Belgian startup scene at full speed, but with growing pains

Scale-up founders meet Prime Minister Alexander De Croo  and discuss obstacles and solutions for startups in Belgium

Ghent, June 29, 2021 - At the initiative of Startups.be | Scale-Ups.eu, Prime Minister De Croo met with the founders of several Belgian scale-ups to analyze the Belgian startup landscape. Although Belgian growth companies experienced a record year of investments in 2020, and the milestone of €1 billion in investments was exceeded, they face structural challenges. In Ghent, they discussed the lack of large investment rounds and IPOs, the acute shortage of top Belgian profiles and the diversity issue with the absence of female founders, among others. All this with the aim of proposing possible solutions and measures to provide Belgian startups with the necessary support for additional growth and development.  

Startups.be | Scale-Ups.eu brought Prime Minister Alexander De Croo together with a delegation of experienced top entrepreneurs: Stijn Christiaens,co-founder of Collibra (the only Belgian unicorn to date); Louis Jonckheere,co-founder of pre-unicorn Showpad, and Leslie Cottenjé, co-founder of Hello Customer. Together with Charlotte Gréant, general manager, and Bruno Vandegehuchte, head of investor relations at Startups.be | Scale-Ups.eu, some of the pain points that emerged from a comparison between the European and global investment and tech scene were discussed. They are structural obstacles that slow down the growth speed of our tech startups.  

"It's the investment, stupid!"

  • 65% of our startups seek additional funding
  • Belgian startups did well during Covid. Only Sweden, France and Finland also saw further growth in its startup investments in 2020  
  • Belgian startups crossed the 1 billion investment threshold in 2020 for the first time,roughly ten times more than 10 years ago
  • The lion's share of investments remains below 5 million, with no major rounds and stagnant growth into world players
  • First Belgian software as a service-tech IPO Unified Post
  • 300 billion on savings bonds, with 40 million too limited as investments through Federal startup tax shelter  

Talent & entrepreneurship

  • Belgium dangles in the low middle ground (place 15) according to number of startups per capita
  • Only 8 percent companies are startups, although 2 in 3 Belgian startups survive longer than 5 years, low risk culture and golden cage principle
  • With 2,692 hires planned by 2021, scale-ups lead the way in job creation in Belgium
  • Taxes on labor and the a priori cost on stock options remain a thorn in the side

Diversity

  • Male bastion across Europe: 91% of all European investments go to 100% male teams
  • Estimates 9.9% of founders are women (Belgium 2018 report)
  • 10% of Belgian startup funding goes to startups founded by women  
"Our Prime Minister was particularly captivated and knowledgeable about the startup landscape and what boosts and slows down our startups. Together with the top entrepreneurs present, we discussed with him, among other things, ways to solve the problem of attracting talent, the salary burden and the golden cage that inhibits top people from choosing for a startup. We also discussed the often affordable tax rate on equity bonds as renumeration within fast-growing scale-ups, the digital skill sets within education and the current momentum to collaborate more, in function of more efficient government services." said Bruno Vandegehuchte after the meeting.