This entry is an excerpt from the OECD’s International Compendium of Entrepreneurship Policies (2020), which contains 16 case studies from 12 OECD countries. The Compendium examines the rationale for entrepreneurship policy, presents a typology of policy approaches and highlights principles for policy success. Case studies span policies for regulations and taxation, entrepreneurship education and training, advice and coaching, access to finance, internationalization, innovation, and holistic packages for ecosystem building. (OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/338f1873-en.)
The case study summarized below examines a Portuguese initiative that reduces and simplifies administrative procedures (e.g. licensing requirements) in addition to digitizing core processes.
Complying with regulatory requirements is often costly and time consuming for businesses, and identifying the appropriate officials for different administrative procedures is complex. Regulatory simplification is therefore expected to reduce starting and operating costs for entrepreneurs and SMEs, and facilitate business creation and boost competitiveness. Prior to the introduction of the Entrepreneur’s Desk, Portuguese licensing procedures were particularly cumbersome and difficult to navigate as various administrative levels were involved.
The Entrepreneur’s Desk (Balcão do Empreendedor) initiative aims to simplify entrepreneurship and business regulatory compliance by offering a single government digital portal for entrepreneurs and business managers. It allows them to:
- Obtain all information regarding the development of economic activity in Portugal,
- Carry out administrative procedures online, including payments, and
- Obtain public services online (if possible).
The Entrepreneur's Desk provides information (e.g. legal requirements, procedures and available services), access public services and allows entrepreneurs to complete administrative procedures (e.g. incorporation, brand registration) online. It also organizes regulatory simplification efforts under a series of umbrella initiatives, such as:
The Zero Licensing initiative, launched in 2011, eliminated the need for several licenses by replacing them with a simple communication through the Entrepreneur’s Desk. Zero Licensing aims to simplify the process of installation, modification and closure of establishments (catering and drinking establishments, businesses dealing with trade in goods, provision of services or storage), which previously involved contacting multiple local and national level agencies.
The Industrial Licensing Service aims to boost economic growth and employment by facilitating private investment in industrial development, develop more streamlined and transparent public services, and foster accountability.
The Local Accommodation Registry simplifies and digitizes the administrative procedures for licensing businesses that provide temporary accommodation services and modifying or ceasing such activities.
The Simplex+ 2016 program, a government-wide regulatory simplification and administrative modernization initiative, included several measures to further the Entrepreneur’s Desk initiative, most notably the Entrepreneur’s Desk+ (Balcão do Empreendedor+) measure, which extended the licensing procedures available online to six new sectors of activity.
The Simplex+ 2017 program developed a map of trades, services and restaurants linked to the Entrepreneur’s Desk. The map creates an online geo-referenced database of existing commercial products and services in Portugal and provides information to support the public administration with monitoring, evaluating and designing public policies for the commerce and services sectors while allowing businesses to better evaluate and identify new opportunities.
The Simplex+ 2018 program merged the Entrepreneur’s Desk and the Citizen’s Portal (the one-stop-shop platform for citizens) into a single platform - the ePortugal portal - which facilitates interaction between government and natural persons and business entities through a single platform for all documents and electronic procedures. ePortugal was launched in February 2019 and acts as the national “Single Digital Gateway."
The Simplex program involves the civil society organizations and business associations in development processes through various meetings in different regions with representatives of the public and different institutions to identify needs and generate solutions for administrative simplification and digitalization. The meetings also involve public servants through “Simplex Jam” meetings, collaborative work sessions among state service officials during which participants discuss ideas and proposals to modernize services and simplify procedures.
Administrative Modernization Agency (Agência para a Modernização Administrativa – AMA) in collaboration with other relevant ministries (e.g. for the latest licensing simplification measure: Ministry of the Economy, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of the Sea).
2011 – present
New measures were added in 2017-18 in the context of the Simplex+ 2017 and Simplex+ 2018 programs.
In 2019, the Entrepreneur’s Desk was merged with the Citizen Portal to create the ePortugal platform.
Implementation of Entrepreneur’s Desk measures developed through the Simplex programs is monitored in the Simplex platform, which reports on the level of implementation of all measures.
