The Complete Antwerp Startup City Guide

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Lagging behind is no option for the city that always tries to be the best in everything. What city are we talking about? Antwerp! Check out our Startup City Guide & find out what this city has in store for ambitious entrepreneurs:

Don’t miss the infographic on How To Start A Startup In Antwerp!

Recall the skyline of Antwerp. There are two high buildings that immediately stand out in the picture. One is our cathedral, the other, the “boerentoren”, is a major part of the city, inhabited by startups. It shows the aspiration of the city that wants to move forward and be a great host to ambitious entrepreneurs looking to thrive and become the next big thing.

Antwerp has always been home to innovators like the printers Plantin & Moretus, the painter Rubens or more recently the ‘Antwerp Six’ which are internationally known fashion designers. Some even say the old exchange market of Antwerp is “the mother of all exchanges”. Chances are high though that this was said by an Antwerp citizen as they are known for their haughtiness when it comes to their city.

GPS Direction: Antwerp

Advantages Of Building A Startup In Antwerp:

  • It’s located in Belgium. This means you’re in the center of Europe and its institutions. It’s a unique country with multiple faces (cultures, languages, …). These different cultures will both challenge you and give you the opportunity to not have to cross borders to test your product on an entirely different audience.
  • Since there are three different official languages in Belgium (Dutch, French, German), most citizens speak multiple languages. In Antwerp, most people will not only speak Dutch but also English and French.
  • A thriving community of entrepreneurial students. Thanks to the student club SINC and the further help of the university itself with the construction of Gate15 with the inclusion of the project TakeOff Antwerp, students are closer to the community of entrepreneurs than ever before.
  • Transport is very important in Antwerp; the city has one of the biggest ports in the world. In contrast, the airport is quite small but that shouldn’t hold you back since a train ride out of one of the most beautiful train stations in the world gets you to Brussels airport in a little over half an hour. From Antwerp by train, you’re in no time in Amsterdam, Paris, or London.
  • A lot of incentives for research & development that can help you carry the burden of the high-income taxes.

What Startup Founders Have To Consider:

  • Well … it’s located in Belgium. As said before, Belgium is diverse, unfortunately, this also means complex. Not even Belgians can easily explain the structure of their country. This means a lot of bureaucracy and situations where it’s not always clear who should take decisions when it comes to making and executing laws.
  • Taxes on corporations and salaries are very high. Although they are trying to reform this, things aren’t moving forward and it seems that they will remain above average for some time.
  • Getting in and out of Antwerp by car can be very difficult. You might lose a lot of time since the traffic jams on the highway are terrible and a solution seems to be further away than ever. It’s better to take the bike as it’s in almost every list of top 10 most bike-friendly cities in the world.

Antwerp and Belgium by extension is interesting but complex. However, if you play your cards right, it can be a great place to sparkle innovation and find opportunities in the challenges you meet.

First Stop: Discover Antwerp’s Startup Community

The Complete Antwerp Startup City Guide

When you’re already in Antwerp or want to re-read this startup guide once you get there, read it at Maurice Coffee and Knits Coffeebar. It’s located in one of the biggest skyscrapers of Antwerp “De Boerentoren” at the end of the shopping street of Antwerp. It’s located right in the heart of the city and its startup ecosystem.

The tower is the residence of the majority of startups in Antwerp and is thus the place where most formal and informal meetings are held. You’ll always find entrepreneurs working and exchanging ideas. Since the tower has become home to startups, the scene has been growing and is nowadays more persistent than ever to catch up with Ghent and Brussels to become the startup city of Belgium. Want to see the entire community in one map? It’s right here!

Info About Upcoming Events, Meetups & Other Occasions:

  • Ondernemen in Antwerpen” is the official website for entrepreneurship in the city of Antwerp. It has a clear calendar where all important events are present.
  • Startups.be is the national source of information for startups. They do not only include information for and about startups and events, their calendar also includes deadlines for accelerator programs and open calls for events.
  • Bloovi is a site for the Flemish community and is focused on connecting all startups and digital companies by providing useful information. It has a broader digital and marketing focus than other general websites but still covers the interest fields of the majority of startups.
  • Antwerp powered by creatives (APBC) connects the creative sector in Antwerp which is quite extensive thanks to its reputation as a fashion and design city.
  • Flanders DC is focused on the same target group as APBC but is active in the entire Flemish region. It was founded by the government, hence they are covering a broader area and are more structured than APBC.

