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Here’s where innovative start-ups are the most successful

Belgium, specifically its northern region of Flanders, is the place to be for start-ups that want to make it past the five-year milestone to become scale-ups. Olivier Van Orshoven, an entrepreneurship expert at Flanders Investment & Trade, shares his views on what makes Flanders stand out. This opinion article first appeared on LinkedIn.

3D printed lights

“Five years: that’s the magic age for start-ups everywhere. Once you’ve reached that milestone, your future as an innovative entrepreneur starts to look very bright—and your chances of turning your start-up into a successful scale-up skyrocket. According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, no place in Europe provides a more advantageous environment for reaching that landmark company age than Belgium and its autonomous northern region, Flanders.

Increasingly complex logistics

In fact, a whopping 61.8% of start-ups founded in Belgium and Flanders in 2009 were still active 5 years later. As such, the country and region are way ahead of economic heavyweights such as France (43.7%), the UK (40.7%), Spain (40.2%) and Germany (39%). If you know Flanders like I do, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, when kicking off an innovative business in Flanders, entrepreneurs enter a close-knit and supportive R&D community that itself does what every innovative enterprise should do: cluster expertise, think global from square one and foster talent.

Clustering expertise

To innovate successfully, you must not only keep an open mind, you also need to bring together bright minds from various backgrounds. That’s exactly what Flanders’ cluster policy has been successfully doing since the 1980s. Albeit relatively small in size, the region is home to five universities that work closely with companies, competence centers and government institutes to innovate in line with societal and industrial needs—spawning promising start-ups by the day.

According to the 2017 European Innovation Scoreboard, Flanders even ranks as European #1 when it comes to R&D collaborations between the academic, public and private sectors. This is most evident at Flanders’ four strategic research centers, which are backed by the government and easily accessed by businesses. Their research covers some of the world’s most advanced domains, including digital and nanotech (imec), biotech (VIB), sustainable technology (VITO) and smart industry (Flanders Make).

Thinking global from square one

Innovation has no borders—and in today’s complex and interconnected society, neither does commercializing it. Few economies understand this necessity like Flanders does. Having a relatively small domestic market, the region is internationally minded by default. Flanders and Belgium as a whole constitute the #1 most globalized economy in the world (2018 KOF Globalization Index).

This international drive undoubtedly fuels Flanders’ start-up scene, but it doesn’t end there. Within an area of only 13,522 km2, the region offers access to 3 international airports, 4 seaports and one of the world’s densest road and railroad systems—connecting innovative businesses to commercial centers around the world in no time.

But Flanders is also a great place to attract international profiles that can help you turn your innovations into worldwide commercial successes. With 182 nationalities calling Brussels home, Flanders’ capital is the world’s 2nd-most cosmopolitan city (2015 World Migration Report) and Europe’s #1 expat destination (2017 Skyline Europe report). To give an additional example: Antwerp, one of the region’s biggest cities, comes close, with over 150 nationalities.

Fostering talent

The war for talent is waged heavily in innovative business segments. But instead of focusing solely on winning it, start-ups and entrepreneurs can also take a different approach by proactively developing the talent right in front of you. In Flanders, start-ups and scale-ups can easily work with and under the wings of universities and university colleges. This not only allows you to leverage the bright minds these institutes nurture, but also to help shape their talent and skills in line with industry needs.

To give you an idea of how this can benefit your business: today, Flanders is already home to the world’s 3rd-most talented workforce according to the 2017 IMD World Competitiveness Ranking. Talk about skillful shoulders to innovate on!”

Come and see for yourself

If you want to find out firsthand what it means to innovate in Flanders, SuperNova is the place to be. Organized in Antwerp from 27 to 30 September 2018, this unique event enables entrepreneurs, professionals and creative minds to connect and get inspired by the solutions, technologies and insights of tomorrow. To find out how to meet up with Flanders Investment & Trade and many other experts and specialists that can assist you, check out

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Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade
27 September 2018

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