An impact assessment of 40 measures of the Simplex+ 2016 and 2017 programs, funded by the European Commission, was released in late 2019.
By centralizing the business registration and licensing process, the government expects the Entrepreneur’s Desk to improve transparency and incentivize municipalities to compete in terms of improving ease of administration for entrepreneurs. But because implementation of many Entrepreneur’s Desk measures are in their early stages, no comprehensive impact assessment is available yet. However, a 2019 Impact Assessment of the “Entrepreneur’s Desk+," from the Simplex 2016 program found an estimated total cost savings of EUR 1,386,039 (EUR 712,302 Public Administration savings and EUR 673,737 beneficiaries’ savings), and increased Gross Value Added by EUR 1,064,215.
In addition, significant reductions of administrative burdens for entrepreneurs are evident: before the reform, an estimated 6 applications and 83 additional documents were needed to start a business, involving an average of 11 visits to four public service offices and assessments by a range of regulators and technicians for licenses.
In 2011 and 2012, approximately 2,000 requests per year were submitted through the Entrepreneur’s Desk. This number has steadily increased since: 10,000 requests were submitted in 2014 and 80,000 in 2019. Nearly all of these related to licensing in 2014 and 2019. (For instance, in 2019, 70,000 of the 80,000 requests were for licensing.) Most requests are made with the help of local service offices (90% between February 2014 and February 2015). The government provided training to municipalities to support use of the platform.
By mid-2016, the government had revised 163 laws and regulations and made more than 1,000 (often simplified) procedures available online through the Entrepreneur's Desk. By January 2020, 320 processes affecting 23 regulations were fully dematerialized. If information services (i.e. non-transactional) are considered, more than 1,000 services are accessible through the Entrepreneur’s Desk.
Challenges revolve mainly around the need to implement a Single Point of Contact with the entrepreneur, while maintaining the constitutional right of every municipality to establish their own rules, regulations and taxes. This is also the case, though to lesser extent, for each of the agencies in the central government administration. To address the challenge, the central government involved municipalities and other relevant administrations in the development of the Entrepreneur’s Desk and subsequent simplification and digitalization initiatives conducted through the Desk.
The Simplex process involves stakeholder consultations, which allow program leaders to prioritize areas for modernization and simplification, namely regulatory. These led to further improvements of the Entrepreneur’s Desk, such as including simplified licensing procedures for specific trades and sectors and merging the Entrepreneur’s Desk, the Business Portal and the Citizen Portal to reduce duplication and facilitate procedures.
Lessons for other ecosystems
Simplification and centralization of business procedures through the Entrepreneur’s Desk has likely improved transparency for entrepreneurs and reduced barriers to entry, especially with regards to reduced or eliminated licensing procedures.
Key lessons to take into account for developing and implementing a similar system in other contexts include:
Involving stakeholders is viewed as a success factor for the Entrepreneur’s Desk design and implementation, in particular with respect to ensuring that the system is integrated into existing frameworks (taking into account local regulations and taxes) and is compatible with various IT systems upon its launch. Through the Simplex program and other processes, the Entrepreneur’s Desk program is updated and expanded regularly, which allows for user feedback to be incorporated. In addition, stakeholder consultations likely improved uptake.
Similar measures should include cost-effectiveness criteria while digitalizing entrepreneurship-related procedures. The Entrepreneur’s Desk (and Simplex program) requires that new developments be cost neutral (or lower) than existing procedures for users and for the administration. New programs should consider incorporating monitoring and evaluation methodology that allows for ex-ante cost-effectiveness assessments and ex-post impact assessments.
Resources should be allocated to train staff who are required to use the platform with entrepreneurs as part of its introduction.
Portugal's public administration digital transformation strategy, ICT 2020, includes “digital by default” and interoperability between different systems goals. In 2010, The European Services Directive was incorporated into Portuguese legislation, which established simplifying access and exercise of economic activities through digitalization principles. The Entrepreneur’s Desk initiative was introduced the following year as a means to address the Directive's requirements, and was further developed as part of a wider national effort to simplify administrative processes and move toward digitalization of public services.