KBC bank launches incubator for fledgling entrepreneurs


With its new start-up support programme in Antwerp, KBC is giving entrepreneurs space to experiment – and revamping its own image in the process

Plans to expand concept to Ghent and Hasselt

It all began with some free space and an in-house KBC innovation contest back in 2011. A few floors freed up in the bank’s Antwerp offices after it had consolidated with two new training centres in Ghent. The idea of filling the vacant floors with something sustainable came to the Antwerp team.

“We wanted to bring starters into that space and guide them through their first business steps,” says Lode Uytterschaut from KBC, who is co-ordinating the innovation incubator, called Start it @kbc.

After adding some partner organisations into the mix – among them Accenture, Flanders DC, Cronos, Mobile Vikings and Antwerp University – KBC launched its start-up programme in November of last year.

Ninety start-up companies applied, 28 of which were selected and offered a space in the KBC Tower overlooking the Meir shopping street. The selection criteria were idea originality and potential contribution to the development of a sustainable society. The final entrepreneurs selected range between 20 and 50 years old and work in the fields of technology, e-platforms, sustainability and mobility.

“They have just started getting underway these last few weeks,” Uytterschaut says. To ensure daily progress, the bank and its partners “try to listen to our start-ups, analyse their needs, share knowledge, introduce them to our top business clients and organise relevant workshops.” 

A real need

Daring entrepreneurial innovation and banks are two concepts not often paired. “The bank sector is often seen as very conservative, focused on risk analysis,” Uytterschaut says. “As such, innovation usually gets pushed aside.”

The bank sector is often seen as very conservative, focused on risk analysis

- Lode Uytterschaut

Housing 28 starters would therefore not only support start-ups in difficult economic times but also revamp KBC’s image, making it a more dynamic place to work. “KBC hopes to take all lessons learned from the start-ups and apply that innovative knowledge across the organisation,” Uytterschaut explains. “What’s more, the initiative throws a line out to our ‘intrapreneurs’ – entrepreneurs working within KBC’s offices.”

Erik Luts, one of the senior general managers of the Antwerp branch, notes that “just two months into Start it @kbc, it’s already clear that KBC and its partners are meeting a real need among start-ups.”

As a result, more businesses are trying to join in. Phone operator and partner Mobile Vikings hopes to expand the concept to Hasselt, while Vlerick Business School has offered to help bring the project to Ghent.

“An eighth and ninth floor are also being added in the KBC Antwerp tower, to house more starters/intrapreneurs and carry out trainings,” Uytterschaut adds. On the virtual side, an agreement has been reached with the online platform Startups.be and ICT research institute iMinds.be to further strengthen ties with the start-up tech community across the country.


Photo courtesy Vlerick Business School