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European tech: What startups can expect in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg – The Next Web


Silicon Valley has largely dominated the narrative around technology startups and even though the American region is still king, it’s refreshing to see just how far Europe has come in recent years.

If you’re an entrepreneur, investor, or working in European tech, you’ll benefit from knowing the basics of the landscape to get a better sense of where the next opportunity might arise.

Much has been written about technology hotspots such as London — renown for its fintech capabilities — and Paris — where the national government is bolstering its effort to turn the capital city into a prominent AI hub — but other countries and cities haven’t historically received the same attention nor are they met with the same level of curiosity or scrutiny.

With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at the state of tech in the Benelux Union — a politico-economic union and formal international governmental cooperation of three neighbouring states in Western Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The Benelux is one of three ecosystems that TNW and four other partners will be looking to boost in the ongoing X-Europe program. Sponsored by the European Commission, X-Europe will connect 150 startups with investment, partnerships, talent, and opportunities across Europe. By creating a community of stakeholders in the Benelux and beyond, the program will make taking advantage of the opportunities in the Benelux easier for everyone across the continent.

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Benelux: An overview

Before we take a look at the state of tech across each single country, it’s important to get a general sense of how each territory differs in terms of population and economy — especially as Europe is known for its fragmentation and the varying degrees of socio-economic maturity across its ecosystems.

Out of the three Benelux countries, the Netherlands is the most populous. Today, some 17.1 million people live in the Netherlands, whereas Belgium is home to roughly 11.5 million people, and Luxembourg has a population of a little over 600,000.

On an economic level, the Netherlands had the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the Benelux region — with the figure sitting at €774 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, Belgium’s GDP stood at approximately €473 billion in the same year. Luxembourg, on the other hand, had a GDP of €63 billion. To put this into perspective, the UK’s GDP in 2019 was £2.21 trillion (€2.4 trillion) and France’s stood at around $2.707 trillion (€2.3 trillion).

When it comes to money, the region’s startups do benefit from several investment funds. In December 2019, Volta Ventures, announced its second fund, ‘Volta Ventures II,’ with an initial closing of €35 million to continue backing early stage, fast-growing companies in the Benelux region. Several months earlier, Pan-European VC btov Partners closed a €100 million investment vehicle.

And while these funds are largely welcomed by entrepreneurs in the region, there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to access to capital.

“There’s not enough money flowing in the tech ecosystem yet. In cities like London, Berlin, and Paris there are a lot more business angels supporting early-stage startups with money and support. There are more VC funds deploying capital and governments are pumping money into the tech ecosystem,” says Jacob Claerhout, a Belgian VC at Partech, where he focuses on the firm’s Benelux’s early-stage investments.

Now that you have a general idea of each country’s size and economic prowess, let’s take a look at how their tech ecosystems compare to each other.

Belgium: A multicultural hub

Belgium’s technology scene has seen rapid growth and development in recent years. In fact, Claerhout says the metropolis “is not only the city of bureaucrats but is also home to a growing multicultural tech community,”

“With organizations like The Eclipse Foundation making Brussels their home, the continued financial support from European institutions and a growing support network of incubators, accelerators, and corporate innovation programs, Brussels is gaining momentum,” Claerhout adds.

With its international population and relatively small size, Belgium is the perfect testing ground for multilingual startups seeking to grow in Europe — and it seems that venture capital investors agree.

In 2019, Atomico’s State of European Tech report said that cumulative capital investment since 2015 had surpassed the $10 billion mark in three European countries (UK, Germany, and France) and more than $1 billion had been raised by a further 11 countries. Belgium missed the top 10. It came 13th, trailing behind Russia and Denmark, but coming out on top of Romania, Norway, Luxembourg, Austria, Poland, Portugal, and Estonia.