Skyscraping a community to support tech entrepreneurs in building and scaling potential was the defining moment for Karen Boers, Co-founder & MD of Startups.be to start her own company. Reminiscing the initial phase while embarking her venture, Karen asserts, “I’ve always been interested in how new technologies could change the way we do business, organize our private lives and even our society. Discovering that there is a war for raging talent in those businesses while seeing so many motivated and talented people remain unemployed, triggered me to launch a new venture on digital skills development, allowing us to build a more inclusive society while solving a very acute barrier for growth.”
While beginning her entrepreneurial journey, Karen came across numerous hurdles like finding the right product or service that really fitted her venture’s DNA, convincing customers to go for a newbie instead of what they already knew, finding the talent to make it happen and making tough choices over and over again. However, her hard work, determination and passion finally paid off in the form of Startups.be.
Startups.be: The One-Stop Shop For Belgian Tech Entreprneurship
Six years ago, Startups.be was one of the first national startup communities in Europe and certainly the only grass root one. It was also the initial one to crowdsource a Startup Manifesto and oversee the implementation of different actions proposed across policy levels. This ultimately led to devising significant changes in startup policies at European, national, regional and local levels including regulatory and legislative changes. Since then, a positive shift in the mentality towards entrepreneurship (lowering the fear of failure) has been observed along with considerable attention given to startups and entrepreneurs.
Consequently, Startups.be became one of the founding members of the European Startup Network, which spanned into a 24-country networks, including 25.000+ startups within 18 months and is recognized as a thought leader on building startup ecosystems. Today, the organization has proven that there is quality tech entrepreneurship in Belgium, sufficient critical mass and expertise which is relevant at global level, with no less than 2.700 Belgian startups identified.
Startups.be has been leveraging the foundational network & visibility to connect Belgian startups with potential customers and investors. Additionally, soft landing into the new markets all over the world, through the Go Global missions to destinations ranging from London and Stockholm to Singapore, Nairobi, Hongkong and Dubai is offered. Hundreds of startups have launched or grown international business as a direct result of these missions.
Setting High Standards
Since its inception in 2013, Startups.be has built a neutral, inclusive and national network of startups and tech entrepreneurs. Currently, it is without competition and widely recognized as a thought leading center of expertise.
At the product level, there is a presence of quite a few competitors. As the one-stop-shop solutions provider company leverages the trust relationship it has built with the startup teams over the years, its conversion rates for matchmaking and soft landing programs are considerably above those of the its competitors. Not only that, the crowdsourcing potential of the network, both for policy and research purposes has a proven record of best practice across Europe.
Creating a Perfect Balance Between Personal and Professional Life
Belonging to a blended family with 5 kids, all between 9 and 13 years old, the work-life balance is quite critical in Karen’s life. For her, the balance is rather a matter of twining her professional life around the kids instead of dividing the hours. Karen makes it a point to leave her house at 5.30 am to avoid traffic, but gets back in time to pick her kids up from school. While supervising their homework, she deals with email follow-ups and gets right back to it after dinner. From taking conference calls in the car during commute to catching up with her friends, Karen exquisitely strikes a chord between work and family.
Conquering the Male Dominated World
Karen confesses that she has come across the gender bias quite often. In the tech & venturing industry, women are still very much a minority. A lot of business is conducted after hours, at the business club, the bar or a sports game VIP lobby, putting women at a disadvantage, as they also have a priority towards kids and home. Sharing her experiences, Karen says, “I’ve had questions raised about my wage, or my ability to combine several ventures, that my male peers have confirmed they would never have been asked.”
Despite this, being a woman has also worked to her advantage. She hopes that in the coming future, the society will move into a more balanced equilibrium of male and female thinking, leadership and entrepreneurship over time. At the same time, she does not believe in quota where women are selected for their gender rather than their qualities, providing yet another excuse to be ignored.
In the Near Future
As the context of their services change after every week, month, year, there is no way of telling where Startups.be will be in the next 10 years. Karen and her team view the first Belgian unicorns push through and have a true (digital) single market in Europe at last with community networks such as Startups.be and European Startup Network as the key drivers of the economy. Right now, Startups.be is focused for today and hopes for a bigger and brighter tomorrow.