Deborah Seymus lives together with the 22 year old refugee Izat*, through the cohousing project CURANT which brings together young Belgians and refugees under a ‘buddy’ system. CURANT stands for Cohousing and case management for Unaccompanied young adult Refugees in ANTwerp.
Just under two months ago I met Izat*. Izat fled Afghanistan at the age of 19. He and his family lived in the village of Tagab in the northeast of Afghanistan, which has been under Taliban control since 1995. Izat speaks Pashto, one of the two official languages in Afghanistan. War has been raging in the region since 2001, and with Tagab trapped between the Taliban militia on the one side and government soldiers on the other, his village is under constant fire. Going to school is not an option as schools ceased to exist some time ago and career opportunities for young men are limited to being recruited by either the Taliban or the army. Realising this, his parents concluded there was no future for him in Tagab. They saved up 10,000 dollars and with a heavy heart helped their son flee to Belgium.
His route started in Afghanistan, going by way of Pakistan to continue through Iran to Turkey. A journey of about 5,000 km and a solid 1,000 hours walk. Because yes, he went on foot. “Sometimes I walked, sometimes I had to run,” he told me. “The trip was very long and I crossed many forests and mountains.”
From Turkey Izat took a rubber dinghy to Greece. You know the type; it’s used as a lifeboat by rescuers, although they wouldn’t dream of ferrying 36 people across the Aegean on one. He doesn’t tell me much about the boat journey. From here he continued his journey on foot, until he arrived at Fedasil in Brussels. Following a bone scan to prove his age, fingerprinting and the granting of subsidiary protection, Izat was granted asylum, only to be moved from one asylum centre to another as they tried to find a more permanent place for him to stay. He spent three and a half months in Brussels, four months in Dendermonde, two years in Kapellen and five months in Boechout.
After three years in Belgium his Dutch still isn’t quite what it should be, being limited to what he has picked up in the various asylum centres, but in September Izat was finally able to start Dutch lessons through adult education. He’s excited about going to school, and I am about being able to help with his homework.
A Purpose in Life
Looking back upon our first encounter, it was rather awkward. Arriving at our newly assigned apartment, we were received by someone from the Public Centre for Social Welfare, or OCMW, and someone from CURANT. Smiling broadly, they handed us a large sheet of paper with a lot of blank text balloons and instructions on what we needed to write in them.
I hadn’t even known Izat for five minutes and he was expected to share his dreams and favourite breakfast with me. It was all very surreal. I had to explain to him what the word breakfast meant and what on earth a purpose in life was. I quickly gathered he was feeling incredibly lost and put an end to the mandatory getting-to-know-you round.
The four of us went for a walk around our new neighbourhood and our two well-meaning civil servants enthusiastically explained how the two of us could “take walks around the sports field together”. Very touching for a social Flemish girl like me, but for Izat it was highly discomfiting.
A Roof over your Head
Following our walk the ladies took their leave and Izat climbed on his bike to visit his friends in Boechout. Was I concerned Izat had doubts about living with me? Of course, but CURANT had impressed upon me the importance of being patient and having a little faith, especially in the beginning.
A few days later we found ourselves sitting at our kitchen table, where Lydia* of the OCMW handed us our tenancy contract. After writing our signatures in the appropriate boxes, Izat stood up and carefully walked around the apartment. I heard water running in the bathroom and went to have a look. He was trying out all the taps. He then walked around the living room and started tapping on the walls. His conclusion? We had a solid apartment. That’s when I realized how big of a shock it must be for him to be here.
Houses of stone and cement with double glazing, running water, a full and working fridge, a separate shower and bath, and a woman with an abundance of clothes who orders her furniture online. He’s never even heard of the latter. Izat assumes that you go to the shop and buy things there, online delivery simply does not exist for him.
Following his inspection, he looked around the apartment with satisfaction. Sitting back down at the table he smiled so sweetly that it almost brought tears to my eyes. I saw a little boy in the body of a growing man. Lydia made it clear that he should count himself lucky to be living with me. Izat gave a small smile, submissive in his response. I know Lydia meant well, but I found it painful. Why should he be grateful to be living with me? Isn’t it true that he lets himself live with a woman, going against everything his faith tells him? According to the Quran, a man and woman can only live together when they are married or blood relatives. Regardless of what you and I believe, that is his conviction and he is putting it aside just to have a roof over his head.
