A while ago, Minister Alexander Decroo founded the Digital Minds for Belgium. A sounding board containing Belgian’s finest venture capital professionals, startup ecosystem leaders, internationally renown tech bloggers and experienced founders. It’s a clear signal that Belgium wants to shape up on its shortcomings in supporting and growing startups.
A first step is to establish a Startup Manifesto and get everyone behind it.
These are some of my proposals:
- Tax Free Startup Zones, or Controlled corporate income tax exemption for startups. Provide startups tax exemption mechanisms. Singapore is doing a good job at this. For example, a 0% corporate income tax for its first million Euro in turnover and for a period of maximum three years since the incorporation of the business. This would allow a startup to better reinvest their revenu into their own business, hire more staff and (more) autonomously invest in their business. Another rendition could be to install tax-free zones for startups throughout Belgium. This works well for other countries that need to kickstart their economies. So, why not ours? Oh, and if we’re creating Tax-Free Startup Zones, make them fun to work in. Zone land for these hubs, add in local commerce, outlets, shops, …
- Reduce the labour cost, and social security contributions. Provide startups tax exemption mechanisms on the total labour cost, including social security contributions, for the first 3 years or first 10 employees. This will enable startups to quickly hire and ramp up their staff, and create more jobs than our government currently is able to. Currently, there are already some benefits when you apply for a Young Innovative Company. This can be taken as a boilerplate and further amended. In any case, Belgium has one of the highest labour costs in Europe, so this is clearly a situation that needs to stop before we lose all of our economical competitiveness. Time to wake up.
- Reduce the unemployment benefits, and install founder benefits. Shouldn’t a government stimulate founders, rather than cultivate a culture of slackers? Let’s start rewarding people for showing initiative instead of sleeping in. Provide a founder with a guaranteed tax free income of 1.200 Euro / month for his first year. Now, nobody has an excuse not to try something! It’s just sending a clearer message, while keeping our obligation to take care for our children, sick, disabled, elderly and veterans. A measure like this would significantly reduce the abuse of our welfare system, kickstart more startups and in turn generate more jobs, and provide for our high-quality of social welfare.
- Government should promote the future instead of protecting the past. A government should facilitate and nurture growth, prosperity, and safety for its citizens. This means embracing innovation, and tearing down the old in a graceful manner so there is room for the new. Clearly, the Belgian government rather is in bed with the old (lobbyists) than with the new startups. This sh*t needs to stop. If an industry or company has become irrelevant, let it die and make way for a new generation. If not, Belgium should prepare for a startup exodus.
- Improve the cultural aspects on success & failure. In Belgium, if you’re successful you must be a criminal; if you’ve failed you have to be a loser. Whatever way it pans out, you better thrive for mediocrity rather than success. This is a cultural mindset that needs to change immediately. We can never start building billion-dollar companies, when the general mindset of the Belgian population is still stuck in a weird variant of mediocre, socialist thinking that considers entrepreneurship to be a deviant characteristic rather than something we should pride ourselves with.
- Promote STEM as early as possible through the educational system. A STEM (or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum is something we should kickstart as early as possible throughout the educational system. Get kids excited and interested in science, start teaching kids basic development skills, make mathematics cool again by making it applicable. I fluently programmed Borland C++ 3.0 when I was 14 years old; I’m just saying that the minds of children and young people are dying for knowledge. Let’s get them on board! If you can’t code, you will be a future illiterate.
- Abolish government grants. Government grants might sound like a good idea, but actually they aren’t. It’s taking back money you already paid in taxes. So, wait. Here’s an idea? What if we lowered the taxes and stop with the grants? Wouldn’t that be more democratic? Face it. Grants are a twisted and artificial way of keeping companies afloat that deserve to die, create inequality between large corporations and small startups, while keeping white lab coats performing intellectual masturbation with zero-return to the economy. There are already enough European grant programs.
- Incentivise citizens to invest in startups. Provide Belgian citizens with a significant tax incentive to support startups by actively investing in them. Make that part of the annual tax declarations. There is already a Win-Win Loan in Belgium (by PMV), but this is only a start. If a Belgian citizen is investing 1.000 Euro in a startup, either directly or through crowdfunding, this individual is already contributing more to the Belgian economy than by simply paying taxes, and should not be taxed on that 1.000 Euro (example case).
- Easy transportation, commute and flights. Last but not least, getting around efficiently is something we all crave for. Belgium is the worst country in traffic congestion. Worldwide. So better road and transportation planning is required, because the country is coming to a grinding halt. Every day. Between 7-9am and 4-6pm. Oh, and more flights. There should be more flights to other Startup Hubs, such as San Francisco, Israel, Singapore, … And while we’re at it, perhaps Brussels Airlines could be giving discounts for Startup companies of 25% during its first year.
- Free waffles! OK. So this doesn’t make sense, but I had to get 10 items on my list 😉
Obviously, some of these points come with a risk, and inevitably there will be fraud. We’re Belgium after all.
But all sarcasm aside, the biggest risk of all is not getting behind this Belgian Startup Manifesto. Some proposals may seem bullish, or downright extreme. But sometimes, plowing through is the only way to go.
If you want change, this is the time. Get with the #BeStartUpManifesto, or get out.