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Introducing FSEA

Posted by on in Open Source Entrepreneurship
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So it's been 4 years 1 month since Matt and I arrived in Moldova. It's been 2 years since Matt, Vlad and I founded Smoke House SRL with the intention of opening a BBQ restaurant. And it has been 1 year since we opened Smokehouse. In that time we have accomplished a lot. Furthermore, we have seen a lot of change in Moldova - most of it for the better. There is new business and investment here; There are new products available in the stores and supermarkets; Most importantly, there are more and more expressions of cultural and personal expression that are breaking old norms and stereotypes and giving the feel of an ever more diverse and modern society. In short, we started out with a belief in Moldova and, in spite of all of the tumultuous events of the last years, we still have it. For that reason I want to introduce a project that we are working on that is near and dear to my heart. The Foreign Small Enterprise Alliance or FSEA


FSEA logocolored

you have literally no idea how long it took us to settle on this logo. I will punch the first critic in the mouth. That's a promise. 


So FSEA didn't begin as an idea for some cool new group but as a slow recognition of a gap in the feedback mechanism between business, civil society and government. As Smokehouse neared the end of our many month authorization "process" (read "fight") I started meeting with the business associations, chambers of commerce and regulatory reform projects sponsored by Moldova's Western Partners. If you're wondering why I didn't talk to such groups sponsored by the Easter Partners...


739-empty storage hall.large

Oh look! it's the office for all the reform projects and international AID from Russia...


Anyhow, my goal was to ask them tell them that we had "stared into the void" so to speak with reguards to the regulatory process here and wanted to know what was being done about it. The answer is twofold. Lots is being done by smart people with a good direction. But little is being done directly with Small Business in mind. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Small businesses don't talk to reform projects and are less likely to join associations. The big associations also don't really have a direct interest in helping startups - they exist to support their members and to become a member you already have to be a rather large enterprise by Moldovan standards. In this I started to percieve a gap. The people working hardest to reform business processes were, or were getting feedback from, the people least susceptable to the burdensom regulation that pervades the Moldovan system. 


For example, let's look at HR regulations (well deserving of their own post when I get a chance). The first person we hired at Smokehouse was an HR rep. Before I could even hire myself in my own company or an accountant. The reason is that once anyone is on the books there is a large amount of paperwork that must be generated about their activity every single month. This must be filed with the state and when it is not you will be fined. Now, when you are the Coca Cola corperation (my fav) or a large IT company hiring someone to handle HR compliance isn't that big a deal. If you outsouce it here it's about 7 eur / mo per person. If you're a small company in Moldova it IS a big deal. Furthermore, compliance with these laws is, put simply, *hard* to ensure due to their vagueness. This means lawyers. Lawyers cost money. Again, not a big deal for Coke. A big deal for a startup barbershop with an owner-manager and 1 employee. That's not even mentioning the accounting fees. 

Long story short, many large foriegn firms can afford to pay to make these problems go away. The cost of doing business in Moldova is so much lower than Germany even with all this madness. Small local companies struggle much more with this. Because of the nature of those who are speaking up on these issues the needs of these large firms - largely more macro-economical in nature - are being addressed while the needs of the small companies are not. Please don't misread here - I belive firmly in the reforms and lobbying going on for better business climat for large companies; I just also know there is a lot to be done with regulations that more directly affect small companies. 

So why aren't small business' speaking up? Fear. As we at Smokehouse know first hand when you speak up someone comes to smack you back down. We are stubborn and I for one harbor a pool of internal grumpiness that is an easy match for anyone who walks through my door to bother me. But the fear is real and well founded. The way is easier for foreign owned companies for sure so why don't they speak up more? Conventional wisdom is that there aren't many foreign owned small businesses here. That is not the case. The truth is that we are not united. This is what we want to change. 

So one day I had coffee with 2 fellow entrepreneurs and we set out on a path that would bring us to the founding of FSEA. We looked all these problems over and we said "small businesses here need to stand together" we said "we need a way to find like-minded, modern business people like us so we can partner with them" we said "we need to make our voice heard so that as Moldova reforms its laws and regulations the little guys don't get left behind." We decided to form an association. 



And the lord said "with this magical substance you
may change the world." And it was so. 


So why the "Foreign" Small Enterprise Alliance? Don't you want local business too?

Yup, we sure do

The truth is we discovered that Moldova has a Association of Small Businesses already. Their website http://amb.md is sad in any of the 5 languages they promise and fail to deliver on. Actually, that site is a study in what happens when the grant money runs out for developing a project but it somehow limps along anyways. If your site has been live for 6+ years and you still have lorem ipsum style filler in there (or a poll attempting to answer the ever present question "when do you use the internet") then you know the site needs an update. While the org seems to be active in a legal sense they aren't doing much. Our intention was to differentiate here. We are founded by 3 foreign businesses (mixed capital really - Moldovan American joint ventures), and we expect to attract membership from companies founded by foreigners or Moldovans who have lived abroad and are sufficiently outraged at the status quo here. By no means do we exclude wholly Moldovan owned companies. We just desire to stress that our business philosophy is rooted in western values and principles and we are fully embracing of anyone, of any background, who embodies them. 



I've just learned that when you use the word "western" that many
 the internet automatically inserts a photo of Sam Elliot into
yout content... 


So what will we do? Check out our site! Also, look if you are interested in possibly joinging us and want to know what the benefits and application process looks like. Alone we can be picked off and are at the whim of "public servants" who serve no master but themselves. Together we can speak loudly, with one voice, and advocate for a business environment that will take Moldova on the path of Poland, the Baltics and others who have broken to Soviet yolk. If you are a business and want to add your voice to our cause join us, because we are Stronger Together

(if you aren't a business and you are interested in supporting the cause and hearing more about what we're up to like us on facebook)





(Site Admin, Entrepreneur, Contributor)
David is a native of the great Commonwealth of Virginia and lived there through high school in Fairfax County. After high school he pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta Georgia. During his studies his traveled to Singapore for a semester and gained a respect and love for traveling and immersing in different cultures. After graduation David joined the United States Peace Corps and was posted first in Kazakhstan as an English Teacher and later in Moldova as a Community and Organizational Development Consultant.

When not working on his startup David can be found maintaining various web based side projects (check out: salutmoldova.org) and working on his 1986 Lada Жигули 2101 named Надя (Nadia).


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Guest Sunday, 18 April 2021