Incubator helps Flemish start-up make waves around the world

Summary

Hydropower provider Turbulent is one of the almost 500 start-ups supported by KBC’s accelerator since it began in 2013

Here to help

If you follow energy news, you may have already read this year about the start-up Flemish hydropower scheme that won a prestigious award in Chile. What you may not know is that its success is due – in part – to a bank.

The start-up, Turbulent, began life in Flanders and is one of the success stories of the start-up incubator and accelerator supported by KBC. Since it was launched at the end of 2013, Startit@kbc has grown “exponentially”, co-founder Lode Uytterschaut says, and has overseen the development of about 480 new concerns.

It’s spread across the region and now has hubs in Ghent, Hasselt, Antwerp, Leuven, Brussels and Kortrijk. The idea remains the same – pick a handful of start-ups with promise, offer them space, workshops and access to experts and watch as they grow.

This year, the programme has upped the challenge for budding entrepreneurs by introducing a panel review stage after three months, to make sure things are on track. The change came after the owners of businesses that had already benefitted from the programme said that a time pressure would help with focus. 

Cross-fertilisation

Uytterschaut’s advice for newcomers is always the same: “To start with, 90% of your time should be on your team.” A good team and a bad idea can be improved, he says, but the reverse will never work.

He says the programme’s jury – which deals with the selection process – doesn’t focus on any one sector, and the scheme’s website features some of the health apps, tech start-ups and food businesses that have passed through its doors.

We should be focusing on getting more women to take up entrepreneurship

- Lode Uytterschaut

This variety allows the start-ups to collaborate, he says, as the programme’s shared space lends itself to “cross-fertilisation”, where trainees can mingle during breaks.

While all projects are welcome to apply, Uytterschaut says one of their aims for the coming year is to get more female-led start-ups on the books, especially in technology. Statistics from 2016 showed a 4.1% increase in the number of start-ups in Flanders, but it still remains a largely male-dominated pursuit.

“Our community is around 80% male, but I don’t see any reason why this should be,” he says. “We should be focusing on getting more women to take up entrepreneurship. We have to step up to help them.”

Plans are in place for partner events with Straffe Madammen, a Flemish organisation that works to make women more visible in the media, business and conferences. Uytterschaut: “We have to say to women ‘It’s ok to want to start a business in Belgium, and we are here to help you’.”

See the magic

There are also plans this year to expand Startit by inviting corporate start-ups to benefit from the training. The idea came after organisers realised that creative ideas are often swallowed up in big business, leading to wasted potential.

“Corporations have big structures and don’t have a framework to support innovation,” Uytterschaut explains. “And they need to innovate to stay relevant.”

Startit is offering corporate employees the chance to work on an idea surrounded by top entrepreneurs. “There you see magic happen,” he says. “They’ll return to their corporation ready to build a more entrepreneurial culture.”

Photo: Turbulent founders Jasper Verreydt and Geert Slachmuylders
©Courtesy Turbulent