Brussels digital startups raise record amount

Sarhan Basem

Brussels, (Brussels Morning)- During the first half of this year, investors invested €330 million in Brussels digital startups, more than in all of 2020, technology federation Agoria reports. The Brussels tech companies have considerably more difficulty than the Flemish ones to grow internationally.

Brussels has the largest number of startups in our country and also the most tech startups. These are companies that market a digital product that has the potential to grow very quickly. Sometimes they sell hardware as well as software, such as the well-known bicycle manufacturer Cowboy.

Over the past six months, these digital growth companies in Brussels have raised more than 330 million euros, according to BRUZZ. “That is already a third more than in the whole of 2020,” says René Konings, manager of Agoria Brussels. In that year, the Brussels tech startups collected 214 million euros. In 2021, the total amount raised rose to 550 million. Corona clearly boosted the digital business sector.

Judging by the first six months, 2022 will be an even better year. Moreover, the capital raised is more evenly distributed. Last year’s 550 million went for the most part to two tech companies: Collibra, the first Belgian unicorn (a company that is worth a billion euros before going public), was good for 215 million while the financial startup IbanFirst signed for 200 million .

big bite

“Now the capital is spread over about thirty companies,” says Frederik Tibau, digital innovation expert at Agoria. Kpler, a startup that supplies data to commodity traders, is going to take a very big bite, 185 million euros, but a number of other startups also managed to get hefty sums. Cowboy raised seventy million euros, solar panel company Energy Vision twenty million, the financial startup Moneytrans eleven million and e-commerce company Pharmasimple ten million. Collibra is also back in the list with 9 million euros.

Most investors are Belgian, says Tibau. “But the really large sums come from foreign investors.”

The Brussels tech sector is therefore improving in terms of investment pace. Tibau: “This indicates that the Brussels ecosystem is becoming more mature and that more and more companies are gradually being able to take a stand internationally.”

This has been a problem until now. Figures from Agoria and Sirris show that barely eighteen percent of the Brussels startups, less than one in five, open an antenna abroad, compared to 67 percent of the Flemish startups. And the share of Brussels startups that take over a company abroad is 22 percent, compared to 61 percent in Flanders.

“In Flanders, the ecosystem is more mature,” Tibau explains this difference. “You have more second generation entrepreneurs , entrepreneurs with experience and a good network at home and abroad, who have good contacts with investors and are willing to help young companies. For example, a while ago in Ghent, an entire ecosystem was created around Netlog, the European Facebook. In Brussels you have fewer of those experienced tech entrepreneurs and the entire ecosystem is a bit slower to get off the ground. Many Brussels startups therefore get stuck in the startup phase, they spread their wings internationally less quickly than the Flemish ones.”

Scale-up

It is precisely this internationalisation that is important to grow from start-up to scale-up. Tibau: “In the start-up phase, the company is often still testing and most of the customers are in Belgium. You are not a scale-up until your product is fully geared to the demand and you are ready for the international market. But the rule is: whoever takes the fastest international share wins. And to be able to quickly conquer an international share, money is needed. That is why it is a good sign that the Brussels tech startups are raising more and more money. Brussels is on the right track.”

To help young digital growth companies in Brussels with their internationalisation, Agoria, together with the regional agency hub.brussels, has just launched the scale.brussels project. For example, a manual with practical tips and a step-by-step plan will be distributed.

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Brussels Morning is a daily online newspaper based in Belgium. BM publishes unique and independent coverage on international and European affairs. With a Europe-wide perspective, BM covers policies and politics of the EU, significant Member State developments, and looks at the international agenda with a European perspective.
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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.