The grass isn’t necessarily greener in Silicon Valley

By Veroniek Collewaert, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School
Source: Etion; Ondernemen magazine (October 2015)

If I look at the Belgian business and finance landscape, it really doesn’t look at all bad. There are many things we do well and we should put these under the spotlight.

Plenty of measures have been put in place to help start-up entrepreneurs. Look at Bryo and Flanders District of Creativity, which are initiatives created to help ideas turn into a start-up. There are also organisations like ‘Netwerk Ondernemen’ to which start-ups can turn for coaching. Startups.be plays an important role in grouping together all these initiatives and raising awareness on them.

However, it is not only the government offering support; there are numerous private initiatives too. I am thinking of Telenet Idealabs and WeStartup. There are plenty of small business incubators emerging and there are many private initiatives targeting them. A positive climate reigns in our society. Many spontaneous initiatives grow and become filled with entrepreneurial talent.

Growing pains and taxes

The next phase is not as smooth. Growth and professionalisation is a rather more arduous task. Hence our initiative (together with Deloitte Belgium): ‘Entrepreneurship 2.0’ for young companies with growth potential. Additionally, our country’s new entrepreneurs are subject to taxes from day one. In this regard, start-ups gets no breathing space whatsoever. As an entrepreneur once commented to me, the minute you set up a business, get an address and a post box, you get your first official mail: your tax assessment letter. This is why I am a fan of the Belgian Startup Manifesto on which point number 1 is to provide start-ups with protection in the tricky early stages.

Culture and mentality

In general, however, there is nothing wrong with our country’s culture and mentality. In the past five years, I have seen students come to me who genuinely have entrepreneurs as role models. With regard to the ‘ease of doing business’, we are known around the world for being outstanding in a number of areas, such as our legal infrastructure, funding options and IT. Think of iMinds, which is respected worldwide. It is also worth noting that half of the Belgian companies that receive business angel financing are IT companies. That’s another thing we’re good at. 

Fear of failure

There is, however, an overhanging fear of failure in our country. We are risk averse and bankruptcy is still taboo. In Silicon Valley, failing is seen as part of the learning curve. Failing teaches you what not to do so you can start again. In this country, the fear of failure often stops people from starting in the first place. This is why events such as Failing Forward and FuckUp Nights—where entrepreneurs share their experiences of failures—are indispensable.

Relocating to Silicon Valley is therefore not a must. There is a lot more money there, but also more people competing for that money. It also depends on where your product, your sector and sales market are located. So no need to make the move just yet.

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