Izat receives 892,70 euro per month. Of that amount, 330 euro goes to rent and utilities in the apartment, 50 euro to the payment of the deposit and 50 euro to the repayment of the fire insurance, which the OCMW paid for us. The rest is meant to pay for health insurance, food, telephone bills and other expenses. Instead Izat sends money to his family in Afghanistan. Izat’s father was shot in his leg last month and can no longer work. The only breadwinner in the family has fallen by the wayside.
31.82 million people currently live in Afghanistan and 68 percent of them do not have access to clean or running water. The most basic of utilities for us, a privilege for the people of Afghanistan. When I first started living with Izat, I thought he would consider my Macbook or iPhone luxuries. The truth is that he hasn’t once taken a look at them. It’s the things we take for granted that he considers to be the most important.
A little later Lydia leaves and I find Izat moping around the kitchen looking shy. Suddenly he whips out his phone to show me a photograph. Seven smiling boys of around seventeen look back at me. “Some dead, some still live,” he says. I’m not sure how to respond and stare ahead for a moment. “How?” I ask him softly. “Taliban and police shot. That’s why my friends dead.”
I try to imagine this and try taking a mental picture of a situation where I am laughing with my friends. Carefree. Those seventeen year old boys were hardly carefree but they were able to laugh together. I shake my head and say, “Sorry, I no understand.”
Izat* and Lydia* are not their real names.
The idea of “work” and “working spaces” is changing rapidly, and a business needs to keep abreast of what attracts new staff and what keeps them content to ensure their business stays afloat. ReLocate brings you an amalgamation of two reports, both entailing information crucial to the attraction and retention of staff. The first report being a survey on students and young professional expats by BNP Paribas Fortis, understanding the motivations behind their want or need to relocate based on their job prospects gives businesses an insight on how to position themselves to attract the best staff. The second report is a Global Talent Trends Study from Mercer, an innovative group that uses analysis and insights as catalysts for change within organisations. Their report details the steps employers need to take to ensure they are retaining the best employees and explains how we are moving forward into an era of fierce competition between businesses for talent like we’ve never seen before.
Looking back: what motivates students and young professional expats to relocate? – BNP Paribas Fortis
Understanding what motivates students and young professionals to up sticks and move their whole lives to another country is key in attracting the best talent. Knowing what the driving factors behind their decisions are enables companies to put in place the most effective recruitment campaigns and attractive employment policies. “Millennials are the driving force behind this contemporary intra-European mobility, with more and more young expats in Europe seeking new academic and professional experiences elsewhere,” states Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis. Despite big changes in UK and American approaches to immigration these past months, the professional market in Europe is still open to vast levels of mobility. The survey was executed by the Think Young think tank, founded in 2007 and focuses entirely on young people, providing decision makers with high quality research on key issues affecting millennials.
MOTIVATION TO RELOCATE – MOST SPECIFICALLY TO BELGIUM
Just over half of students polled stated that the main reason for leaving their home country and relocating to Belgium was dependent on the opportunity offered by university or school in their home country. A further 39% cited experiencing another culture was enough for them to want to leave home. Learning a new language or developing existing language skills was the key factor in motivating 39% of those who responded. The final outstanding motivating factor in students deciding to relocate to Belgium was that they felt that the move would have a positive impact on their CV and would then in turn maximise their career opportunities.
The results of this survey on young professionals are much more defined, with a massive 80% of respondents stating that the move to Belgium was wholly based on the career opportunities here. Half of those surveyed cite personal development as a driving factor in their decision to move. While motivations such as learning another language, the standard of living or quality of life and indeed even financial reasons are way further down on the list. Andrea Gerosa, founder of ThinkYoung sees the clarity in the results: “It’s a meaningful move, driven not by the desire to have fun but by the willingness to learn more, improve skills, and enhance career opportunities.”
What does this mean for employers and educational institutions?
Employers and educational institutions have the hard task of pre-empting students and young professional’s career aspirations, and ensuring that they provide clear opportunities for career progression.
