Most people have heard of Silicon Valley, the concentrated area of innovation in California. Many big names, such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, come from the United States. In Europe, the tech centres seem to be London and Paris; but did you know there is a growing tech scene in Belgium?
If you were asked to name a successful, multi-national Belgian enterprise, you might answer Solvay, the chemical and plastics conglomerate. Photographic and imaging company, AGFA, is another well-known Belgian company. But what about more recent technology companies?
Belgium may be known for beer and chocolate, but it isn’t internationally renowned as a hot bed of new technology startups. However, the number of startups has increased dramatically over the past few years as has the network which supports them.
Areas such as Brussels, Gent, Mons and Louvain-la-Neuve are quickly becoming startup hubs, mainly because of the proximity to universities and technology centers.
Organisations that promote new companies are sprouting up all over Belgium. Here are just a few such organizations:
- Betagroup, started in 2008, brings together entrepreneurs once a month to hear 5-minute presentations from new startups. They also run a co-working space in Etterbeek and promote events such as the Startup Weekend.
- westartup is building a community of people interested in starting, joining or investing in a new company. Founder, Leo Exter, is also involved with the Startup Weekend and Bizcamp.
- bizcamp.be is a free ‘unconference’ featuring entrepreneurs sharing information in short presentations throughout the day.
- startups.be is a non-profit association of members whose goal is to support entrepreneurs.
- Boostcamp, organized by the Microsoft Innovation Center Brussels, provides 15 days of workshops and training sessions to help entrepreneurs build their business.
There are many more, but those are a great starting point. If you get involved, you’ll notice there are active people working hard to support and promote Belgian startups.
You don’t have to look far to see the effect of this evolution. The following are Belgian companies who are making waves internationally:
- Storify – a website which converts social media into stories
- TwitSpark – a tool which enables organizations to use Twitter as a support channel
- CheckThis – a website which allows you to create a page that is between nothing and a blog
- Djengo – which aims to make car pooling easier.
- There is also WonderGraphs, LovelyCharts, WooRank, Netlog, OpenERP, Drupal … the list gets bigger everyday.
There is a lot of innovation in Belgium and outside investors are starting to notice. Both TwitSpark and CheckThis have recently secured venture capital.
In my experience, Belgians are reserved about their accomplishments, so you need to dig a bit beneath the surface to learn what is happening. This is why a friend and I started a podcast, called Tech Brew.
Each episode of Tech Brew features an interview with a Belgian technology-related company. Our goal is to learn more about their company, where the idea came from, and what they’ve learned along the way. You can also find Tech Brew on Facebook where we share recent news and upcoming events.
Looking to start your own co-working space? Ramon Suarez, co-founder of the Betacowork space in Brussels, recently released a handbook. You can buy it on Amazon:
There are a lot of exciting companies starting up in Belgium and I’m optimistic about continued growth. Communities like Silicon Valley thrive because innovation feeds off innovation, which then turns into experience, as ideas are built into businesses.
Here in Belgium, the community is building and the early results are very positive. The next step is to incorporate the experience of those early results into the community, to learn from past successes and failures.
Are you involved in the Belgian startup scene? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments or on Facebook!
Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.