Could we be a little more positive sometimes?

On the advantages of starting up a company in Belgium

Source: Trends (22/02/2018); Author: Veroniek Collewaert, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School

Last week I read an article about how difficult it is for European venture capitalists to get their new funds together. A catchy headline, of course. And since I am just as susceptible to catchy headlines as you are, I clicked on it eagerly. But, after one page of scrolling, this caught my eye: despite the fact that VCs have to make a bit more effort to get the necessary investment resources together, there is a definite trend for European entrepreneurs to become more ambitious and more competent in developing ever-larger enterprises. Hallelujah! This is the news that I would emphasise! Bud sadly, bad news sells better. Indeed you can take that pretty literally. Studies have already shown that more negative headlines produce higher sales.

So, allow me to elucidate the positive aspects. People often ask me whether they should start a company in Belgium or somewhere else. Opinions, even amongst entrepreneurs, are divided. My own opinion? I think Belgium has a lot to offer. Top talent, to start with. Our universities are among the global best in terms of education in engineering sciences (incl. computer sciences), medicine, life sciences, psychology, economics and so on. And yes, here too there is competition for top talent. Since many Belgian growth companies are active in the ICT industry, it should be no surprise that developers are enthusiastically sought after on the job market. But for a software engineer in Silicon Valley you quickly have to pay at least three times as much as here. Moreover, the competition is cut-throat. Every trick in the book is used to poach employees from under each other’s noses. Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook now offer their female employees the chance to have their eggs frozen, for example. In California, the rule is ‘at-will employment’. Unless their contract states otherwise, employees can leave without giving any notice. And they do. Whereas here it is (too?) hard to leave or to let someone go, in California it is extremely (too?) easy. Nor should it be any surprise that salaries are a good deal higher there. So is the cost of living. One way or the other, 30% to 40% of venture capital invested in the Bay area apparently goes to real estate. Ghent might not be the cheapest city to live in, but it is still not San Francisco. Fortunately. And finally, we are not lacking a reputation either. Look at our biotech sector – it is talked about and extolled all over the world.

So, there is no reason not to start here. There are more than enough good initiatives ready to give you a helping hand. Are you looking for a co-founder? Go to Bryo, take part in a hackathon, check the calendar on and you’re ready to go. Looking for financing? Maybe you should begin by checking out the subsidies. Google ‘subsidiedatabank’ and you can get started. Remember you can find subsidies at just about every imaginable level, from local to provincial, regional or federal (long live Belgium!). Once you are up and running, there are all sorts of organisations that will help you to grow. Role models like Rudi Mariën, Annie Vereecken, Jürgen Ingels, Louis Jonckheere, Pieterjan Bouten, Davy Kestens and many others all contribute to making entrepreneurship widely accessible. No-nonsense, both feet on the ground and hard work – that is how it goes here in Belgium and we do it jolly well!

Veroniek Collewaert is professor of Entrepreneurship and partner at the Vlerick Business School and KU Leuven. She is also the director of the Entrepreneurship 2.0 programme for scale-ups, programme director of the Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship, an advisor to various scale-ups, and a member of the Board of BAN Flanders.

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