Belgium's startup community experienced a surge in 2022, rising one position above Austria and ranking higher than ever before. With Germany and the Netherlands as its main trading partners, the country has the 24th largest economy in the world. And the fact that several government initiatives support the growth of startups in Belgium significantly contributes to this. Various business loans are available.
Regarding regions, Flanders' startup and scaleup ecosystems are expanding dramatically. This article provides a peek behind the Belgium startup ecosystem’s curtains outlining the top Belgian unicorns and soonicorns in the country.
The number of opportunities available in Belgium for aspiring entrepreneurs to receive help in developing their business ideas is steadily increasing. Over 60 incubators and accelerators are currently operating across the country to help startups advance their growth.
Over the past few years, the Flanders startup ecosystem has grown considerably, with a combined enterprise value of €32.6 billion. There are currently more than 2,000 startups, 200 scale-ups, and four unicorns in the region.
In terms of performance across a range of metrics, the Benelux region is highly successful within the EU. Research and development (R&D) plays a particularly prominent role in the region, with the Benelux countries leading the way. The Netherlands is home to many key players in the Benelux startup ecosystem. More insights into the Dutch startup landscape can be discovered in our article.
In the startup world, a unicorn refers to a company that has achieved a valuation of one billion dollars or more, often due to investment from venture capital firms. These companies typically have scalable business models and have established a strong market position, often with expert knowledge in their respective industries. This section highlights four Belgian unicorns that deserve media and investor attention.
Odoo is a Brussels-based company established in 2015 by Fabien Pinckaers to offer comprehensive business software to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs) worldwide. Odoo Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software provides businesses with a suite of integrated applications that streamline various management processes. The open-source software includes HR-related tools, including scheduling tools, time tracking, project management, recruitment, and eLearning.
By adopting Odoo's business software, companies can transition from cost-intensive and time-consuming processes to more efficient ones. Businesses can simplify data collection, generate accurate reports, and make more informed decisions with an all-in-one platform that replaces the need for multiple applications from different software providers. During the last couple of years, Odoo's expansion and influence have dramatically increased, and its valuation has now reached €3.2 billion, according to last information.
In 2008, Felix Van De Maele, Pieter De Leenheer, and Stijn Christiaens founded Collibra as a spin-off from VUB University of Brussels' STARLab. As of today, the company provides a cloud-based platform to help companies grow with a data-driven culture by integrating IT and business operations.
To do so, Collibra links appropriate data, insights, and algorithms with all data users. This solution allows customers to conveniently and securely locate, comprehend, and access data to make more informed business decisions and explore new business opportunities.
Over 500 global enterprises have partnered with Collibra, including seven of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies. As of now, the company operates in six regions: the US, Australia, Belgium, Poland, the UK, and France. In terms of funding, the company has closed over USD 596 million at its last valuation.
Automobile Cells Co. was established in 2020 by Stellantis and TotalEnergies and Saft, as part of a collaboration to manufacture battery cells and modules for electric vehicles. A third partner, the well-known company Mercedes-Benz, joined the venture in 2022. Automobile Cells Company provides advanced technology to facilitate clean and efficient mobility and contribute to the development of decarbonized transport solutions.
In addition to its research and development center in Bordeaux, Automotive Cells Co has constructed a modern pilot and test facility in Nersac, near Angouleme. According to the latest reports, the company has gained prominence within the Belgian startup ecosystem and achieved a valuation of USD 1.20 billion.
A software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, Deliverect simplifies the process of online food delivery. Established in 2018 in Ghent by Jan Hollez, Jelte Vrijhoef, Jerome Laredo, and Zhong Xu, Deliverect connects over 25,000 food establishments with online delivery channels, enhancing operational efficiency and boosting customer satisfaction. Online food delivery services and point-of-sale systems can be seamlessly integrated through the platform.
Among its features are the integration of multiple online ordering platforms, the generation of insightful reports, the management of inventory, multi-location and global support, and the oversight of menus. As of the latest valuation data from January 2022, Deliverect is valued at approximately $1.40 billion. In addition to expanding into over 60 countries, the company has gained the trust of well-known restaurant chains and fast-moving consumer goods companies, such as Burger King, Eat Pickl, Pizza Express, Timeout Market, and Unilever.
Startups that are soonicorns have a valuation of $500 million and are close to reaching a $1 billion valuation, which puts them on track to become unicorns. Investors and financial speculators typically invest in these companies based on projected future performance or estimated valuations, which often exceed the company's current value. Check out our article on startup evaluation.
Cowboy is an electric bicycle manufacturer founded in 2017 by Karim Slaoui, Adrien Roose, and Tanguy Goretti. Innovations have been made in safety and theft prevention through the company's software expertise, including crash detection and theft protection.
Various models of Cowboy's connected electric bikes feature a removable battery, a range of 70 kilometers, and a weight of 2.4 kilograms. Furthermore, Cowboy offers a real-time mobile app for managing bikes, including auto-unlocking, an interactive dashboard, navigation, and theft alerts.
AgomAb, established in 2017 in Ghent by Paolo Michieli, Hans de Haard, Manuela Cazzanti, Michael Saunders, Virginia Morello, and Federica C. Linty, leverages its expertise in growth factor biology to create innovative treatments aimed at resolving fibrosis, repairing tissue structures, and restoring organ function.
