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Entrepreneurship and expat startup trends in Belgium

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Entrepreneurs in Belgium may have an easier time finding the funds to launch their startups, especially as the startup ecosystem in Belgium heats up.

Starting a business in Belgium doesn’t often require cutting through as much red tape and clearing so many hurdles as in other countries, which makes it far more attractive to expats looking to build their own businesses. But the fact that it’s simply easier to start a business isn’t all the country has — there’s plenty of investors, too. In fact, Belgium has seen a remarkable increase in funding for financial technology (fintech) deals as well as others in the past year, pushing it towards becoming a leader in the space.

Quentin Nerincx of BNP Paribas Fortis reviews the startup ecosystem in Belgium, and how hopeful entrepreneurs in Belgium can find investors and get the funding they need to succeed. 


BNP Paribas Fortis offers a comprehensive network of specialised branches for expats, with extended opening hours. Their specialist multilingual advisers are happy to answer all your questions whenever it suits you best.

Current startup ecosystem in Belgium

Not only has the number of fintech deals increased — tech companies raised a total of €150 million across 41 deals in 2016 to land in the top five in Europe behind only the UK, Germany, France and Sweden — the number of venture capital-backed companies has increased. From 2010 to 2016, according to the OECD’s 2017 Entrepreneurship at a Glance report, the number of venture capital-backed companies increased about 35%, one of the highest increases in western Europe. 

The most popular regions in Belgium for startups is, naturally, Brussels with 30% of startups choosing to settle there; however, Antwerp and East Flanders, the latter of which comprises the city of Ghent, are not far behind. Wallonia does admittedly lag behind its Dutch-speaking counterpart, but the region is, like the country overall, becoming more attractive.

Tech is by far the most popular sector for startups. In Belgium, health-related tech leads the way — recently, a Leuven-based healthcare IT startup raised over EUR 1 million, for example — followed by tech in the advertising and financial industries. Manufacturing, however, has broken through to land in the third spot among the top 10 industries for startups. Tech in the HR, education and media industries have also made the list, joined by the retail, mobility and security industries.

Business-to-business (B2B) also far exceeds business-to-consumer (B2C) startups at 72 to 28%, respectively.  

Finding the funds: getting interested investors

Where you get your funding as a startup in Belgium largely depends on the stage you are currently operating — startups that have just been founded shouldn’t expect to get a windfall from venture capitalists, but there is money to be had.


Funding for startups: pre-seed and seed stages

Pre-seed, startups generally rely on the 3Fs — i.e. friends, families, and fools — but crowdfunding, a relatively new way to raise capital for startups, has gained steam.

There are plenty of local platforms for crowdfunding opportunities in Belgium, such as angel.me, Hello Crowd, Look&Fin, MyMicroInvest, Ecco Nova, and crofun.be; these crowdfunding platforms all connect entrepreneurs with investors. Kickstarter is an internationally known crowdfunding platform, and has famously raised as much as USD 20 million for a single project. These platforms can largely operate on luck, however — if your idea is picked up by a social media platform, you may see funds pouring in from all over the world. If not, you may be waiting for months or even years for money to trickle in.

Funding for startups: early stage

Angel investors, which are often successful, wealthy entrepreneurs or simply rich individuals, often fund at the seed and early stages of a startup. Angel investors can also form part of a group, dubbed an angel group, to pool their money to fund a particularly interested (and/or expensive) startup. Finding angel investors can be done via the aforementioned online platforms, but they are also often found by simply networking and knowing the right people.

Finding the right angel investor can be difficult, but all is not lost for early-stage startups. Accelerators and incubators are built to help startups grow and fund their businesses, but the two are not created equal. A startup incubator helps those who are still in the early stages — i.e. the entrepreneurs have an idea, but no business model — and work with open-ended timeframes. An accelerator, on the other hand, help startups grow fast within a set timeframe. Both accept startups after an application process, but accelerators are often a bit pickier: since they work with startups that are ready for rapid expansion, startups with fully formed business plans are often selected over those still working on ironing out the details.

There are plenty of startup accelerators and incubators in Belgium, such as Co-Station, LeanSquare and imec.istart, and they are increasing in popularity — keeping up with the influx of new startups in the country.


Funding for startups: ABC round and late-stage

In the latter stages of a startup, more traditional investment models come into play, including venture capital investment firms. VCs are often only accessible to startups with experienced teams, clear business plans and a roadmap to success. If you have already participated in an accelerator or incubator programme, the mentors with whom you have worked and the business network you have developed can help you get your foot in the door.

Startups that have seen success and are already on their way to making a good amount of money then have two options: to go public (an IPO, or initial public offering) or to go the M&A route, in which you merge or sell your startup — giving you the opportunity to start all over again.

Entrepreneurship in Belgium is getting more exciting thanks to the attractive startup ecosystem. With plenty of funding opportunities, entrepreneurs may find in Belgium a new home.  

 
 

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