Belgium's delay in its PropTech support strategy

Belgium’s Delay in Its Proptech Support Strategy

Idriss Goossens, young boss of the Belgian PropTech Lab network, does not hesitate to look elsewhere for examples of good practices to better support PropTech start-ups here.

The United Kingdom and France are a step ahead of Belgium and, more broadly, the rest of Europe in terms of PropTech. What virtuous practices should we remember from our neighbors?

The UK is way ahead, that's for sure. London has become the Mecca of PropTech. We can see this in the number of large groups that have appointed a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) and in the quantity of funds that invest in PropTech. The example to follow, in my opinion, is that of the appointment, within the British Ministry of Housing, of a person who works full time on PropTech to have an overview of it. The British government has also taken a series of regulatory measures to encourage innovation in new projects, such as BIM Level 2 certification for all public tenders.

What about France?

Ten years ago, the French government created French Tech (an official label awarded to metropolitan centers recognized for their start-up ecosystem, Editor's note) with the desire to create a “start-up nation”. And this, by facilitating interactions, contacts with investors, attracting international capital, etc. As a result, in ten years, France has become the country of unicorns (start-ups valued at more than a billion dollars, Editor's note).

The Belgian-Luxembourg PropTech Lab network merges with its Czech counterpart

Another successful example is the VivaTech show, which has just ended in Paris. But there are plenty of other initiatives, such as the fact that the BPI (Public Investment Bank, created by the French State and Caisse des Dépôts, Editor's note), the French sovereign investor, has invested in the network of French founders entrepreneurs. France has also invested in Impulse Partners (a consulting company specializing in innovation strategy in the real estate and sustainable city sectors, Editor's note), which is similar to what we do at PropTech Lab.

Supporting existing networks is the first step in the sector support strategy, in your opinion?

Obviously ! Belgian governments must come to the aid of ecosystems already in place and efficient like PropTech Lab, but also like The Beacon in Antwerp, BeCentral in Brussels, Wintercircus in Ghent… We are carrying out in-depth work which has a lot of value and which is more impactful than what many public and/or subsidized platforms do, whose projects are often meaningless. Belgium is far behind in its PropTech support strategy.

Furthermore, I don't want to do "Belgium bashing" and be too negative towards the Belgian system, but from an administrative, regulatory and tax point of view, Belgium is hell for entrepreneurship. Real estate is no exception with the difficulties linked to the granting of permits and it is for these reasons that most of the large Belgian real estate developers are very active in other European countries. The same goes for start-ups. We saw this with Collibra, the first Belgian unicorn specializing in big data : she fled Belgium and was bought by a Dutch holding company. The entire tech ecosystem in Belgium speaks with one voice, asking that the work of entrepreneurs be made easier.

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“The first thing to do is define what an ecosystem is according to objective criteria and financially support those who have real added value for the sector in exchange for a solid action plan”

What message would you like to send to politicians on the eve of the elections?

I would like to remind you that it is entrepreneurs who solve the major problems of tomorrow. They are the ones who find solutions, who create value and jobs. They are superheroes.

If you were Minister of Innovation, what would you implement?

The first thing to do is define what an ecosystem is according to objective criteria and financially support those who have real added value for the sector in exchange for a solid action plan. Second, it is finding a mechanism to facilitate collaboration between PropTech start-ups and large real estate groups. Then, we must consider a multitude of small measures that make a difference, such as, for example, imposing a level of BIM on all major real estate projects or registering innovation (i.e. say the fact of collaborating with start-ups) as a selection criterion in public calls for tenders. Another option: grant tax reductions linked to innovation to promoters.

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You are strict towards public platforms supporting start-ups. For what ?

For me, public structures or structures subsidized with public money are inherently dysfunctional. I am, it is true, quite drastic on this. Max Weber said that the final object of any bureaucratic administration is to continue to exist. It is an objective which is unrelated to the expected impact on the ground. If you fight every day to simply continue to exist, the objective is missed. It’s a daily job to campaign to make innovation a priority in the sector.

In eight years, since 2016 and the creation of PropTech Lab, have you noticed that mentalities are changing?