As a result of the company's cutting-edge scientific understanding, and robust drug development, it is developing a diverse clinical pipeline of unique programs that can modify severe organ failure and fibrotic conditions. Known as AgomAbs, Agomab's monoclonal antibodies stimulate molecular and cellular repair processes, improving organ function in patients with fibrotic, inflammatory, autoimmune, or degenerative conditions.
An IT asset management software company founded by Geert Moernaut in 2004, Lansweeper offers Cloud-based solutions. The software implements various features, including asset discovery and management, cross-platform support, software monitoring and security, licensing management, etc.
The Lansweeper software collects all active directory details about users and computers so that all installed software can be tracked and audited. Furthermore, users can create detailed reports about their software inventory to discover which applications are installed on which computers. As per the latest update, Lansweeper's expansion efforts have been remarkably prosperous, with the company announcing that it has secured $159 million in funding.
ETheRNA, established in Niel in 2013 by Kris Thielemans, has developed a comprehensive suite of exclusive capabilities for designing, developing, and producing advanced mRNA products based on innovative technologies. As a spin-off of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the company focuses on creating groundbreaking immunotherapies that target dendritic cells' critical role in the human immune system.
TriMix technology, based on three mRNA molecules, is eTheRNA's proprietary mRNA-based solution that enhances an immune response by enhancing dendritic cell activity. As per reports, eTheRNA's growth and potential increase, and the company has secured a total of USD 65 million in funding to date.
Aerospacelab, established in 2016 by Benoît Deper, is a satellite manufacturer that specializes in building high-performance, low earth orbit (LEO) satellite platforms capable of carrying a variety of payloads, including those for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) applications.
The company uses AI and machine learning technology to integrate satellite imagery with non-geospatial data by analyzing datasets from diverse sources. Furthermore, Aerospacelab customizes the tools according to the user's exclusive data. In 2022, Aerospacelab secured a funding round of 40 million euros, with Airbus Ventures and XAnge leading the investment. Since then, the company's global visibility has increased, promising development and innovation.
Miracor Medical, based in Awans, Belgium, specializes in developing treatments for severe cardiac diseases with the goal of improving both short- and long-term clinical outcomes. Dr. Werner Mohl, professor emeritus of cardiology at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, founded the company after decades of research and publication in coronary sinus occlusion. He invented the PiCSO therapy concept, which was developed into PiCSO Impulse System.
Using this coronary sinus intervention, infarct size can be reduced, cardiac function can be improved by clearing microcirculation, and the onset of heart failure can possibly be reduced following acute myocardial infarction. PICSO Impulse improves overall heart function after a heart attack by increasing blood flow to the affected heart tissue.
Jean Charles Velge and Quentin Colmant founded Qover in 2016, specializing in creating, developing, and delivering advanced digital insurance solutions via open APIs across Europe, catering to rapidly expanding businesses. The company offers cutting-edge tools for designing, building, and distributing digital insurance, offering a comprehensive software suite for the insurance sector.
Earlier this year, Qover announced its latest offering, 24-hour claims payments that can be accessed from 32 European countries through a single API integration. By offering an array of insurance policies, Qover's clients can offer personalized and straightforward insurance options through a flexible, all-in-one platform.
In 2013, Hugues Bultot and Jose Castillo founded Univercells Technologies in Gosselies, France. Univercells develops instrument systems for producing vaccines, antibodies, and proteins. A unique technology of the company is its scale-x bioreactor and nevoline platform. Using the scale-x bioreactor, viral products can be processed upstream for viral vaccines and gene therapies.
An announcement was made recently that Kenya was interested in collaborating with Univercells to establish a biotechnology center in Nairobi. As Kenya's primary research institution, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) intends to collaborate with Univercells to enhance and establish its dedication to building successful biopharmaceutical expertise in East Africa.
MiDiagnostics, a joint venture between IMEC and Johns Hopkins University established in 2015, is focused on creating disposable chips for quick point-of-care diagnostics. In its primary product, immunochemistry and nanotechnology are used to analyze a small amount of blood for biomarkers. Additionally, the company offers a consumer-based device. Patients can share medical data with the device and its accompanying app with their caretakers.
Various applications of this diagnostic platform have been made even more relevant by the COVID-19 pandemic, including monitoring chronic patients remotely, fast screening in remote health centers, and widespread monitoring during the pandemic.
Matthias D'Huyvetter and Jens De Vos founded Precirix, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, in 2014 in collaboration with Vrije Universiteit Brussel. A key focus of the company is the development of radiopharmaceuticals that target cancer. In particular, CAM-H2 treats metastatic cancers that are HER2-positive. Radioligand therapies can be directed at various targets using camelid single-domain antibody fragments.
Using camelid-derived single-domain antibodies, Precirix develops precision radiopharmaceuticals that enhance and prolong the lives of cancer patients. These sdAbs are labeled with radioisotopes and delivered to tumor receptors to kill cancer cells.
The Benelux region of the European Union is considered very successful based on various performance metrics. The region's government supports innovation and progress and has implemented several initiatives to facilitate these goals. A range of business loans is available to cater to entrepreneurs' needs.
Belgium has a flourishing startup ecosystem, aided by its strategic location, access to key ports and sea routes, and highly-ranked educational institutions that foster innovation and progress. Belgium's startup ecosystem is alive and thriving. Disruptive innovation concepts and ideas, as well as technological advancements, reveal global potential.