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De Morgen - Inspiring talk about Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Wouter Foulon and Peter Hinssen

9 March 2018

Inspiring talk about innovation and entrepreneurship with Wouter Foulon and Peter Hinssen

What is the state of entrepreneurship in Flanders? Could it be improved? We brought together experienced entrepreneur Peter Hinssen and the emerging entrepreneur Wouter Foulon for an interview.

What changes have you noticed in the field of entrepreneurship in Flanders?

Wouter: "Belgians are traditionally very risk-averse, but that is changing. For example, seven years ago banks were very skeptical to grant financing for my business plans, while now I could play several against each other to secure a better loan with the same plans."

Peter: "In recent years this has certainly accelerated along with a positive climate for new businesses and ideas. A lot of young people who would previously have chosen a career with a traditional company are now opting to create a start-up. We can only encourage this shift. After all, this way innovations can have a much greater impact and grow faster."

How important are role models for young entrepreneurs?

Wouter: "When Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin were at the top of the tennis world, the number of registrations at tennis clubs skyrocketed. The same trend applies to start-ups as well, just think of Showpad, Sparkcentral, TrendMiner, etc. Every time they make the news, it motivates thousands of Belgians to create a start-up. I think such examples should get a lot more attention."

Peter: "We should indeed celebrate our heroes. There is still a certain distrust among some Belgians towards entrepreneurs. Yet it is the entrepreneurs who will pay for everyone’s social security in the future. In the United States, there is a culture where entrepreneurship is greatly valued. In the Netherlands, you also see entrepreneurs and start-up companies being seen in a positive light. Thanks to a few new icons, we are gradually catching up."

What role does technology play in stimulating entrepreneurship?

Peter: "Technology has become more mainstream, and that creates a lot of opportunities. Suddenly, a lot of new ideas, concepts, and models are coming at us. While in the past, innovation mainly built on existing things, there are now many more opportunities to launch revolutionary ideas. The world is changing very quickly now, and a lot of young people are ready to seize the opportunities that come with it."

Wouter: "Thanks to technological progress, the threshold for entrepreneurship has never been so easy to cross."

Peter: "On the one hand, there are indeed an unprecedented amount of opportunities. On the other hand, it is more necessary than ever to compete against global competition. To successfully do this you have to dare to take big risks, and it's precisely that attitude that is often lacking in Belgium."

Wouter: "Millennials will also provide a boost to entrepreneurship in Belgium. After all, they have been brought up with examples of start-ups and innovative entrepreneurs. Moreover, they are the most familiar with all the new technologies."

How can the government support entrepreneurship?

Wouter: "Unfortunately, the people of Belgium are still holding on to old legislation that has become counterproductive in the modern era. These laws date back to the days of Daens. They certainly had their uses then, but are no longer adapted to the current environment."

Peter: "The US also has strict laws, but in general, legislators make sure that they put as little in the way of entrepreneurs as possible. The idea of 'free enterprise' is crucial there. In communist China, on the other hand, there is a lot of entanglement of government and business. But even there, the government does everything it can to support business, knowing that is the key to stimulate economic growth."

"I feel that in Europe we are left with a combination of the worst of these two worlds: a weary government trying to introduce as many barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship as possible. I think the current generation of politicians struggle with this enormously, thinking that there is no room for change from the norm and that social dialogue is often trench warfare that leads to weak compromises with no added value. Today we are in a world that is changing even faster than it was during the industrial revolution, and that requires new adaptations."

Should everyone become an entrepreneur?

Wouter: "Today, people choose to work in an SME like ours because they get freedom and responsibility, without having to take risks. People are looking for very different job criteria then they were forty years ago. They want to make an impact, see the results of their work, and be proud of it. However, this new way of working is not suited to everyone."

Peter: "If everyone were an entrepreneur, there would be nothing but chaos. Thankfully, in start-ups you don’t have to be the entrepreneur to make a difference, reducing the individual risk."

Wouter: "There are also hybrid forms possible. Some people go all out for entrepreneurship and are willing to take risks to do so. Others want to participate, but are only willing to bear part of the risk."

Peter: "There are numerous forms of entrepreneurship that create an opportunity between being an employee and being self-employed. . We can still take steps to bring more flexibility into the landscape."

What advice do you have for Flemish entrepreneurs and start-ups?

Wouter: "Every second, three new start-ups are created worldwide. Any ideas you have are likely being worked on in several places worldwide. It no longer makes sense to work on an idea for years in isolation or to try to protect it with patents. You have to keep thinking further ahead and come up with new innovations to stay ahead of the global competition. Innovation has to be a culture that is shared by everyone in the organization."

Peter: "Innovation is now like playing offense rather than defense. So indeed, there is no point in trying to exclusively protect the IP. The point is to always stay one step ahead of the rest. The speed at which you have to do that is determined by the global competition."

"Large companies have a disadvantage in this area. After all, the larger the structure, the harder it is to be agile. Start-ups, on the other hand, are very agile but have fewer resources to create a big impact. These two parties can help each other tremendously by working together within ecosystems."

Translation | Original article at Mediaplanet, De Morgen | JORIS HENDRICKX,

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