entrepreneurship in the city of Ghent
Steve Stevens, Student-entrepreneurship centre DO!, Ghent University, Belgium.
This article was first published in 2019 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 2 no 1
Steve Stevens has been the manager of the student-entrepreneurship centre DO! (Durf Ondernemen) at Ghent University in Belgium since 2013, and has worked closely with Gentrepreneur, the organisation that supports enterprising young people in Ghent. He is about to take his long-term and passionate commitment to the Ghent entrepreneurship ecosystem to a whole new level, in his new role as an elected member of the city council. We asked Steve about his work.
Why is Ghent such a good place to be an entrepreneur?
“Ghent is an open city, known for its progressive character. It’s the biggest student city in Belgium, which offers a major opportunity to find talented and skilled people and new entrepreneurs. The city has been promoting entrepreneurship for decades and has focused on startup policy since 2008. It offers a grant of 5000 euro for each entrepreneur that starts (and stays for at least 3 years) in Ghent and pays back the starting fee (when getting your TVA number). Figures show this has helped to make Ghent stand out on a Belgian level, as the place to be for startups. There’s a lot happening in the city, especially cultural events. F.ex. The Ghent Festival, a 10 days free summer festival, is the ideal place to test out products. Ghent has a sea port, we’re world leading in BIO-science technology and with Ghent University highly ranked in many fields on a global scale. There’s good public transport, a carless city centre, a focus on the green economy and sharing economy, together with an ambitious policy on Tech Entrepreneurship.”
Image credit: Pixabay
Why do you enjoy working in the field of entrepreneurship?
“It’s great if you can have an indirect impact on society, and especially on positive change. Working with entrepreneurial people gives a lot of energy. The dynamics you feel when working together is what makes it really enjoyable. Seeing results afterwards give goosebumps and more passion to go on with it. Especially when you see people taking action, having their impact, starting a business/company, reaching out to the world, seeing it work and seeing how they create work and employ people. So delightful!”
How do you support students to become entrepreneurs?
“By challenging and coaching them. We coach students individually both on personal side, as well as on business side. We help them to combine their studies with venturing by offering them more study flexibility, in form of a special status (comparable to the status Top athletes are granted to combine their studies and top sports). We see them as top athletes in entrepreneurship. Besides that we are offering co-working space to them, meeting rooms, prototyping materials, equipment and workshops. We are there as mentors and have a close relationship with them. We inform them about legal aspects, lobby for them with the government (for example about fiscal rights) and bring them in contact with our network. We run specific programs with local actors in accelerating businesses and guide them in the city ecosystem for startup support. We learn from them, talk with them and link them with one another. Finally we promote them and let them keep their own IP rights.”
How can you support new and established entrepreneurs now that you are on the city council?
“I can influence the city policy from now on, a bit more. I do this by taking an active role in the city commission for economy and entrepreneurship. I’ve been installed in the council since January and started to inform the responsible alderwoman about my personal vision on the Ghent ecosystem, the existing key players, important influencers to talk with and brought her into contact with responsible people within the ecosystem. Overall, I’m proactively looking to enhance the city policy and its ambitions.
At the moment I’m following up on a case about new infrastructure for startups and scale-ups and I’m talking to the stakeholders, to learn from their needs on a city level so that I can then bring those insights to the council.” ◼️