This year GEW Belgium focused on several themes that correlate to many local entrepreneurship initiatives. This focus on themes helps to bring together several parties with similar goals and interests – leveraging each others’ strengths and resources.
The Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), honored Mayor Bart De Wever of Antwerp, Belgium, with the 2015 Startup Nations Award for Local Policy Leadership. De Wever was recognized for his public sector achievement at the local level in championing policies or programs that advance new and young firm formation. He and his team introduced the Antwerp Startup City Program in 2014, as an ambitious and all-encompassing response to the absence of a startup scene or city-wide program. Startups.be is Belgium’s Startup Nations representative.
GEW Belgium began Global Entrepreneurship Week with the Day of Social Entrepreneurship. More than 15 organizations met with 200 students to talk about their objectives and plans for 2016. The day was organized by Academics for Development Leuven with Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo; Olivier Vanden Eynde, founder and managing director of Close the Gap; and Luc Bonte, chair of the board of directors at Ondernemers voor Ondernemers (Entrepreneurs for Entreprneurs). Academics for Development is a student organisation at KU Leuven that enables students to realize a social impact by working on projects in developing countries.
The main event during GEW Belgium, was Unizo Day of the Entrepreneur. The Day of the Entrepreneur featured entrepreneurs and policymakers fueling conversations about entrepreneurship in the country. There were also VIP busses with ministers and key leaders – including the minister-president of Flanders – who visited a select number of innovative entrepreneurs in their working environment, to spark discussion and allow visitors to see a snapshot of Belgium’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Unizo also hosted two foreign delegations from the Netherlands and South Africa, initiating discussions of expanding the Day of the Entrepreneur internationally. The day wrapped with the Night of the Entrepreneur, which featured a live perfoemance by Ozark Henry.
During the Day of Family-Owned Businesses, hosted by Ekonomika Alumni at Duvel-Moortgan, four executives of family-owned businesses discussed their passion for their work, as well as the challenges and successes of their businesses. Those involved in the discussion included Daniel Krug of Duvel-Moortgat, Johan Willemen of the Willemen Groep, Patrick De Saedelier of De Saedeleir Textile Platform, and Toon Bossuyt of Boss Paints.
GEW Belgium also featured multiple entrepreneurship competitions. The Get in the Ring Final was hosted by VOKA-Bryo. AFC Leuven held the GEWoon Doen ideas competition again this year. Last year’s finalist, Antwerp-based startup Turbulent, was named one of the best tech-startups in the world this year after winning The Pitch competition at the Startup Nations Summit in Monterrey, Mexico. Turbulent competed against more than 30 young starters from around the world, and was voted into the finals by a panel of investors and managers. The Belgian company developed a new and efficient micro-hydropower turbine to produce affordable and renewable energy using a water stream.
There was also a roundtable discussion on entrepreneurship with United States Ambassaor Denise Bauer at SMAPPEE offices, home of a product to manage home energy consumption. This new GEW initiative connects the U.S. ambassador to local entrepreneurs and ecosystems in Belgium, encouraging international cooperations and an exchange of best practices.
Entrepreneurship and immigrants was also a theme at several organisations including PXL Hasselt, which featured one of their alumni that arrived in Belgium as a refugee and now runs a successful business. During Day of Craftsmen, Federal Minister Willy Borsus organised a country-wide day to celebrate craftsmen and women, where hundreds of Artisans opended their doors to the public.
During the Day of SME, Flander’s Minister Philippe Muyters hosted the day’s programs, where new government initiatives to stimulate entrepreneurship were announced. Belgium also participated at the European Commission SME Europe Assembly for the first time.