Regular Events & Meetups:

  • FuckUp Nights is also present in Antwerp with their stories about failures from entrepreneurs and the lessons they’ve learned from it.
  • Start it @ KBC has regular events at their auditorium in their tower in Antwerp as well as in their other locations across Belgium.
  • In the House of Innovation, you can attend regular workshops to enhance your entrepreneurial and business skills as well as workshops to improve your company.
  • A recent meetup group is BeStartups which is part of an open Slack community for Belgium-based startups.
  • Antwerp woman entrepreneurship meetup is for the entrepreneurial women amongst us.
  • Be sure to check out Eventbrite and Meet-up for new events and meetup groups specifically to your needs. They are rising quickly around Antwerp.
  • A trip to Brussels for an event from the Betagroup is also a great opportunity to be inspired and meet like-minded entrepreneurial people.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • Antwerp Startup Fair is a yearly event, founded in 2016. It’s a trade fair where startups meet each other, find suppliers or customers and recruit new employees who want to join the startup community.
  • Darefest is a three-day event for creatives, makers and social agents to reflect, think about the future and find ways to hack this.
  • Although it’s in Ghent, WebTomorrow isn’t that far away and is a yearly meeting of the entire Belgian digital, marketing, and entrepreneurial scene.
  • Ondernemen in Vlaanderen is another event in Ghent. It’s the perfect place to get all the information you need for starting your business in Flanders. It shows inspirational sessions as well as practical information about all the formalities and steps you will have to fulfill to start your business.
  • Hack Belgium is another three-day event in Belgium where people with an entrepreneurial skill set will tackle some major socio-economical issues.
  • Tech Startup Day, organized by startups.be in Brussels, is a major conference for everyone who is starting or has started a tech company.
  • KBC Securities Entrepreneurial Summit. This one-day event in Leuven is from the bank who seems to be putting the most effort in supporting startups in Belgium via the Start it initiative and its Bolero Crowdfunding Platform. It has, next to the most important speakers on entrepreneurship in Belgium, also a fair for the most promising startups of Belgium.

Second Stop: Park At A Coworking Space

The Complete Antwerp Startup City Guide

Although a lot of startups in Antwerp will find a working space in one of the incubators like Start it @ KBC or the Startup Village. Those interested in working from a pure coworking space still have a lot of other opportunities.

Coworking Spaces In Antwerp:

  • De Winkelhaak is a branch of Bar d’Office with multiple locations around Belgium. Apart from this, De Winkelhaak is also famous for its ateliers where creative entrepreneurs will find a home to unleash their power and creativity.
  • Burooz is located in one of the upcoming quarters of Antwerp and is rising with it. It’s a well-known and established coworking space in Antwerp.
  • The House of Ape has its own academy for entrepreneurs but also provide a coworking space with meeting and event rooms for business owners.
  • HAVN is one of the newest coworking spaces in Antwerp. They also organize their own events although they’re not always located in the coworking space. Why? Because they also have HAVN church which is an event room in an old church for sailors.
  • Bolwerk is another branch of Bar d’Office but this one is located in Edegem, just outside the busy life of the city.
  • K85 is another coworking space just outside of the city, this time in Ekeren. It’s a small coworking space (7 desks) and is focused on long-term relationships with their coworkers so you have to be lucky to obtain a spot in this space.
  • Need another coworking space? You can also try Plastron, The Kube, Indian Caps or Startbloc.

Third Stop: Tank Your Finances

The Complete Antwerp Startup City Guide

In Antwerp, a lot of startups start their adventure in the Start it incubator at the KBC “boerentoren” or via Imec in the startup village. Why? That’s because these incubators, which are initiated respectively by a bank or the government, provide guidance during different stages in the lifecycle of these startups with mentors, introductions to business angels and pitches for venture capitalists.

Incubators:

  • Start it @ KBC, the name of this incubator is already mentioned a couple of times in this startup guide, and it’s because the importance of it to the Antwerp startup scene should not be underestimated. Located centrally in the city and impossible to miss, a great number of startups have found their way to this well-structured incubator, which has numerous mentors and enough access to funding possibilities as its partners are Belgium’s leading enterprises as the bank KBC and the telecommunication company Telenet.
  • The CoFoundry in the “Startup Village” building is an incubator with close ties to the Cronos Group. The Cronos Group is probably the largest entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Antwerp. It has a wide range from new vibrant startups to well established IT consultancy companies.
  • The CoFoundry isn’t the only resident incubator in the building of “Startup Village”. This project from the city of Antwerp is also host to a division of IMinds, who are now part of the bigger organization Imec, which focuses on research & development. They have different incubation programs, differing on which industry you’re in.
  • The “Darwin” Incubator is one of the newest members of the startup ecosystem in Antwerp and is a spin-off from the science department of the university of Antwerp.