Educational institutions need to ensure that the courses they offer contain the latest curriculum developments, and that these are transferable should their students wish to change track – as students often do. Universities and colleges should do their best to attract the best teaching staff that employ modern teaching methods that are also tried and tested. It is also important to offer a wide variety of extra-curricular programmes where students can employ their talents in a more practical environment, gaining them valuable experience for their future in the workforce. Scholarships also ensure that students from a wide variety of backgrounds are given the opportunity to learn, providing the learning environment with a variety of opinions and perspectives.
Employers can use this information to entice the best young professionals to their organisation. Providing potential young employees with clear paths of career progression through well thought-out organisational structures, allows each employee the chance to climb the ladder or explore other areas of the business. Progression isn’t always up, it can be left or right, and when employers offer flexibility, such as secondments to other departments, or other locations – this can be the deciding factor for a young professional full of enthusiasm.
Looking forward: what practices can we put in place to retain the best talent? – Mercer
There’s no denying that 2016 was a trying year in more than one area. With the uncertainty faced by the Brexit vote, the big change in American politics and constant conflict in the Middle East it is crucial that companies shift their focus onto their workforce, to care for the health and wellbeing of their staff. Technological advancements are also having a massive impact on the workplace, how we work, where we work and how we can balance that with enough “down time” are all changing our view of the world of work. On top of all this, Mercer reports that 92% of employers expect an increase in the competition for talent this year.
According to Mercer, these are the top six ways in which they feel companies are going to respond to these new challenges:
1. Attracting top talent externally
2. Developing leaders for succession
3. Identifying high potentials
4. Building skills across the workforce
5. Supporting employees’ career growth
6. Increasing employee engagement
FOUR TRENDS TO WATCH FOR IN 2017
1. Growth by design
It’s all about transforming the internal structure of organisations and ensuring that the “people agenda” is not overlooked. In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study they state that 93% of organisations are geared up for a reorganisation in the next two years. Those who aren’t already in the throes of redesign may be left behind.
2. A shift in what we value
If an employee feels undervalued, it is likely that their output will decrease and they will eventually look elsewhere when deciding upon their professional future. Mercer’s study reports that 97% of employees want to be recognized and rewarded for a wide range of professional contributions, not just sales targets or financial results. The rewards employees are seeking are not just fair and competitive compensation, they want more flexible work options, they want opportunities to get promoted, they want leaders who set clear direction, as well as peers that will challenge them and help set the tone for the future of the company. Knowing how to reward employees is key to holding on to them.
3. A workplace for me
When an employee feels that they are not just a number, they are more likely to produce work of a higher quality and also more likely to stay within your organisation. Being able to personalise your employees’ experience will bring significant advantages to your output and staff retention levels. One way for your employees to personalise their working experience is to introduce flexible working options. Mercer’s study showed that the majority of employees want more flexibility within their roles, however not all organisations are as flexible as their employees would like. 1 in 3 employees indicated that they had requested a flexible work arrangement in the past, however they were turned down. Further to this, 1 in 2 employees expressed some concern that working part-time or remotely would negatively impact their promotion opportunities. There is clearly more work to be done here.
4. The quest for insight
Companies are collecting more data from both candidates and employees than ever before, Mercer questions how this data can be better used to gain actionable insights – we don’t seem to be using the data to the best of its abilities. Mercer states that even though many organisations around the globe are collecting data, very few are able to translate the data into predictive insights. Just 1 in 4 are able to produce basic descriptive reporting and historical trend analysis. Looking forwards, predictive analytics – such as identifying which employees are likely to leave – would be incredibly valuable however less than 35% of HR leaders are able to provide this information.
It is an exciting time for the employment market. Organisations are redefining and redesigning their internal structures and the results will eventually be a complete overhaul of employment and work in general as we know it. Concurrently, employees are demanding more of their employers and the more vocal they are the better. The more transparent employment processes are employees can be assured of a better fit within the organisation and employers will then benefit from loyal, happy, engaged and steady employees. Workplaces are becoming not just a place where we feel obliged to show up to within certain timeframes, they are morphing into fluid and flexible spaces where our talents are nurtured, our contributions are valued and we work together towards a future that we are all content to be a part of.
