Almost 8 years ago I moved from Belgium to Türkiye, not so much because of the country but because of emotions and closing a chapter. People still get surprised when I explain that I moved to Türkiye because of love and discovered many other great reasons after the move. One of the things that surprised me a lot in Türkye was the size of everything, from bridges to shopping malls to universities. Specifically for universities also the presence of private universities and what completely struck me was the cost of a good education. There are very good state universities but limited and an amazing number of private secondary schools. I felt sorry for all the parents who want the best for their children especially comparing with the Belgian education system, state-funded and of high quality.
Still following up on what happens on the startup scene in Belgium it keeps surprising me. 11 million people, less than Istanbul, 4 governments (too complex to explain), 3 official languages and on top English, almost 1.5 immigrants (EU and Non-EU combined), 50 years ago the last political deadly victim. Complex but settled you would think. It is not. When I organised AppsMarathon, under Mobile Monday, in Brussels in 2010, a competition for the best apps on mobile, I was already impressed by the eagerness and quality of new startups. When I read the article in De Tijd (Flemish) summarizing the investments in the first semester of 2020 in Belgium I was very impressed.
During the summer, 140 million Euro’s were collected through 13 rounds. The last one for Miracor with 24 million Euro. This MedTech company developed a technology to reduce the damage after a heart attack. For 3 years in a row, now almost 750 million was invested and 2020 already broke the record of last year. Over half, 420 million, goes to BioTech companies.
The biggest round was for another Bio-Tech company, Iteos Therapeutics, with a round of 114 million Euro from American investors. Before that Iteos already got listed. Collibra, a Data Intelligence Company secured a round of 103 million and is now the first unicorn of Belgium valued at 2,3 billion Dollar. Very impressive for a small country that is mainly known for chocolate and (very good) beer. Not to mention the ever peeing little man in Brussels.
Another great news was announced where Leuven became European Capital of Innovation 2020, a prestigious award from the European Commission rewarding the city that makes the best use of innovation to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. Leuven is a great city, with the oldest university, KU Leuven, founded in 1425. Only 100.000 inhabitants and a young and visionary mayor with roots in Marocco. I was always between Leuven and Gent, lived in both cities, but where Gent is great to live and a very creative environment, Leuven always struck me as very smart in many ways. Of course, there is the university but also many spin-offs and global companies, many of them for R&D purposes.
A more recent initiative chrysalises all efforts, Leuven MindGate was founded in 2016 when 29 leading knowledge institutions, companies and the city of Leuven joined forces. These three parties represent the Leuven ecosystem in a so-called Triple Helix model. Companies Cooperate with the government and knowledge institutions and create a thriving economy in development and jobs. Government invests in education to create a knowledgeable workforce, they invest in infrastructure to create an ideal entrepreneurial climate. The government looks to simplify laws so local business can grow. Knowledge institutions develop talent and knowledge for the future and encourage innovation through cooperation and the creation of spin-off companies (copied from their website). This is a long term strategy that already today is brought to fruition all the elements were there already. Remember, the KU Leuven university was founded in 1425.
I also need to mention IMEC, based in Leuven and one of the landmarks for myself. Every time I visited the place I got inspired and frustrated. Not in a bad way but with an art school background it is hard to ground between all those PHDs. IMEC stands for Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre, an international research & development and innovation hub, active in the fields of nanoelectronics and digital technologies. IMEC employs around 4,000 researchers from more than 90 countries and it has numerous facilities dedicated to research and development around the world, including 12,000 square meters of cleanroom capacity for semiconductor processing.
With imec.istart, it also offers an accelerator program offering 50,000 EUR in pre-seed funding, professional coaching and mentoring, access to technology and working facilities, access to its network of partners and investors. Since its launch in 2011, imec.istart helped more than 198 tech start-ups in diverse fields, ranging from multimedia and logistics to the healthcare sector, to develop into sustainable ventures. In 2019, imec.istart was granted first place in the European ‘Top University Business Accelerators’ ranking by UBI Global and was ranked fourth-best in the world. Too many things to name so please use Google for the full story.
All these successes are based on the success of the educational platform and a long term vision. A small country with roots in agriculture and mining had no other choice than to go for services and create value through technology. And they did. As numbers and facts speak louder than dreams put in a speech. Despite the complexity of this small country, it found some roads to excel and secure a future for the next generation(s). In the meantime, my wife and partner, Neşen Yücel, and I keep working on inspiring young talent in our region with Stage-Co and Now Sprint! Accelerator. As we all are entitled to achieve happiness through collaboration and cocreation in a sustainable way so the next generation can enjoy their creation of the next future. With a smile.