the critical analysis, during the master. I was very surprised at first when they asked me my opinion. I was like, my opinion? I don’t have an opinion! I just have to read and repeat.
Selina: Italy works like this.
Mattia: You don’t have an opinion here in Italy. So when they asked my opinion, it was impossible to answer. But when you start to criticise, also yourself, your work, you start to understand where you are doing things wrong, so you can fix them. That’s what I learned in the program.
Selina: A new approach!
Mattia: A new approach.
And you Selina?
Selina: Well, yeah I think, what helped me most was, well meeting him first, and then the project management course. I already had another master, so this was like an addition to my academic career. I also had a European project management master, so I knew what it was about but of course Euroculture helped me more because I saw it was actually possible to do something on my own, here in Udine. So it actually opened my eyes a little, let’s say. It was not theoretical anymore, it was more practical, and I saw the potential.
(Editor’s note: This article was compiled from an interview held with Selina Rosset and Mattia Anzit. It has been reordered with their permission for editorial purposes. If you have any question about the original structure of the interview, please contact the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org)