Interaction, its complexity and its value are the best barometer of a society’s innovative potential. A society that interacts with a growing lexical field, is a society that evolves, creates and discovers new things. Brussels, the second most multicultural city in the world (right behind Dubai) is a crossroads for ideas, languages, interests, skills and social backgrounds. However, Brussels doesn’t only host diversity, but also fosters a great deal of ideas, ideals and debates.
This objective observation leads us to a fair question: is Brussels a city with communities that exchange knowledge, work and build together or are they isolated? Are they culturally and professionally secluded, as if they were impenetrable castes? And also: does this diversity offers us any benefits?
“Not enough,” I feel, and my feeling is backed up by various lists ranking the most innovative cities in Europa, in which Brussels often doesn’t even break the top twenty. As a citizen, entrepreneur and user with a sense of ownership, I’m very much convinced that diversity is an incentive for creativity, a source of innovation and the driving force of successful entrepreneurship. In this opinion piece I want to offer a valid way to approach tech entrepreneurship. A possible path.
First, we need to gather as much diversity as possible in one and the same place, create a framework wherein all parties involved can develop their potential. Spaces that are open to general tech themes are the ideal spot to host and encourage them. Luckily, Brussels has seen the coming of quite some of these spaces where projects are joined (BeCentral, Digityser, Molengeek, Microfactory, fablab Imal / Erasmus, Icab, Casernes, Betech…) and where English is slowly turning into the vehicular language. These spaces attract individuals with immensely varying tech profiles: entrepreneurs, artists, tech lovers, speakers, curious people, autodidacts, students and many other parties – they are truly a melting pot and therefore a good reflection of the Belgian tech community.
When we think of technology’s advantages, our mind immediately goes to the financial aspect, but there’s more in it than that. Technology is a strict referee who can’t be influenced by subjective opinions and/or other prejudices. It’s zero or one. Talent doesn’t have a name, especially not during intense discussions concerning the best technological solution for a certain problem. Equivalent expertise generates respect and an exchange of knowledge that is beneficial for everyone. In order to evolve and grow, peers have to be able to interact freely and employ all their capacities. They will have to deal with other ways of thinking, social classes and cultures. All of them, whether they are startups, established companies, self-employed people or simply fans. Sharing knowledge and helping each other are essential characteristics of IT technologies.
However, a big con of technology is that, because of the current hectic economic landscape, it has a tendency to dehumanise, isolate and become a goal in itself, which can negatively impact society. Zero or one, without flexibility or care for the society itself… Overcoming technical challenges can be so exhilarating that we lose track of societal goals; those who let themselves be ruled by numbers, may be blinded the rush of successfully cracking them.
This possible abuse is more or less controlled in Brussels thanks to its thematic co-working spaces. Brussels, which contains a great deal of brains, fields of expertise, nationalities, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, ambiences and opinions, offers an (ultra)competitive advantage with regard to ethical, high-level brainstorming about nearly all topics concerning the citizens and their role in the city. Having access to these space in a radius of 10 km provides a great opportunity to develop ideas, decisions and concepts – and this is possible in Brussels.
We are witnessing an osmosis between communities with varying technical skills and ideas, but the way we approach the concept of creativity is still too abstract. On a regional level, we need to be more concrete in order to make way for innovation and successful companies.
Brussels benefits from a fertile soil, but lacks the spark perceived in other, more innovative European cities. Besides implementing subsidies for many different educational forms, more mixed networking, a better fiscal climate, a stronger sense of liberalism and a search for wanted but socially accepted profile, what can be done to spark that flame that will in turn set in motion a vicious circle of innovation?
What about (sharing) experience? This can be a source for inspiration allowing us to reach our goal, providing us with directions and showing us what’s possible. When we look further than our many internal borders, we broaden our vision. Guidance from an experienced and seasoned entrepreneur who has already left their mark, saves time and generates higher success rates.
There are a some Brussels entrepreneurs who have succeeded in starting a company with a current worth of five to ten million euros. Companies who are worth more than fifty million – a glass ceiling – are terra incognita over here. If we want to explore those horizons, we need to own very specific skills, a local ecosystem with branched and common expert knowledge, a favourable fiscal climate and a non-innate maturity requiring guidance in most cases. Projects which can develop into business surpassing the highest estimates can only exist in an ecosystems of doers, entrepreneurs, skills and an average estimate, which also means that room for competition has to be created stimulating good management. In short, we need an ever-evolving community.
This so happens to be the ambition of accelerator Ubiz: guidance by established values and international business development (biz dev). This accelerator, which will start operating in Brussels in the second quarter of 2019, focuses on societal and industrial topics as well as on Africa. Its target groups include startups and scaleups with a solid management who already make a certain amount of profit and wish to develop their business internationally.
In conclusion, I observe that Brussels has a fertile soil with all the necessary ingredients to cook up a strong innovative ecosystem with a possibly forceful impact on society – something that cannot be said for some other cities – however, what Brussels lacks, is a spark, an electroshock shaking its easy status quo. I believe that sharing experience is key. I believe that it is the flame that will push entrepreneurs to consider Londen, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam as logistic markets to which they travel back and forth, generating important contracts, providing energy in difficult times, stimulating brainstorming about external growth (through acquisition), creating jobs and training people, making them invest in tomorrow’s products, encouraging them to go public with their companies… In short, the flame which will push them to go further than they thought they would.
You can read also on : https://bric.brussels/en/news_publications/cartes-blanches/diversity-the-driving-force-of-brussels-tech-entrepreneurship