Innovation through startups
A hub of innovation, Silicon Valley is home to the world’s most successful tech companies. Repeating this entrepreneurial success in Belgium is a priority for the government, which has encouraged colleges to set up spin-offs. Business leaders support this. According to the Federation of Belgian Enterprises, getting ideas to market quickly is ​essential for achieving success.
Guido Vandervorst, Deloitte Belgium’s Managing Partner Innovation, agrees. “Fostering innovation is a crucial factor for the survival of the Belgian economy,” he asserts. “Innovators are needed now more than ever, as globalisation and economic uncertainty have increased competition. The business landscape has changed in ways that were unimaginable five years ago and organisations must adapt and innovate to create future opportunities.” Innovation is also needed in Belgium to address major social challenges, Guido adds, such as transport mobility, environmental problems and the cost of social security.
On the plus side, Belgium has a good research base. Every major university has facilities for start-ups, mostly built around strategic research in the fields of digital, biotech and nanotechnology. And our country is already doing well in terms of incubation centres, where entrepreneurs with bright ideas can take their first steps and put a business plan together. Moreover, Belgium has a number of measures that support R&D and innovation, such as the Patent Income Deduction regime.
Yet while the European Commission report Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2014 labels Belgium an “Innovation Follower”, which denotes an innovation performance above or close to the European average, the country lies far below the European average in terms of its innovation growth percentage.
Investigating these challenges, Deloitte innovation leaders spent more than half a year in discussions with venture capitalists, business angels, incubators and universities about fostering entrepreneurship in Belgium. This exercise showed that young entrepreneurs in Belgium often have difficulty growing their start-ups into mature companies. Sam Sluismans, Partner Innovation, remarks, “It’s hard for entrepreneurs to get access to local funding. Financiers are afraid of risk. There’s also a lack of mentoring in business development, and in creating and running a company.”
Giving innovation a boost
Precisely to address these issues, in April 2014 the Deloitte Innovation Centre was inaugurated in Leuven. Deloitte Belgium was the first Deloitte member firm to launch such an initiative, constructing it on the solid foundations of our existing incubator and accelerator programmes. With our access to local and global networks, we are uniquely positioned to bring start-ups to the next level. Focusing on young technology companies active in analytics, digital, cyber security and mobility solutions, the Centre offers ​innovators intellectual capital and C-level mentoring.
“The Deloitte Innovation Centre is a great idea because young entrepreneurs need the professional support that Deloitte ​is offering.”
Jo Libeer, Managing Director, Voka (Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Flanders)
Success in this changing business world can be achieved by adopting new collaborative business models. Some companies might merge with or acquire others to increase capabilities and expand their geographic footprint. Others might form looser, more unstructured partnerships. Above all, firms that learn to embrace change and tolerate risk today will most likely flourish tomorrow.
Lieve Creten, Managing Partner Financial Advisory, Deloitte Belgium
Applications in target domains
Following the launch, the Centre received applications from 48 young companies. Of these, 19 were invited to present a pitch. Four were selected to take part in a two-year Booster Programme and 15 earned a place at a six-month Booster Academy. Both programmes began in October. The month also saw a second selection round held in Louvain-La-Neuve that attracted a further 30 applicants. Of these, six companies entered the ​Booster Programme, making a total of ten: Nallian, Sensolus, Ontoforce, Teamleader, Smappee, Proxyclick, Xpenditure, ​Ugentec, Ubench and Guardsquare. Meanwhile, booster academy sessions were held on the topics of business valuation, funding, and the legal aspects of entrepreneurship.
In another initiative, the Deloitte Innovation Centre is joining forces with ​the telecommunications company Telenet. Deloitte will provide professional services during the eight-month Telenet-Idealabs programme – from initial set-up of the companies to final negotiations with investors. “We count on the Deloitte Innovation Centre to further boost and internationalise the start-ups that we’re nurturing,” says Telenet’s Nicolas Verellen.
Guido Vandervorst adds, “By boosting entrepreneurs in this way the Deloitte Innovation Centre confirms our commitment to fostering growth in the Belgian economy and giving back to​ society.”
“The launch of the Deloitte Innovation Centre confirms our continued commitment to giving back to society in general and to the Belgian economy in particular.”
Guido Vandervorst, Managing Partner Innovation, Deloitte
Investing in the economy of tomorrow with the Deloitte Innovation Centre
Launch of the Innovation Centre, De Hoorn, Leuven, 29 April 2014