Antwerp consultancy aims to help start-ups avoid early pitfalls


Vision The Idea provides both advice and finance for start-ups in the tech sector

Bucking the trend

According to oft-cited figures, nine out of 10 start-up companies fail. Benjamin Maffé and Mariam Rachi are determined to help local entrepreneurs buck that trend. “Our priority is to make start-ups succeed,” says Maffé, one of the three co-founders and the current CEO of Vision The Idea.

Entrepreneurial appetite is currently at an all-time high in Flanders. A recent poll by Steunpunt Ondernemen en Regionale Economie, a support centre that advises the Flemish government, indicates that 4.8% of Flemings are currently starting up a company, the highest figure ever recorded.

But growth is likely to be a stumbling block for many of those fledgling entrepreneurs. A recent report by Deloitte and the Vlerick Business School warned that a majority of this country's 3,500 start-ups and scale-ups, or more mature, larger start-ups, aren't sufficiently ambitious.

They do not want to tap into international markets and would prefer to stay small, with plans to add just one or two employees in the next five years, the report said. But because the local market is so limited, this desire to stay small increases the risk that a start-up will fail in the long term.

Vision The Idea started out as a management consultancy, offering start-ups in a variety of tech sectors advice to help them grow and expand. This is something it still does, from its offices in Antwerp and London: it assesses each company's activities – from sales and marketing to operations and finance – and the markets it has in its sights. Then it makes recommendations to remedy whatever weakness or shortcomings it has found.

Money matters

But when Maffé, Rachi and fellow co-founder Faz Zavahir noticed that many of the start-ups they were advising were struggling to raise capital, they decided to add financing to their offer. “Because we had an extensive network available to us, we decided to change our strategy and our idea a little,” Maffé says

Even so, he resists the venture capitalist label. “We invest first in the people and then their idea – even if they have a lack of experience or a weakness,” he says, adding that any shortcomings can be remedied through the company's consultancy services.

According to Rachi, who is chief marketing officer, most local venture capitalists tend to invest between €100,000 and €500,000 in a company. Vision The Idea can go further, investing between €100,000 and €5 million per company.

This funding may be necessary, but it is not enough to ensure that a start-up has a future. “It helps you move forward a little way, but it's not going to give you the success," she says. "Success comes from team work, from business planning, from understanding the market and going to the network that you have.”

Photo: Vision The Idea is (from left to right) Faz Zavahir, Mariam Rachi and Benjamin Maffé