7.2.3Four broad recommendations with ten more tangible policy actions

The advice of VARIO consists of four broad recommendations with ten more tangible policy actions. The advice was supported by a thorough quantitative and qualitative analysis and realized after extensive consultation of high-growth innovative entrepreneurs and the professional field in Flanders.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Develop an integral, long- and short-term strategy to increase the number of ambitious (serial) entrepreneurs in Flanders

  • Action 1: Implement a long-term strategy to get more Flemish people attracted by ambitious entrepreneurship. An integral policy framework is needed based on a chain approach, from primary education to higher education towards the labor market. Universities and their Technology Transfer Offices, university colleges... have yet to experiment with hands-on entrepreneurship education. This must be done in an evidence-based way and based on (international) good practices that have proven their impact.
  • Action 2: For the short-term, implement a targeted, strategic immigration policy to attract ambitious entrepreneurs from abroad, for instance based on startup or scale-up visa. VARIO refers to its first advice 'Attracting and retaining top international talent' (2017)[1].


RECOMMENDATION 2: Focus on strong high-growth entrepreneurial ecosystems based on a patient, long-term horizon. Committing to entrepreneurial ecosystems offers the advantage that they are more difficult to disrupt than a single company: moving or transferring (professional) networks is extremely difficult to achieve

  • Action 3: Develop a coherent and coordinated strategy for each of five growth accelerators within the ecosystem, for a diversity of young and more mature high-growth innovative firms:
  1. The availability of (international) talent (in STEM, business development, in regulatory affairs...) should be a top priority for boosting high-growth innovative firms. VARIO refers to his advice 'Attracting and retaining top international talent'.
  2. Improve leadership capacity by introducing excellent, science-based MBA programs for growth managers. These programs should consider the different growth phases of enterprises and the growing pains linked to them. Additionally, encourage self-learning peer-to-peer networks.
  3. Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT[2]) has an important, proactive role to play in guiding high-growth innovative companies to conquer international markets. FIT could be more actively involved in setting up foreign branch offices (administration, hiring staff, forming communities among clusters of Flemish companies abroad...).
  4. A more active involvement of PMV[3] is important for financing high-growth. PMV needs to detect and remedy existing thresholds in the (interactions between) demand (from companies) and supply factors (from capital providers). As a matchmaker in the ecosystem, PMV should continue to focus on stimulating high-quality networks between investors, researchers, ambitious entrepreneurs...
  5. Build flexible (digital) infrastructures and an environment that facilitates collaboration between stakeholders in the ecosystem. VARIO refers to two acknowledged good practices from the United Kingdom: Engine Shed[4] (Bristol) and Canary Wharf[5] (Level39, London).
  • Action 4: Provide specific professional coaching of a select group of young high-growth innovative firms towards a more efficient scale. Business accelerator programs should be structurally embedded in entrepreneurial ecosystems. Additionally, VARIO advocates the further development of high-performing and professional Technology Transfer Offices with necessary management autonomy, operational strength and critical mass. Ideally, Technology Transfer Offices consist of large teams with complementary skills that bridge the gap between science, technology and industry. Here, flipped TTOs[6] are worth mentioning: ambitious entrepreneurs are playing a more central role here, cooperating with academic researchers from a demand-driven perspective, originating from the market and from societal needs.
  • Action 5: An entrepreneurial ecosystem stands or falls with the strength of its internal connections. In an ecosystem, all partners are equal, and coordination must come from bottom up. A neutral, independent organization should facilitate, together with private, structural partners and stakeholders. This facilitator is well acquainted with, and has knowledge of, the internal functioning of the entire ecosystem. VLAIO's Team Bedrijfstrajecten[7] can take on this role, with PMV's active involvement in growth financing and FIT in international markets. Essential tasks are:
  1. Detecting and remedying bottlenecks
  2. Actively engaging and identifying stakeholders with the entire ecosystem aiming for internal cohesion (i.e. matchmaking)
  3. Improving international visibility and the image of Flemish entrepreneurial ecosystems. Quality labels such as French Tech[8] can play a role in both internal cohesion and international visibility.


RECOMMENDATION 3: Develop general stimulating framework conditions for ambitious entrepreneurs

  • Action 6: Increase the quality of a broad spectrum of institutional factors - regulations, the tax system, government effectiveness - for high-growth innovative firms. VARIO asks the Flemish government to make this a priority in the domains for which it is competent (e.g. an efficient licensing policy, stable regulation, administrative simplification, digitization...) and to start the dialogue with the federal, Belgian government for the other policy areas (labor market regulation, bankruptcy legislation...).
  • Action 7: Further develop a creative economy based on an open and tolerant climate, increasing people’s mobility and creating a smooth interplay of ideas. Focus on legislation, taxation and/or KPIs that stimulate intersectoral mobility and connectivity between companies and knowledge institutes. Additionally, priority should be given to (tax) incentives for stimulating serial entrepreneurship (together with its financial dynamics).


RECOMMENDATION 4: Strengthen monitoring tools and introduce policy interventions based on careful evaluation procedures

  • Action 8: To monitor the strategy’s ambition, the impact of high-growth innovative firms on GDP should be determined, also in function of economic sectors and/or entrepreneurial ecosystems. Secondly, the evolution of bottlenecks, such as access to talent, problems with regulations... should be monitored. To this end, the monitoring and/or statistical mechanisms in Flanders should be strengthened, for instance by analyzing existing data such as from the R&D[9]- and CIS[10]-surveys.
  • Action 9: Make use of policy experiments when introducing new policy interventions such as business accelerator programs. Carry out careful assessments of their impact and make adaptations if necessary.
  • Action 10: VARIO points out that not only young but also older companies are represented in the population of high-growth firms (Figure 1, see above). VARIO calls attention to this diversity and asks for more research into the drivers of high-growth among the more mature firms.


[1] VARIO (2017). Attracting and retaining top international talent. Advisory report 1. https://www.vario.be/en/publications/advisory-report-1-attracting-and-retaining-top-international-talent
[2] FIT facilitates investment projects in Flanders and gives support to Flemish export companies: https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/en
[3] PMV is a Flemish investment company located in Brussels, providing risk capital for promising businesses, from their very start, through their various growth stages and even on to operating internationally: https://www.pmv.eu/en
[4] https://engine-shed.co.uk/
[5] https://www.level39.co/
[6] De Cleyn, S. & Festel, G. (2016). Academic spin-offs and technology transfer in Europe: best practices and breakthrough models. UK: Elgar publishing.
[7]Team Bedrijfstrajecten’ can be translated as ‘Team Business Processes’. VLAIO (Agentschap Innoveren en Ondernemen) stands for Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship: https://www.vlaio.be/nl/andere-doelgroepen/flanders-innovation-entrepreneurship 
[8] https://www.lafrenchtech.com/en/
[9] R&D Survey: http://iri.jrc.ec.europa.eu/survey.html
[10] Community Innovation Survey: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/microdata/community-innovation-survey