Entrepreneurship in Belgium
Background & History
Belgium is sovereign state, a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of governance. It is located in Western Europe, surrounded by The Netherlands in the north, Germany in the east, Luxembourg to the south east, France to the south west and the North Sea to the north west. With a population of 11.5 million and a land area of approximately 30000 square kilometres, it is quite densely populated.
With the Belgian revolution in 1830, Belgium became independent of The Netherlands. It is currently divided in to three regions, the Flemish region which is mainly Dutch speaking, the Walloon region which is mainly French speaking with a small percentage of the German speaking population and the Brussels capital region which is bi-lingual. Belgium is one of the six founding members of the EU. Brussels headquarters a number of international organisations such as the European Union, European Commission, European Council and NATO. It is a part of the trilateral union – Benelux which stands for Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Belgium is a high income economy, having high standards of living, healthcare, education and generally ranks high in the Human Development Index. The economy of Belgium is capitalised on the country’s central geographic location, a developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Belgium is the 14th largest economy of eurozone & 23rd largest economy of the world. Approximately 80% of Belgium’s trade is with fellow EU member states.
Belgium possessed several colonies in Africa in the 20th century, from where it sourced a lot of rubber and ivory. It is the first European country to start the Industrial revolution in the early 19th century, one of the three most industrialised nations in the world between 1830 and 1910. The Flemish region is more service oriented and the Walloon region is more industrial. Over the years there has been a great economic divide between the two regions. The Food and Beverage sector is the largest industrial sector in Belgium. Belgium is famous for its Brew and confectioneries, with over 1500 beers and more than 300 chocolatiers, it has a huge demand coming in from neighboring as well other from across the continents.
Belgium’s main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, food products, transportation equipment, and oil products. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, and food products. The economy is highly service oriented. The Brussels airport handles 80% of the air traffic, and the ports of Antwerp and Bruges share more than 80% of maritime traffic. Antwerp is a diamond hub to the world, more than 80% of all rough diamonds and 50% of polished diamonds in the world arrive in Antwerp. Diamond exports amount to 20% of the total exports from Belgium. With the air and sea traffic, Belgium is heavily congested on the roads as well. Tourism is an important sector that contributes revenue of approximately 3% of the Belgian GDP.
Entrepreneurship and Startups
Belgium ranks 46 among 190 countries in ease of doing business rankings, however it has the lowest gross start up ratio across all of the EU. Brussels the capital city ranked 62nd globally in the 2019 Startup Ecosystem Rankings and as per the Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020 it ranks amongst the top 30 emerging tech ecosystems in the world. Tech is the most popular sector for startups, followed by financial services, advertising, healthcare, manufacturing, media, retail and education. Belgium has over 2000 Tech startups, including 20 plus public ones, it is becoming the nerve center of the European startup ecosystem.
In terms of funding there are several VC funds that are investing in early stage startups. But unlike other prominent startup destinations such as London, Paris and Berlin, there is a lack of an angel investing mechanism for funding early stage startups in Belgium.
The Belgium government has taken many measures in recent years such as tax shelter for startups, reduction in administrative burdens to promote entrepreneurship. Private players are also setting up shop to develop entrepreneurship in Belgium. Startups.be is a leading platform focused on developing tech startups, through its network of investors and partners. Presence of more popular and mature startup tech hubs in the neighbourhood can be a boon for Belgium to become an alternate, virgin market for starting-up in tech or non tech sectors.