TOP TIPS TO WIN THE TALENT WAR
• Promote a contribution culture where everyone feels welcome to give input;
• Focus on the “whole person agenda”, including health and wealth benefits;
• Define exciting career paths for a positive impact on retention;
• Take a chance on non-traditional talent who have potential but not experience;
• Mitigate risk by building a diverse port-folio of skills and a culture of innovation;
• Create a sense of belonging that resonates with your diverse workforce.
Read the full reports:
BNP Expat Survey
Mercer Talent Trends
Lisa Johnson, Consulting Services Global Practice Leader of Crown World Mobility says: “The differences for this generation seems to fall into two big categories. First, there are a number of studies that show millennials worldwide expect to gain some international experience during their careers, as well as expecting career progress to happen with a shorter timeline than in the past.
The second big difference has to do with how information is communicated and the options that are open to millennials. There is a need to provide information and communicate using apps, texts and emails rather than through policy documents, face to face meetings or phone calls. Technology and how information is received is one of the biggest shifts in any industry and, of course, also impacts Mobility.”
Lisa Johnson finds that the most recurrent questions faced by relocators today are around low cost ways in which they can provide their services to early career employees seeking international experiences. Discovering which technology lends itself to developing apps and updated services fast enough is a big one, especially as many destination service providers have to operate within a limited budget and timeframe.
The New Normal
Walter Vermeeren, Senior Vice President EMEA of Altair Global, agrees that the difference in demands is mainly a result of changing times. “Our environment is continually evolving and as a consequence the people living in that environment change. There’s a difference in the type of requests we are seeing and to stand out as a DSP in a society driven by technology you have to adapt, no matter what age group you’re dealing with.”
Although many millennials will have travelled or studied abroad before embarking on their professional careers, they often lack a deeper understanding Walter Vermeeren feels. “They are the younger transferees, frequently single and in most cases they won’t have children. This is very different compared to the typical expat we saw 20 years ago. Millennials are generally very confident. Most of them will have enjoyed a student life without too many financial problems, be it in Europe, Asia or the USA. I certainly wouldn’t want to call them spoiled but it is fair to say that this is a generation that takes a lot for granted. Essentially, we’re looking at a group of independent workers who don’t necessarily expect relocation support but who simply assume that everything they do will go smoothly. And this means that the customer has changed drastically for relocation providers.”
Lisa Johnson elaborates: “We find that a lot of our early career employees have never moved before. They have no idea about all the things they don’t know. Ironically enough companies offer them cash options and DIY move solutions. But few employees are experts at moving, which means we need to offer a lot of practical advice and support. How much will it cost? Is immigration compliance important? Can I live anywhere I want without being concerned about safety? Why shouldn’t I negotiate my own lease?”
Corrective actions are not unfamiliar Walter Vermeeren tells us. “A lease agreement signed without DSP support is a typical example of this. We all know what can go wrong: from dodgy contracts, overpaying for a property or landlords who refuse to take care of essential repairs, by bypassing professional support, millennials can be left disappointed from the moment they arrive in their new home country. Situations like these usually mean the relocation service provider has to step in and fix things after the fact. Equally, it’s not much fun for the millennial who has to ask for emergency support. All this can also end up costing the employer a much higher service fee than anticipated.”
“The emergence of technology designed to support low cost moves is creating a shift in services. Yes, you can move more cheaply and find your own apartment quite easily, but you have to factor in human support in order to advise the millennial employee on the more practical side of things.” – Lisa Johnson, Crown World Mobility
Troubleshooting the Gap
Even so, we are dealing with actual physical human beings and a gap between brain and technology, let alone the detailed and specialist knowledge on vital components to a move abroad, such as immigration. This means that problem solving will probably continue to form a substantial part of the job. Adjusting your services and communication to the specific needs of your clients will surely help to minimize the number of hours spent troubleshooting.
Ensuring a smooth relocation for your clients will (for a part) hinge on how you deliver your services to the client. “With millennials you are best off offering a list of services from which they can choose, with a few mandatory services on the list. And the service list cannot be changed for a financial benefit if they don’t use it,” says Walter Vermeeren. “Start compiling your list by talking to millennials and finding out what it is that they really expect. DSP’s should work with their customers to develop this itemised service list. Try to be as pro-active as you can be, think about what you can provide and what the customer might want you to provide. And communication really works best using modern technology. Keep it fast, short and simple!”