Yes and no. There are resplendent successes like De Nieuwe Dokken by Caaap and Van Roey, Wood Hub by BPI, Icône by Besix Red, Minerve by Revive, etc. But some large real estate and construction groups still perceive start-ups as sellers of irrelevant solutions, who harass them and then no longer talk about them once the transaction is concluded. Or like young companies that are successful today but will go bankrupt tomorrow. They prefer to favor one-stop shops, all-in-one structures that resolve all their concerns by guaranteeing them a single contact in all the markets where they are present. Even if it means losing finesse, innovation, precision.

That's not how we should see things. Large groups have the expertise of yesterday and today, but it is the start-ups that have that of tomorrow, the vision of the future, the inspiration. They work every day and tirelessly in search of progress, that is to say, not useless innovation but innovation that elevates humanity.

International best practices to boost PropTech in Belgium

Idriss Goossens, young boss of the Belgian PropTech Lab network, does not hesitate to look elsewhere for examples of good practices to better support PropTech start-ups here.

The British model: an undeniable advance

The United Kingdom stands out for its significant advance in the field of PropTech. London is now considered the mecca of this sector thanks to several key initiatives. Among these, the appointment of a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) within many large groups and the massive investment of funds in PropTech are determining elements. A prominent example is the appointment of a dedicated PropTech person within the UK Department of Housing, enabling an overview and effective coordination of innovation efforts.

Additionally, the UK government has put in place regulatory provisions to encourage innovation, such as BIM Level 2 certification for all public tenders. These measures have made it possible to create an environment conducive to the emergence and development of PropTech start-ups.

French Tech: a thriving ecosystem

Ten years ago, France launched French Tech with the ambition of becoming a “start-up nation”. This initiative facilitated interactions between start-ups and investors, attracted international capital and created a favorable environment for the emergence of unicorns. Today, France is recognized for its numerous start-ups valued at more than a billion dollars.

Events like the VivaTech show in Paris and strategic investments by the BPI (Public Investment Bank) in entrepreneurial networks such as FrenchFounders and consulting firms like Impulse Partners have strengthened this dynamic ecosystem.

Support for existing networks: a priority for Belgium

For Idriss Goossens, it is crucial that Belgian governments support successful ecosystems already in place, such as PropTech Lab, The Beacon in Antwerp, BeCentral in Brussels and Wintercircus in Ghent. These local initiatives carry out valuable and impactful in-depth work, often more effective than certain subsidized public platforms whose projects sometimes lack meaning.

Unfortunately, Belgium is lagging significantly behind in its PropTech support strategy. Administrative, regulatory and tax obstacles make entrepreneurship difficult, pushing many real estate developers and start-ups to seek opportunities elsewhere in Europe.

Proposals for a better future

Idriss Goossens proposes several measures to improve the situation in Belgium:

  • Clearly define what an ecosystem is according to objective criteria and financially support those who bring real added value.
  • Facilitate collaboration between PropTech start-ups and large real estate groups.
  • Impose a level of BIM on all major real estate projects and include innovation as a selection criterion in public calls for tenders.
  • Grant tax reductions linked to innovation to promoters.

These measures aim to create a more favorable environment for innovation and encourage fruitful collaborations between the different players in the real estate sector.

A call to politicians

On the eve of the elections, Idriss Goossens recalls that it is entrepreneurs who solve the major problems of tomorrow. They create solutions, value and jobs. For him, entrepreneurs are superheroes who deserve increased support from policy makers.

The challenges of public structures

Goossens harshly criticizes public start-up support platforms, calling them dysfunctional by nature. According to him, these structures are fighting above all for their own survival rather than for the real impact on the ground. He calls for a review of priorities to make innovation a real priority in the real estate sector.

Evolution of mentalities since 2016

Since the creation of PropTech Lab in 2016, mentalities have evolved in contrasting ways. Although some success stories are notable, many large real estate groups continue to view start-ups as unreliable entities. They often prefer all-in-one solutions that offer less innovation but more apparent security.

Yet Goossens insists that start-ups hold the vision and inspiration needed to move the sector forward. They work tirelessly to develop innovations that uplift humanity and therefore deserve greater recognition and support.

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