Regional workshop with stakeholders in the province of Utrecht, the Netherlands 

On 14 September 2022, the province of Utrecht organized a stakeholder meeting with the most relevant regional system support actors who supported SMEs during the COVID-pandemic. The main aim of the session was to discuss the results of the regional analysis and good practice.

After addressing the main challenges identified by SMEs, e.g. high uncertainty, drop in demand and financial issues, the most effective regional system support measures were widely discussed. During the COVID-19 crisis the Regional Development Agency of Utrecht quickly established URECA, the Utrecht Region Economic Covid Alliance, an independent organization consisting of experienced entrepreneurs and consultants that advised entrepreneurs on their business plans and the challenges they faced. The same Regional Development Agency also launched the so called Corona-OverbruggingsLening (Corona-bridge loan; COL). The COL was devised for start- and scale-ups and other innovative SMEs that found themselves in dire need of bridging financing in the early stage of the COVID-19 crisis. This regional support should always be viewed within the larger context, where national measures provided quick and substantial financial support to entrepreneurs.

The participants extensively discussed the importance of networking, the successes and lessons learned from the crisis response in general, and in particular of URECA and the COL. The support actors clearly recognized and acknowledged the good practice identified as part of this project, namely that it is key to enable, promote and facilitate peer-to-peer learning and advice among entrepreneurs in times of crisis. Entrepreneurs generally have a need to brainstorm, not only in hard times, yet, preferably wish to do so with an external expert. An aspect to further pay attention to, is to make sure a regional network is in place and is able to provide support in an effective manner, i.e. by setting up a one-stop-shop for SMEs.