“Use apps, timelines, texts and infographics instead of the typical HR policy document,” Lisa Johnson adds. “Information across the board is being produced and shared in new ways. Uber is a great example of getting what you need when you need it, just as airbnb is. I believe we’ll see a general shift where for example housing options are presented in a way not dissimilar to the airbnb model. And it’s not just the millennials who see the benefits of these technological changes; society at large is coming to rely quite heavily on these visually pleasing and easy to use applications, whatever their form or function. At the same time, technology is shifting faster than guidelines and security measures, so there are some very realistic concerns around these ‘uber mobility’ solutions that will need to be addressed.”
When asked how he sees the future of relocation services, Walter Vermeeren tells us that “The millennials will grow older, which means we’ll likely find that expectations and services required will level out somewhat. But don’t forget that the next generation is hot on their heels: the Z-generation or i-Generation, the digital natives. They’ll expect even more online and highly personalised services through all the media they use (TV, Smartphone, PC, Smartwatch and other things to come, 24/7!). This is a generation that likes to share goods and so co-housing will become more of an option, and a service where DSP’s can add value. This Z-generation was not financially pampered and is growing up in a very uncertain environment. They will be looking for more certainty, which is where DSP’s come in by once again providing guaranteed services and support.”
Lisa Johnson has a more philosophical approach to the future of relocation services: “Every company is aware of the fact that the majority of employees today are millennials and that they are driving certain shifts around career paths and experiences. They want work to be meaningful, have time for activities outside of work or want to be sure they can work for a company that does meaningful things. We will all benefit from these attitudes.”
Computers, tablets, gaming consoles and smartphones are firmly embedded in our everyday lives. White papers by Crown Relocations, Xonex and Living Abroad teach us that:
1 – one of the greatest values of relocation technology is its ability to deliver pre-assignment resources to candidates through multiple platforms;
2 – tools should be streamlined, allow 24/7 access, reduce disruption, and offset problems in the new location. All of these features add up to faster assimilation into a new location, with less employee and family stress;
3 – relocation technology should be easy to use, must be fully functional on mobile platforms, giving an assignee greater convenience, connectivity and control of their relocation process.
There is a clear consensus that the volume of workers is expected to keep climbing. A strong majority of employers indicates the number of mobile employees in their organisations will increase or stay the same. As many as 89% of organizations indicated they plan to increase their mobile workers in the next two years according to PwC’s “Moving People with Purpose – Modern Mobility Survey 2014”.
Talent gaps continue to be cited as the top motivator for moving employees abroad with as many as one in three (34%) employers cited as “having trouble filling key positions.” (Moving People to Work) The dynamics are also changing. The profile of the Western senior executive being sent to explore foreign market opportunities is long replaced with a more complex, horizontal portrait.
“Talent management has become a headache for CEOs, with only 30% saying that they have the talent they need to fulfill their future growth ambitions.” (Talent Mobility 2020)
Employers also cite market expansion as a key driver for sending employees abroad. While this was also true in the past, the opportunities and barriers of market expansion have evolved. The balance between developed and emerging markets is shifting; while Western economies continue to send employees to emerging markets in droves, mobile employees from emerging markets are going not only to more developed countries but to other developing markets too.
“Nearly half of firms (45%) indicate some form of expansion impacted their relocation volumes.” (Corporate Relocation Survey Results)
“[Mobility professionals] regard new market growth as the principal driver behind the growing need for global mobility (60%).” (Strategic Global Mobility)
Successful organisations are planning for their futures by making sure their high-potential employees develop a global mindset through international experience. They will have to be comfortable leading colleagues, and pursuing market opportunities, from very different corners of the world. International experiences are seen as opportunities to build intangible leadership skills.
Attract and Fulfill
A key evolution is that employees themselves are asking for international assignments. It is not lost on the broader talent base that global experiences have become a stepping stone to promotion and mandatory for senior leadership. While previous generations held mixed views regarding the personal value of international work, millennials in particular are increasingly requesting these assignments. International posts, then, are a key tool in the global contest for young talent.
The millennial generation will make up 50% of the workforce in less than a decade and a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) reports that of 4000 millennial generation survey participants, 80% state that they want to work outside of their home country at some point during their career. It will be seen as a rite of passage.
