The importance of startups and scale-ups (and other innovative SMEs) for our innovative strength, dynamism and competitiveness cannot be underestimated. However, despite the progress made, entrepreneurial dynamism remains relatively low and ambitious entrepreneurship is not yet sufficiently established in Flanders. There is also need for better balance between early exits on the one hand and good anchoring of top tech companies with decision centers, R&D, production & distribution in Flanders on the other hand (see also Recommendation 6 on High-tech export).

VARIO stresses the importance of innovation ecosystems. Economic competitiveness is shifting progressively from the individual company level to competitiveness at the level of ecosystems. The large Flagship companies can take the lead in an ecosystem to drive innovation and growth, together with ambitious startups and scale-ups. Smaller companies, niche players, also have proven to be able to take on a leading role. An important lesson is that the ecosystem leader does not become too dominant so that partners in the ecosystem remain motivated to work quickly, to innovate and to grow the ecosystem.[1]

VARIO proposes a three-track policy to maximize the chances of successful young innovative companies. We also refer to VARIO Advisory Report 4 ‘Innovative High Growth Companies with Impact’:

  1. Increasing the number of ambitious entrepreneurs in the long term: we should strengthen ambitious entrepreneurship at all levels of education as an explicit task of VLAIO[2] and its partnerships. More needs to be done with hands-on learning processes (from an early age) in which entrepreneurship in practice is more strongly stimulated such as for creating a business plan with a real budget, customer experience.
  2. In the shorter term, we should stimulate more foreign top talent for ambitious entrepreneurship: Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT)[3] can play an important role together with VLAIO and our knowledge institutions. We refer to Advisory Report 4 ‘Innovative High Growth Firms with Impact[4] in which VARIO asks to provide startup and scale-up visas in order to attract foreign entrepreneurs more easily.
  3. Strengthening the quality of the macroeconomic context: more attention should be paid to the gaps or bottlenecks in the local macroeconomic context in which ambitious entrepreneurs operate. VARIO points to a recent analysis of the macroeconomic context by Leendertse, Schrijvers, & Stam (2020)[5] which also includes the macroeconomic context for each of the Belgian provinces. Is there enough talent available locally? Is there enough venture capital available?... This analysis is an important diagnostic tool for the local stakeholders, urban and provincial governments (sector federations, POMs[6], SALK Turbo[7]...) to work on a high-quality macroeconomic context in synergy with the more central Flemish (and Belgian) governments.

[1] De Meyer & Williamson (2020). Ecosystems edge. Sustaining competitiveness in the face of disruption. Stanford Business Books. https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=31495
[2] VLAIO is the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship: https://www.vlaio.be/nl/andere-doelgroepen/flanders-innovation-entrepreneurship
[3] Flanders Investment & Trade: https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/language_selection?destination=%3Cfront%3E
[4] English abstract available on: https://www.vario.be/en/publications/advisory-report-4-innovative-high-growth-firms-impact-0
[5] https://www.uu.nl/sites/default/files/REBO_USE_WP_2020_01%20update%20May%202020.pdf
[6] POM corresponds to Provincial (Economic) Development Agency
[7] SALK Turbo is a new action plan to strengthen and to accelerate the economy in the Belgian province of Limburg: https://www.salkturbo.be/over-salk-turbo/