Antwerp world capital for start-ups


Antwerp has won the prestigious Global Startup Nations Award for its start-up policy. It is the first time that the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) has given the award to a city instead of a country. Previous winners have included Singapore and Chili.

Antwerp has won the award for the city's policy to stimulate start-ups. Not because the city would have the largest number of successful start-ups in the world, says's Karen Boers, member of the GEN. "The jury gave two main reasons why Antwerp has been awarded", Boers says. "Firstly, Antwerp heavily invests in digital infrastructure. But what makes the city unique, is that it doesn't focus on just one project and hasn't started its own incubator. Instead it presents itself as a go-between, bringing different parties together and aligning them. It may seem strange, but many cities take a different route and choose to focus on one project. What Antwerp is doing is a leading example for other cities. Over the years I have seen what most other cities in Europe are doing and I can honestly say that Antwerp has a pioneering approach."

Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever and alderman for Economic Affairs Philip Heylen are very happy with the award. "The creative sector in Antwerp consists of over 10.000 people", Heylen says. "For many entrepreneurs the city is small enough to test their products and services, but large enough to gain relevant data from these tests." Heylen believes that the purchasing policy of Antwerp, 'buy from start-ups', played a crucial role in winning the award. The 'buy from start-ups' programme makes it possible for new companies without official products and services to take part in public procurement. This year alone the city placed over 1 million orders at start-ups.

According to Heylen the purchasing policy is unique. "At rapid speed we are building an ecosystem for start-ups, in which government, private businesses and education are joining forces. Walking around San Francisco, the Mecca for start-ups, you will hardly see products or services by starters. In Antwerp we will soon be installing new parking signs which were developed by a start-up."

It's not just about the numbers, but still: Antwerp counts over two hundred start-ups, the second highest in our country, after Brussels. A large part is housed in the Boerentoren, right in the centre of the city. In 16 of the 26 floors of the tower start-ups have set up office. It's an initiative founded two years ago under the umbrella of KBC, which developed startit@kbc together with the University of Antwerp, iMinds, Cronos, Flanders DC, Mobile Vikings and Accenture.

"We started with almost thirty start-ups, today we are with more than ninety. The hype surrounding Silicon Valley found its way here a few years ago and now we are reaping the benefits", Lode Uytterschaut of startit@kbc says. "The city is undertaking serious efforts to give start-ups a chance. They are asking themselves the same question we did when we started: how can we support young, innovative companies and put them on the map?"

To do so, Antwerp has a start-up manager - which is quite unique - who brings different parties together, such as universities, companies, investors and entrepreneurs. "About two years ago I started out of idealism", Evert Bulcke (34) says. "During that time fantastic dynamics have formed in the city and now we are riding those waves. We are working on different projects, something the GEN jury might have taken an interest in. For example, we focus on students who we teach entrepreneurship during workshops and training sessions. Last year we also founded StartUp Village, in which start-ups who are further in their development process, as they are already hiring people and realizing turnover, are given accommodation during a three-year period. The accommodation is in two locations, one of which is in the centre of the city." Bulcke also points out the enormous growth of start-ups in Antwerp. "In the last two years we have seen the start of two hundred start-ups, not counting the incubators. That really is a lot. Of course many of them don't make it. But if you have a broad base, you have a solid pyramid. That pretty much sums up our philosophy."


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