Global economic confidence has hardly recovered from recent effects of the European debt crisis, let alone the global economic crash of 2008-2009, and cost management continues to place pressure on mobility professionals. This pressure isn’t slowing mobility volumes or even shrinking budgets, but is driving managers to more clearly demonstrate effective management and return on investment.
Changing tax requirements and government regulations are quickly becoming the top risk faced by global employers. Governments in every corner of the world are ramping up pressure around enforcement of these regulations. As compliance becomes increasingly complex and increasingly important, employers appear to be increasing the levels of outsourcing this work to external consultants. Despite this rising need, many companies are facing avoidable penalties for non-compliance.
“Over-regulation is cited by 78% as a concern.” (Global CEO Survey)
“Some 40% of respondents reported that they did not have a formal risk control framework to monitor payroll tax and social security compliance, with 64% reporting they incurred avoidable penalties for non-compliance in 2012.” (Global Mobility Effectiveness)
Steven Cryne concludes that there are four important key trends that can be taken from the various reports:
(1) flexible program design as a result of a globalised talent pool, shifting employee demographics and demands; (2) increasingly strategic role for mobility in the organisation; (3) heightened focus and expertise in ROI and data analytics; and (4) more collaboration between business and government on labour regulations.
1. Global Talent Pool and Option Diversity
We are likely to continue to see an increasing variety in the types of assignments and policies, which is being driven by a number of factors. Cost pressures are driving employers to consider less expensive options for mobilising talent, ranging from short-term assignments and employing regional staff to virtual teams and “local plus” packages. Technology is making these different options easier to manage and demand from employees, especially millennials, is also driving flexibility.
2. Integrating Talent Mobility in Organisational Strategy
As the value proposition of mobility shifts, so might its role in the organisation. Mobility professionals and consultancies are all advocating for mobility to play a more strategic role and to become embedded in a diverse range of activities, playing a broader role in human resources.
3. Proving Return on Investment Becomes Crucial
All surveys that asked about tracking, evaluating, and other elements related to ROI clearly show organisations are not excelling in this area. “95% of companies don’t measure international assignment ROI… respondents simply are not sure how to do so” (Mindful Mobility).
“Three in four respondents expect to be measuring return on investment from mobility in two years’ time, compared with just 9% who do this today. Fewer say they can accurately quantify the cost of their programme. Even by 2017, only around half (49%) expect to be able to do this accurately.” (Moving People with Purpose)
4. Increased Government Collaboration
Employers have not been passive in response to heightened pressure over government regulations and compliance requirements. Even when their governments do not see it, employers know that mobile labour is a national economic advantage. Developed countries with ageing populations will become less dependent on domestic labour and employers – and associations – are helping them to recognise it.
“Indeed, 44% of CEOs plan to work with their governments to develop a skilled and adaptable workforce over the next three years. Twenty-seven percent want to collaborate with government to create a more competitive and efficient tax system.” (Global CEO Survey)
For the full presentation, please contact EuRA.
Daniel Poelman, Business Partner Expats, and Leen Goyvaerts, Business Partner Professions Libérales & Independants at KBC Brussels are keen to introduce me to Julie Fulon, Community Manager for the Brussels branch of Startit@KBC and owner of girleek.net. We meet at the Brussels incubator and co-working space to find out more.
Happy Accidents & Unexpected Success Stories
“The face of business has undergone a radical change over the last few years,” Daniel tells us. “There is a growing community of people who have bags of experience, or even none at all, and have a great idea that they seek to develop. Belgium hasn’t always been perceived as having a particularly friendly environment for businesses to develop and grow in, but thankfully that’s changing.”
It really was per chance that Startit saw the light of day. “The bank organises an annual competition for all employees worldwide. By getting our own people to pitch ideas we get to involve different backgrounds and cultures in improving our services and optimising internal processes. There’s never really a set theme and two architects who were working in the Antwerp tower at the time, saw an opportunity to fill the empty floors through an original and socially responsible concept: bringing together young people with bright ideas and entrepreneurs and organisations that would be able to help them get their projects off the ground,” explains Leen.
