As UK startups begin to look abroad to counter the potential effects of Brexit, one place in particular seems to be attracting their attention: Flanders.
A mere two-hour train ride away from London, Flanders – the autonomous northern region of Belgium – is going to great lengths to accommodate these internationalizing businesses in a start-up ecosystem boosted by tight collaborations between research, government and industry players.
Entrepreneurial hub across the Channel
A vibrant start-up scene over 1,500 companies strong is flourishing in Flanders, with the city of Ghent is its start-up capital: a title it owes to flourishing business cases such as Showpad, Engager, TeleAtlas and Drupal. Cities including Antwerp, Hasselt, Leuven and Mechelen complete the top 5 list of start-up hubs in Flanders.
B2B technology as a strong suit
Flanders – and Belgium as a whole – has the largest number of B2B-oriented scale-ups in Europe. This puts it right on trend, as more than half of European tech scale-ups are business-to-business.
“A major factor contributing to Flanders’ fertile ground for tech start-ups is the support they get from research centres that tie together government, business and academic players”, explains Ben De Smit, Economic and Commercial Counsellor at Flanders Investment & Trade in London.
“This steady cross-pollination is without a doubt one of the reasons why Flanders’ research system ranks 4th in Europe according to the most recent European Innovation Scoreboard. Our region’s strategic research centres – imec, VIB, VITO and Flanders Make – are globally renowned in their respective niches: nano- and digital tech; life sciences and biotech; cleantech, energy and materials; and product and process technology.”
Start-ups reap the rewards of this innovative ecosystem on an international scale. Take Bloomlife, a spin-off of Flanders’ imec research centre for micro- and nanotech and digital innovation, which ranks 3rd on the list of Europe’s most influential university research centres. The successful spin-off company develops smart wearables for pregnancy tracking and monitoring, and last year managed to raise another $4 million during a funding round in Silicon Valley.
Spearheading innovation, covering the costs
Innovation is as much about money as it is about knowledge. Flanders offers access to grants and incentives to companies looking to set up their R&D activities in the region. The innovation income deduction allowing companies to deduct up to 85 percent of their net innovation earnings from their corporate tax base. Other benefits include R&D payroll tax incentives, tax credits for R&D investments and structural funding from Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship covering up to 80% of the total cost of an R&D project.