When you are thinking of starting your own business in Antwerp...

Starting a business in Antwerp

Antwerp – a Great place to Start…Up!

Thinking of starting your own business in Antwerp? Well, why not? Antwerp is a possible location. There are an increasing number of reasons why people who want to develop an innovative business idea, or simply try out a different way of doing things are relocating to Antwerp. Here are just a few of those reasons.

Location, Location, Location!

As they say in the movie, and now real estate industries, ‘Location is everything’. Okay, so maybe that’s going a bit too far, especially in the age of the digital nomad. However, even digital nomads are flocking to Antwerp, drawn by the ever-increasing development and growth of the tech industry here. And a lot of this expansion is being fuelled by the number of Start Ups that deal in the creative and tech sides of new businesses. Antwerp is a truly international city and has good internal and external infrastructure. The port of Antwerp is one of the largest in the world for freight forwarding traffic, in fact second in Europe, with the Westerschelde estuary from the river Scheldt providing easy access to shipping. There is easy access via road; Brussels is only about 45 minutes away, and it’s only 15 km from the border with Holland, with Lille, in France, about an hour and a half by car. There is also a six-lane motorway surrounding the city, which locals call the ‘Ring’, which provides easy access to the residential parts of the city. There is also an extensive rail network, with routes to Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and many other places. As far as flying goes, well, there is an international airport in Antwerp; routes include London City Airport, Florence and several Spanish cities, such Alicante. However, if you want to go further afield, Brussels International is only 40 km away! And of course, in the city itself, you have the convenience of an extensive tram and bus network, with 14 tramlines currently run by ‘De Lijn’.

Fusion without the ‘con’

Antwerp is an exciting, eclectic mix and match in many ways, even in the diverse origins of the people who now call it home. The population of immigrants living in the city has been steadily rising, and in 2010 they made up an estimated 36-39 %. However, according to Express Business, a Belgian publication, this figure is expected to rise to around 55%. So, you won’t be the only non-native living in Antwerp! Of course, this has led to a world of different flavours to be found among the many terraces and restaurants the city boasts of. Don’t worry though, there are still plenty of places to enjoy mussels, fries, beer, and, of course, the world-famous Belgian chocolate. This exciting interaction also takes place in the world of business, and especially in the world of start-ups.

The sweet smell of success for a business in Antwerp

Now we come to some of the real reasons that new entrepreneurs have been so successful in setting up an original and innovative business in Antwerp. Since 2015 the Belgian tax laws have been extensively reviewed and many incentives have been introduced specifically to help Start-Ups and, once they are on the road to success, Scale-Ups. These incentives include tax shelters of up to 30% for small and medium sized enterprises and up to 45% for micro enterprises. This, for many start-ups, means a sizable saving on the tax they would have to pay as a fledgling company. Now, if you add to this the wonderfully efficient broadband connectivity that Antwerp enjoys, then it would not surprise you to know that one of the results of this is that many investors have seen the advantage of supporting the rapidly growing number of Tech Start-Ups, dealing with things like web development, software engineering and design. There have also been several other official incentives, like the Antwerp Start Up Fair, which took place on April 25th, 2019, and was a resounding success. At the fair there were 45 Start-Ups exhibiting, 177 employment opportunities, and around 530 meetings arranged, of which an impressive 70% turned into already planned follow up meetings for the future.  

There are also more concrete incentives that Antwerp has invested in such as Incubators and Initiatives. These are places and organisations including @KBC, Idealabs, Telenet, i-Minds, i-Start and CoFoundry that provide support and services to help develop ideas and products, transforming them into a viable business opportunity. Some of these, like CoFoundry can already be found situated in what is sometimes referred to as the flagship building of Antwerp – Start-upVillage. This is a wonderful, historic edifice, located in Lange Gasthuisstraat 29 – 31. This is a great place for Start-Ups to connect with larger companies, investors and mentors. There are regular gatherings held in the events lounge, called De Serre, with events, meetings, workshops and press conferences taking place. The back of the building is home to, as mentioned before The CoFoundry and other incubators including the Cronos Group. The fusion organisations of research institutes iMinds and imec will also be on hand to assist any international Start-ups that want to investigate possibilities in Antwerp. Help is also available from iMinds in the shape of their i-start business incubation programme. However, Start-upVillage doesn’t just offer support and advice, they also offer physical space at affordable rates at the front of the building to enable enterprises to grow. There are flexible leases, up to a maximum of three years. And yet another positive is that when your company does start to grow into a Scale-Up, you then have Netwerk Ordenemen, who have their headquarters in the building and offer further training and even funding.

So, as if this wasn’t enough incentive, here are a couple more; ‘Buy from Start-Ups’ is an initiative from The City of Antwerp, in partnership Digipolis, who have decided to help the local economy by contracting creative start-Ups to help find solutions to the challenges of digital cities in the future. And then there’s ‘The City of Things’, where the city will become a ‘living lab’, with clients and companies able to test and improve new digital products by collecting data from them at points all over the city; the information collected will help to better understand both the needs of the consumer and the market.

It also has a great night life! But that’s another story.

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