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Belgian startups on the rise

The Belgian startup scene is booming. 2016 was a record year for fundraising, and the country’s startup culture is growing.

Belgian startups raised a record €320 million in 2016, according to SIRRIS, a 22% increase over 2015. 88,419 new companies were established in Belgium last year, and Belgium is currently ranked 15th of 137 countries in the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEDI). Belgium is catching up with its neighbors where startups are concerned.

In fact, Belgian startups have the highest success rate in Europe, with two-thirds of new companies surviving for longer than the pivotal first five years. However, startup rates are relatively low, which could be the result of Belgians’ cautious nature. Despite the welcoming environment for SMEs and the relative ease of starting a company in Belgium, the ‘fear of failure’ rate is 48.5%, far higher than the European average of 39.1%.

US-Belgium connection

Many Belgian startups are interested in breaking into the US market. BelCham’s Atelier, a co-working space for “Belgians with US ambitions,” continues to welcome more and more companies in New York and San Francisco. In March, Startups.be organized a Belgian delegation to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas for the first time. Frederik Tibau, Content Director at Startups.be, suggested that US and Belgian startups may be complementary, since “the American tech industry mostly focuses on B2C, while Europe and Belgium excel at B2B.” Indeed, Silicon Valley investments in Belgian startups are increasing, and US companies are also finding attractive takeover targets in Belgium, as evidenced by INTTRA’s recent acquisition of Antwerp-based Avantida in the logistics sector.

Stimulating entrepreneurship

Improvements have partly been driven by a policy turn towards promoting entrepreneurship in recent years. In 2015, the Belgian Government launched a tax shelter for investments in startups. New legislation that entered into force in February further extends tax shelters for crowdfunding investments, which could help boost fundraising.

Minister of Finance Johan Van Overtveldt has also recently announced his intention to create two funds facilitating access to finance for startups. The key is assisting companies to acquire funding in the scale-up phase, when they need significant additional capital and resources. Scale-up funding has traditionally been very challenging in Europe and in Belgium in particular. The ultimate goal is not providing direct financing, but facilitating access to funding – for instance, through tax incentives. AmCham Belgium supports and encourages these efforts to further improve fundraising opportunities for dynamic new companies and realize the growth potential of the Belgian startup scene.

Photo credit: flickr / Giorgio Montersino

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