L’Echo surveyed a few CEOs of SMEs and fast-growing companies. Endurance and passion, they have them. All they lack is an ecosystem worthy of the name in French-speaking Belgium.
They are neither start-ups or offshoots of universities, nor large companies established for a long time on Belgian territory. High-growth companies, scale-ups in English jargon, are like teenagers : too mature to still be proud of their innovations, but also too fragile to stabilize their seat.
However, nothing, or very little, is planned to support them, particularly in French-speaking Belgium. With this corollary: released into the wild, they escape the radar, quickly falling into a crucible where the law of the jungle takes precedence and where help, recognition, stimuli must be wrung out by the force of the wristsometimes without success.
However, these growing companies hold in their hands theeconomic future of French-speaking Belgium, where more than 90% of the entrepreneurial fabric is made up of SMEs. SMEs which, if they cannot grow, have no choice but to sell. With the risk for us of lose control of job and knowledge.
If our ecosystem is right to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit, and therefore the emergence of young shoots, he would have every interest in also supporting this adolescent phase of our companies. But to be able to do that, you still have to understand the accomplishments, the problems, the dreams of this difficult age. This is what L’Echo wanted to do by interviewing some of the actors who manage to stay the course. Here are some echoes, the foam of their daily lives.
“CAC40 companies are not afraid to work with companies like us, scale-ups. Compared to our activities in France, our turnover in Belgium is ridiculous.”
The damaged ecosystem
What appears in our sounding is that there is sorely lacking, in French-speaking Belgium, this culture of growth. Basically tells us Denis Dufraneboss of biotech Novadip, “it’s a Belgian culture to believe that you can’t develop a large-scale activity: if you can make a capital gain quickly, we take our margin and we leave. Culture is a very important element, not only at the micro level, that is, at the company level, but also at the macro level, at the regional and country level.”
Fabrice Brionfrom the top of his company I-Care, develops this point: “We, in any case, are always hampered by the whole of the Walloon ecosystem. So I’m not talking about public administration, I’m talking about all the levels, of everything needed to surround a world leader. Whether in fundraising, consultancy, social secretariats, auditing, even the Walloon services of large international groups are not at the level of the Flemish services.”
Quentin Collant, from fintech Qover, speaks the same language. “In France, they have created a technological ecosystem to encourage the birth of unicorns. They have succeeded and above all they have created a craze. This has the effect that companies in the CAC40 (the 40 largest market capitalizations in France, editor’s note ) are not afraid to work with companies like us, scale-ups. Compared to our activities in France, our turnover in Belgium is ridiculous.”
Don’t add more! Is the entrepreneurial climate so pitiful here? No. But it all depends, again, on the size. “He is relatively easy to raise funds in the start-up phasestestifies Claire Munck, she who precisely manages the network of BeAngels investors. For big fundraisers, players are becoming rarer, forcing entrepreneurs to go look for money elsewhere.”
“The most important thing is to know the workings, to know who to ask, to know how to present yourself to an investor or banks. It is the knowledge of the tools that is necessary to obtain the right support.”
Is our space for growth too narrow, the prerogative of small countries? Are we doomed to be eaten by bigger international players? Not especially.
“More generally, poses Benoit Deper, boss of Aerospacelab, Belgian pioneer of New Space in Europe, it is impossible to build a hypergrowth box just with the Belgian market. Leaving Belgium means customers abroad, but also foreign investors. This brings up the question of regional industrial policy and the risk of relocation in the event of massive investment by a foreign fund in a local nugget. And that’s where public investments play their role well for the moment. They co-invest with professional private investors who know the market, but calm their capitalistic ardor. They have the role of keep some protectionism in the box.”
Knowledge of tools
A few guardian angels therefore watch over our growing businesses. And the tools are there. “Most importantly, consider Amelie Matton, CEO of Ecosteryl, which processes and recycles medical waste, is to know the workings, know who to ask, know how to present yourself to an investor or banks. It’s here knowledge of tools which is necessary to get the right support.”
Except that the framework is shifting, floating in the wind of legislative and tax engineering, the national sport of our political leaders. “We are currently embarking on a new development for which we would eventually like to call on regional funding, testifies Philip Knight, founder of N-Side, a specialist in optimization assistance in the pharmaceutical and energy sectors. We had to call on a consultant, which already shows how complicated it is: it means that part of the aid will go to this consultant. Second, the result is a list of all sorts of little helpers here and there. Isn’t there a simpler way?“
“The problem is that when you get to critical size, it’s not just about multiplying skills, it’s about finding them.”
Complicated it all. Especially when these exogenous constraints are added to daily problems. “In the beginning, you have to be creative, have 100 ideas an hour and focus on the first product, tells Muriel Bernard, founder and CEO of eFarmz, an electronic platform for the sale of lunch boxes and organic food. Then, you have to know how to structure, surround yourself well, manage teams, manage to inspire without doing things yourself. You have to learn how to raise funds, structure the company in an efficient way from a financial point of view. It’s another job.”
Surrounding ourselves well is THE number one challenge for our interlocutors. Supporting growth with the right talent, in the right places, with the right overall vision. “The problem is that when you go to a critical size, it’s not just about multiplying skills, it’s about finding them“, picks up Denis Dufrane from Novadip.
So, growing entrepreneurs, still motivated? “Entrepreneurship is something very demanding, requires a lot of energy. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon, even a trail”, concedes Philippe Chevalier at N-Side. Who concludes, as a lover of philosophy: “You have to have this impatience to always want to go forward, but to have the wisdom to tell oneself that the world was not built in a day.”
The advice of our interlocutors to grow your business
Amelie MattonCEO of Ecosteryl: “Having a good cash management is necessary to be able to cushion shocks and make a difference in times of crisis.”
Muriel Bernardfounder and CEO of eFarmz: “We need work in increments. Find your audience to develop sales for each level and organize operations to meet future demand and volume.”
Quentin ColmantCEO of Qover: “Initially, a pure and hard creative is enough. Then, you have to know how to manage a diary not necessarily fun with duties and obligations, it’s another world.”
Claire MunckCEO of BeAngels: “At each stage of development, we also need ask yourself the question: am I the right CEO? Which isn’t necessarily easy.”
Benoit DeperCEO of Aerospacelab: “Incubators, which nurture entrepreneurs as if they were babies, are doing them a disservice. Once released into the wild, you have to be tough.“
Denis DufraneCEO of Novadip: “Transparency and resilience go hand in hand: you have to know how to explain and have arguments so that your staff understands that we are sometimes in a difficult phase.“
Fabrice Brionfounder and CEO of I-Care: “I always say that my job changes every 18 months: my role is to prepare my job in 18 months and make sure someone else knows how to do my job today.”
Philip Knightfounder and CEO of N-Side: “We have to stay consistent, keep the vision, stay the course. Turning points can come at any time, you never know when.”
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Yaka! is an invitation launched by L’Echo to the entire French-speaking business community to boost the entrepreneurial spirit in Wallonia and Brussels.
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Growing your business is “a marathon”
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