Accelerators:

  • The Birdhouse is now also running an accelerator program in Antwerp after its successful launch in Ghent. They are structured towards connecting startups and scale-ups to the resources they need.
  • After some accelerator programs, Telenet Kickstart is currently only supporting other incubators as Start it and Imec into letting their startups evolve into scale-ups by adding their knowledge in these programs. Hereby, Antwerp is getting a more centralized startup ecosystem. This centralization was also the reason behind ending their own incubator and coworking space Idealabs.

Grants & Subventions:

  • In Antwerp, certain grants and subventions can be granted. Belgium is very oriented toward supporting research & development so if you’re thinking about starting a business with such an orientation, you will find great support. In order for finding grants and subventions you can apply for, it’s best to consult the site of Ondernemen in Antwerpen or you can access the databank for grants directly.

Crowd Investing Platforms:

  • Apart from Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Belgium also has its own crowdfunding platforms which are mostly dominated by two bank-owned projects. The first is Hello Crowd from the bank BNP Paribas Fortis and has a partnership with the bigger, international crowdfunding platform Ulule.
  • Bolero Crowdfunding is the crowdfunding platform of the bank KBC. There aren’t many campaigns going on at the same time but it’s clearly business-oriented instead of project-oriented.
  • MyMicroInvest is a crowdfunding platform from Brussels with a desire for a European breakthrough.
  • Crowd Angels is a crowdfunding platform that wants to be a driver for the CivicTech movement. Hence, they promote to look for services instead of pure monetary funding.
  • Angel.me is the last important crowdfunding platform in Belgium.

Angel Investors:

  • BAN Vlaanderen is literally the Business Angel Network of Flanders. It’s the main starting point if you seek investment from a business angel. It’s a well-known network due to its longstanding reputation in the small market of Flanders.

Venture Capital Investors:

  • GIMV is probably the number one Belgian venture capital firm. GIMV’s four areas of investment are at this moment: Connected Consumer, Health & Care, Smart Industries, and Sustainable Cities.
  • Volta Ventures provide seed and early-stage venture capital for internet & software companies and have supported thriving startups in Antwerp like Beatswitch and Flavr.
  • Qbic is a venture capital fund which is more focused on projects with a clear science focus.

Other Investment Opportunities:

  • You can also look for investment opportunities on the sites of the government of Flanders and Belgium. They do provide amongst other incentives starters’ loans to get your business started.

Fourth Stop: Seek Further Advice

The Complete Antwerp Startup City Guide

  • Vlaio is the governmental agency for innovation and entrepreneurship and will provide you with useful information about legal steps to start your business as well as go-to places for funds and grants.
  • Xerius is an enterprise counter as well as a social security and child benefit company. They will help you from the registration of your business to setting up your insurance plans as an entrepreneur. They will also be kind to help you find your right accountant and other less sparkling but nevertheless very important choices.
  • Unizo is the union of self-employed entrepreneurs and is mostly focused on being the voice and partner of small local businesses.
  • Voka is more than just the Chamber of Commerce. It’s also a network for entrepreneurs with regular events and its own accelerator-like program, Bryo, which tries to connect different startups and inspire young & talented people.
  • Netwerk Ondernemen is a major network organization. Their role is to connect entrepreneurs and provide them with inspiring events, information, and access to mentors.
  • Ondernemen in Antwerpen is the site of the city of Antwerp where the city council has collected every information about starting your business in Antwerp. They will try to inform you the best they can.

Antwerp and Belgium as a whole have perhaps been lagging behind on their history of being innovation-minded when it comes to creating a startup ecosystem. However, they know it and that they are working hard on it. Antwerp always tries to be a trendsetter, whether it be in the fashion and diamond industry or for startups. They are persistent on building a great ecosystem for startups and they are starting to succeed, step by step.

When you enter the “Boerentoren” via Maurice’s coffee bar, you will immediately meet with ambitious and young entrepreneurs who are making an impact on our environment. When you’re there, you will understand that there’s a great future ahead for this startup ecosystem. Lagging behind is no option for the city that always tries to be the best in everything. After all, Antwerp is the one and only city, the rest is just parking space. If you don’t know where this last sentence came from, you clearly haven’t spoken yet to an Antwerp citizen about their city.

 

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The guides are like startup communities – they constantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

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