Yesterday I was at a closed meeting of experts at Eurostat, the European Union's statistical offices, on a newly approved "flexible module" for their structural business statistics. Lost already? Basicly, this means that Eurostat has been approved to perform a survey in 2010 on the theme of "access to capital". Read the official approval and legal mandate.
Eurostat has been planning and considering this new project for more than a year and has taken a lot of inspiration from our work with the Kauffman Firm Survey. Unbeknownst to them, the world would change a lot from when they conceptualized the project to the year of 2010, when they are now legally mandated to complete their work. While much about this project is still up in the air and to be written, I came away with some distinct impressions.
- Problems. When Eurostat began thinking of such a project, they were most interested in looking at start-up financing. Mostly, what sorts of capital were start-ups trying to get but couldn't and how might that related to growth and high-growth? Eurostat went into the meeting of experts proposing to ask questions about start-up financing in 2003/4 in 2010, more than six years later. In the Kauffman Firm Survey, we have intentionally only asked about the prior year of financing activities for our young firms. This is because entrepreneurs (and most people) have great difficulty recalling things that happened in the distant past. Hence, after considering their concept and getting expert feedback at this meeting, Eurostat's initial purpose for their "Access to Finance" survey was thrown into doubt.
- Opportunities. But just as entrepreneurs are always seeing opportunity and not roadblocks, by the end of our expert meeting the survey had been recast slightly to achieve what I think has incredible possibility. Combining the financial crisis of late 2008 and now 2009 with Eurostat's mandated survey populations and survey time periods means that Eurostat is now on course to do a survey of small businesses, high-growth companies, and gazelles on the topic of finance and finance constraints in 2010. They won't be able to look at everything they wanted, but the experts seemed confident that accurate and relevant information can be gathered on 2007 financing habits of the firm, 2009 financing habits, and 2009 attempted financing.
This is a project we will continue to follow in the coming years. I expect that there will be a proliferation of surveys on small business finance, but we can only hope that all of the projects look for opportunities to learn and complement each other.