Omar Mohout on the startup and scaleup scene
Deloitte-nav-icons_positive_white_PreviousDeloitte-nav-icons_positive_white_NextDeloitte-nav-icons_positive_white_Swipe_down_speci
circular_thin_0005
Omar Mohout is helping shape the startup landscape in Belgium. A technology entrepreneur himself, he’s now channelling his passion for business building into his role as Professor of Entrepreneurship at Antwerp Management School. We asked Omar for his perspective on the Belgian startup and scaleup scene.
Enabling and accelerating innovation today and tomorrow
In 2016 you published a European scaleup report in collaboration with Sirris. What were your main findings?
We identified some big differences between Europe and the USA. There is 6 times more capital flowing to scaleups in the US, but there’s significant expansion in the number of European scaleups, backed by year on year growth in venture capital. Silicon Valley is dominated by B2C businesses, while two thirds of European scaleups are B2B.
Can you explain why Belgium has the highest percentage of B2B scaleups in Europe?
This amazes me. There are several reasons for it. Because it’s a small country, it’s difficult to scale up a B2C. We’re very engineering oriented, making us more focused on engineering driven innovation, which is usually B2B. It’s also easier to find venture capital funding for B2B. And lastly, there is a diverse manufacturing industry in this part of Europe acting as a market for innovation in that field.
How big is the startup/scaleup ecosystem in Belgium? There are around 3,500 to 4,000 technology startups and scaleups. The explosion in numbers began in 2010 and this sector is alive and thriving. There’s more venture capital available year on year – €331m last year, a new record.
Deloitte-icons_positive_green_Quote
Having the right advisory board is probably the biggest lever to scalability. Ideally it includes three types of profiles: accelerators, enablers and domain experts.

Is Belgium a difficult economic environment for young businesses looking to grow and when is the right moment for a startup to go international? Startups should begin thinking about going international from day one, because Belgium is often not big enough to be a market. It’s even more important if you want to be number one in the global market. And who wants to be number two? After all, who knows the name of the company that’s number two to Uber, Airbnb or Amazon?
A B2C needs to go global earlier than a B2B, which can wait until revenues hit €1m before expanding to the US or across Europe.
Is Belgium an ideal location to launch a tech startup? I would not call it ideal. These days, anywhere in the world can be right – you just need a fast internet connection. The ecosystem also plays a part, providing access to talent, experience, specialized services and capital. Which is why many entrepreneurs are drawn to the benefits of Silicon Valley. Interesting enough, in a world that becomes smaller every day because of ubiquitous communication, proximity still counts. Yet for B2B startups, Europe, and specifically Belgium, might be the right place to launch.

If you can make it in Belgium, you can make it everywhere. If you could give one tip to a startup, what would it be? Don’t focus on creating a perfect product. Start by looking at the market. Solve the customer’s problem, and turn the solution into a product.
Growth is a challenge for startups, particularly in Belgium where it’s hard to find experienced entrepreneurs. A way forward is to adopt growth hacking and Marketing 2.0 principles, adopting rapid experimentation, and reaching out to customers through unconventional strategies.
Deloitte-icons_positive_green_Quote
Startups should begin thinking about going international from day one, because Belgium is often not big enough to be a market.

Deloitte-nav-icons_neg_black_Swipe_up_speci
You set up advisory boards to accelerate startups. What does an ideal advisory board look like?
Having the right advisory board is probably the biggest lever to scalability. Ideally it includes three types of profiles: accelerators, enablers and domain experts.
Accelerators bring experience in external growth – finding customers, partners, going international etc. Enablers help drive internal growth, such as HR, customer service, legal and financial maturity. Across all of these, you want domain experts – people with deep complementary experience of specific areas such as marketing or technology.
Why did you switch from entrepreneur to professor? There was an increasing realisation that it was important to teach entrepreneurship to university students. Entrepreneurship in the classroom may seem like a contradiction, but students are learning from my experience, and that of others. I work to involve students with startups, blending their learning with real-time experience.
What is the most exciting startup you've seen in the last couple of years? Without a doubt, it is the 2016 Deloitte Technology Fast 50 winner, REstore. Their product for managing energy demand is the most innovative solution I have seen in years.
Deloitte-logo_150ppi_transparant
Fast 50 stories, May 2017
Fast 50 stories May 2017
Omar_Mohout