Next week, representatives from Global Entrepreneurship Network host country organizations from across Europe will explore entrepreneurship ecosystems in Belgium and the Netherlands as part of their annual meetup. The event is an opportunity to foster cross-border collaboration and plan collaborative efforts for the upcoming year.
During a stopover in Genk, Belgium, the meetup attendees will meet with the city’s Mayor, Wim Dries. Genk has been on the global community’s radar of late as it was a finalist in the GEC Cities Challenge that recognized outstanding entrepreneurial cities around the world. In fact, Mayor Dries spoke at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Milan last March during a panel on building entrepreneurial cities.
The following is a guest analysis of the Genk ecosystem submitted by the city’s mayoral office as part of their GEC Cities Challenge application.
For centuries, Genk was a small rural village. The discovery of coal at the beginning of the 20th century put a sudden end to its hibernation and set a mechanism in motion that has not stopped since. With the exploitation of the ‘black gold’, Genk acquired a well-deserved place on Flanders’ economic map; an opportunity that offered economic leverage which allowed Genk to evolve into Flanders’ third industrial hub behind Antwerp and Ghent. Genk has experienced heavy economic blows such as the closure of the mines and the restructuring of Ford Genk. However, thanks to its entrepreneurial council policies, Genk has been able to attract new entrepreneurs in various sectors.
Entrepreneurship has become a part of the city’s DNA. Apart from advantages with regard to the availability of well-equipped industrial areas, multi-modal accessibility via freeways, rail and the Albert Canal, the business policies of the city are drawing the attention of entrepreneurs, knowledge-based industries and employers’ organizations. Genk’s investments involve the reorganization of the industrial manufacturing economy into an innovative manufacturing economy and knowledge-based economy. The city has done this by creating strong site-developments in cooperation with LRM, knowledge-based associations and private partners. Characteristic for these site-developments is the combination of the quality of the business locations, the availability of business capital, the links to the broad technology portfolio, and specialized business development. Genk gives entrepreneurs the chance to realize their ambitions.
The ecosystem in Genk is supported by many partners. The city itself is a dynamic organization that evolved from an administrative government to an entrepreneurial government that is active in the whole economic field of facilitating and supporting companies.
The startup community in Genk is a young one. With initiatives like C-Mine crib, an incubator for the gaming and digital creative industry, that started last year, Genk attracted 25 new and starting companies. C-mine crib stands for creative innovative business and supports young creative companies by giving them specialized coaching and office spaces. By organizing Coderdojos, C-mine crib also invests in technical education of our children. Additionally, IncubaThor, a new Incubator for renewable energy and smart cities, will open soon at the Technology Park Thor.
In addition to C-Mine, a number of programs in Genk have proved favorable to new firm formation.Humin, for example, is a project that helps entrepreneurs to raise their impact by ‘people-centered design’ of innovation with and for the people. Nowadays, the platform IDE – Innovation & Design in the Euregio – is linking diverse innovate and creative initiatives whit each other.
Another progressive initiative is EnergyVille, which unites the Flemish research institutes KU Leuven, VITO and imec for research on sustainable energy and intelligent energy systems. Researchers deliver expertise to industry and cities on energy efficient buildings and intelligent networks – such as smart grids and advanced heat nets. EnergyVille strives to become one of the top five European institutes in innovative energy research.
As a city, Genk seeks to facilitate and stimulate people to be innovative and creative and make sure there is “a fertile ground” for entrepreneurship. The city is developing an ecosystem that involves all citizens to become active and to be willing to support the changes that are necessary for the 21st century.