“They won the pitch and were given a budget by an internal sponsor who simply told them ‘we have the space, now you have the money, let’s make it happen’. Partnerships with the University of Antwerp, Flanders DC, iMinds and others mean that a great variety of expertises and networks have been brought together under one umbrella that start-ups can use to their advantage.”
It was an unexpected success that saw the first floor in the Antwerp tower filled almost immediately. Today there are Startit offices in six cities across Belgium, housing some 287 start-ups and 28 nationalities, and the numbers continue to grow. The Brussels incubator opened its doors last Oct-ober and their very first Pitch Day brought in 15 start-ups. Today there are nearly 40 start-ups working on their plans for global domination and the co-working space is positively humming with activity.
“You become part of a community. Even if you’re in completely different fields, you can still help each another save time and money.” – Julie Fulon, Startit@KBC
So how does it work? “Start-ups really are just that,” explains Leen. “They’re at the ideation stage. Budding entrepreneurs are offered the opportunity to come and pitch their idea to our jury and, if they are accepted, are given 12 to 18 months maximum to develop themselves and to learn to do business. This is their time to create a real business plan, to complete trial runs and ensure they have a viable business before heading out into the world and officially opening for trade.”
“One of the major benefits of being invited to work here is that you become part of a community,” adds Julie. “Even if you’re in completely different fields, you can still help each another. Only the other day at the lunch table one of the tech guys pointed out to two budding entrepreneurs that they would need to keep in mind credit card expiration dates for their online business. A simple statement, but one that will save them lots of time, stress and money in the future as their monthly membership programme grows.”
And of course there’s the mentorship programme too: “We ask our mentors to meet with their start-ups for at least two hours every two weeks,” Julie continues. “And although every start-up has their personal mentor, they can ask any of our mentors for help or introductions to potential clients, partners or departments. It’s easier for the start-up to reach the right people when they can get an introduction through one of our partners or mentors. It’s an invaluable benefit to have.”
“Mentors are usually decided on at Pitch Day. The jury often knows who will be right for which project but sometimes we ask the candidate who their ideal mentor would be. Of course many say ‘Bill Gates’,” laughs Leen, “but it does give you an idea of what type of support they are after. We’ll always look at each individual case and find a local mentor who is best matched with their needs. We also get a lot of interest from people who want to become mentors, but we remind them that it’s an unpaid job that requires a lot of time and effort, so only the truly dedicated should apply.”
It’s rare for start-ups, especially in the tech industry, to find people who understand what they are trying to accomplish. “We’re increasingly coming into contact with innovative organisations and start-ups through Startit and our Bolero Crowdfunding initiative, which made us realise that we didn’t really have the proper tools in place to service them,” says Leen. “It’s something we very much want to change and the reason why KBC and KBC Brussels decided to establish a national multidisciplinary team that can share its expertise and knowledge and help guide these young enterprises on their journey. We kick off in a few weeks when we’ll have some 40 people around Belgium whose job is specifically to offer a customised service.”
“We’re learning from the start-ups, just as they are learning from us. We’re changing our mentality and are bringing new entrepreneurial tools that will benefit all of our clients.” Daniel Poelman, KBC Brussels
“It’s a huge change for KBC too,” Daniel admits. “We’re learning from the start-ups, just as they are learning from us. We’re changing our mentality and are bringing new entrepreneurial tools that will benefit all of our clients.”
So what does the future hold? “The future just happens, our environment is becoming more favourable to business and it’s up to us to be a part of it. No one said ‘we want to become the leading start-up incubator in Belgium’ but it happened. The same goes for our industry itself. We’re investing in digital and ‘the internet of things’ but no one really knows where it will take us.”
“This entrepreneurial spirit is increasingly becoming part of the DNA of KBC. We’re seeing the benefits of networking and are integrating this into our own business model as well. We’re longstanding partners of BelCham for example, and given KBC’s Startit commitment to supporting young companies in Belgium, it only felt natural for us to become one of the Founding Partners of BelCham Atelier in 2013, the pioneering incubator in the heart of New York City (located in the same building as the KBC and Belcham offices). Under the leadership of Chris Burggraeve and Bieke Claes, respectively President and Managing Director, BelCham Atelier has already become the first port of call for Belgian scale-ups who want to explore their potential in the US.” Daniel is proud to conclude.