Setting Up a Startup in Brussels: Is it Worth It?

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Like its European city-neighbors, Brussels is also a competitive hub when it comes to business and entrepreneurship. In a 2016 ranking of best cities for startups compiled by the European Digital City Index, the Belgian capital landed on the 17th spot – just closely behind Manchester and Oxford. This ranking however means that Brussels is still quite far behind more aggressive and established cities such as London and Paris which ranked 1st and 5th in the list respectively.

 

However, this does not mean that Brussels does not have a lot of potential. In fact, as a cultural and political hotspot, the city already has a growing startup scene. Compared to other major European cities, Brussels is also smaller in area and population – which actually works to its advantage. The city boasts of less pollution because majority of people can simply travel around using bikes.

 

For those who are still in doubt, below are several reasons why setting up a startup in Brussels is actually worth it:

 

SUPPORTIVE INVESTING ENVIRONMENT

Brussels has a fair network of investors and accelerators. That includes Microsoft’s Innovation Centre which serves as a bootcamp for startups. Microsoft had been known to support and partner up with startups that specialize in cloud technology, the latest being Cronos in 2017.

 

Aside from that, Brussels is home to a wide array of angel investors and venture capitalist (VC) firms. Startups of course, are welcome to pitch in their ideas and get funding from these investors. This includes CVC Capital Partners, a global VC firm, Incorporated Angels and Merapar which concentrates in innovative media and telecommunication technologies.

 

Startup founders could also find a lot of support from the entrepreneurial community of Brussels. Some of the support even come from big names! The Microsoft Innovation Centre supports companies who are into cloud technology and softwares as a service (SaaS). The European Union (EU) also hosts an annual event called “Unconvention” where both investors and innovators can meetup. Significantly, Google also hosts its own startup event, named Google Startup Weekend.

 

STRATEGIC LOCATION AND GREAT OFFICE OPTIONS

Brussels is not short on work spaces if that is what you are worried about. You do have to note though that rental rates in this city are quite high compared to its nearby countries. However, “room-sharing” is a thing among entrepreneurs in Brussels. This means that 2 or more companies can work in one office space together – basically like in a coworking space!

 

A well-known coworking space in Brussels is The Loft which is quite popular for being a business center where freelancers and small companies converge. Factory Forty and #betacowork are great spaces too.

 

Aside from that, the city’s location is very accessible by train. You can go from Paris to Brussels in just 90 minutes or from London to Brussels in 2 hours. This is advantageous for foreign entrepreneurs and those who do business in different parts of Europe.

 

TALENTED & HIGHLY EDUCATED POPULATION

You won’t be short of talented and highly educated people here in Brussels. 1 in 3 of the total population holds a masters degree. The city is also a melting pot of European culture – with French, Dutch and English people coming in and out of the city.

 

ACCESS TO POLICY-MAKERS AND GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

Brussels is considered the capital of Europe, and that is because all the big influencers are here. Aside from the EU, the city is also home of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This gives great international support and funding for competitive startups in the city.

 

Of course, doing business and trade in Brussels also comes with the benefit of taxes and trade by virtue of it being an EU member. Going international is also not a problem when you start out in Brussels due to its multilingual and culturally diverse environment.

 

This cultural diversity however is a problem among most businesses in Brussels. These differences come with  several marketing challenges, and it becomes harder to break into the market without learning at least two different languages (aside from English). Some entrepreneurs might also be put off by the high tax rates and higher cost of living in Brussels, but the city also offers deductions and incentives in terms of capital cost and patent income.