Why a Belgian Startup Manifesto makes sense (especially right now), and how you can make a difference

manifesto

I haven’t had a chance to say much about the Belgian Startup Manifesto that’s currently in the works, save for some tweeting and retweeting, but I figured I should return to my personal blog after many, many months to highlight why I believe it is important.

Having been a little bit involved in the European Commission’s Startup Europe initiative – out of which came the European Startup Manifesto – and having worked together with people from the Greek startup ecosystem to come up with an equivalent for Greece, I’m delighted that this is finally happening in Belgium, too.

It’s good timing, as the federal government is preparing to present its action plan for the ‘Digital Agenda for Belgium’ in April of this year. The goal of that plan is to stimulate continued and sustainable growth in the Belgian digital economy, and I’m delighted to be part of a somewhat oddly named group of ‘Digital Minds’ that will advise federal minister Alexander De Croo and his cabinet on what the priorities should be.

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Together with other people in that group, namely Karen Boers (Startups.be), Bart Becks (iMinds / Angel.me) and Toon Vanagt (Data.be) as well as a number of entrepreneurs such as Xavier Damman (Storify) and Ramon Suarez (Betacoworking), I’m currently helping to put together a solid Belgian Startup Manifesto to make sure that the voice of the national startup ecosystem is heard loud and clear.

Startups are the lifeblood of the digital economy, and an increasingly important engine for job creation and economic growth. It is imperative that the needs and wishes of the small but growing Belgian ecosystem – which is comprised not only of startup founders and entrepreneurs but also early-stage technology investors and a wide variety of service providers – are formulated in a clear, coherent way.

Rest assured that the other stakeholders in this industry – the Belgian telcos, local and global ICT giants, media companies, ISPs, e-commerce players, sector organisations and so on – will understandably weigh in on the Digital Agenda for Belgium action plan. We need to make sure the startups are consulted, too.

Hence, the call for stories and contributions from you, the people who form the #BeTech community.

It’s an opportunity for you to share what’s important to you, how you think the digital economy in Belgium can grow bigger, faster, and how the government could make life easier for you (without, of course, making it disproportionally harder for others). Be honest and constructive.

Your feedback will be taken into account as we collect stories and suggestions from across the country (and Belgian entrepreneurs living and working in other parts of the world). The challenge for us will be to come up with a manifesto that’s both concise and comprehensive, and ambitious but ultimately realisable.

We’ve already received a number of great stories and suggestions, and I’ll chip in with a little anecdote of my own.

In 2013, I had to make a decision where to base Tech.eu‘s registered office. Belgium would seem like the obvious choice as I was living and working here, but instead Tech.eu’s parent company is based in London, UK. Why? Because our early angel investors were British, and they were able to enjoy tax benefits if they invested in UK companies (through SEIS). Belgium doesn’t have that kind of program to encourage early-stage tech investments by business angels, but it should, and I’m confident that it will rather soon.

Why? Because that’s something the Belgian startup ecosystem has already identified as a need, and the government is listening. Now that you know that they are: have your say.

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Personal update on some of my (very small) startup investments

Occasionally (read: rarely) I get so excited by meetings with Belgian entrepreneurs that our conversations lead me to become an ad-hoc advisor to their startups, most often in exchange for a tiny stake in the business. I list those shareholdings on my about.me page and Crunchbase profile.

Consider this a quick note, if only as a reminder to myself, that there have been some changes in recent months. To wit, I’ve divested most of my shares in Showpad (keep a close eye on those guys!) and sold the stake I still held in Oxynade. It’s not just divestments, though.

In recent weeks, I’ve grown very excited about what entrepreneurial duo extraordinaire David Dehaeck and Nathalie Haveman are busily building over at ARTPLUS.

It’s very early days, but they have a shot at radically changing the way digital media art (basically, any art you can see on a screen, or have 3D-printed) is collected, managed and traded.

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More on their cloud-based solution for the ‘digital Renaissance 2.0’ later, but you should definitely sign up for the beta if you’re interested in the future of art.

And for the sake of being complete: I remain an advisor to Checkthis (who are absolutely killing it with the fun Frontback photo app and community), Maily (if you have young kids and a tablet computer, check them out) and Argus Labs (worth a look for those who really want in-depth analytics on mobile users).

Obviously, I will continue to be very mindful whenever I or anyone else ends up writing about a company on Tech.eu that competes in any way with any of the companies I have a vested interest in. Most of the time, those articles simply don’t get published because I don’t want it to cloud my judgment and I wish to steer clear of any serious conflict of interest allegations and be judged on the merits of our reporting only.

That’s all, folks!

If your Christmas card is even only half as good as this one from Lars Hinrichs, don’t bother

Gotta love Lars Hinrichs (of XING and HackFWD fame, among other stuff). Not only is he sending out cool, personalized Christmas card to his friends, he’s doing it in style, in English with a ridiculously thick German accent, all while skillfully promoting one of his portfolio companies (Impossible Software).

“Hey Lars, vy do you want to send Christmas cards? Let’s make a wideo.”

Pretty amazing.

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On leaks and family matters

Family-Matters

My friend and former TechCrunch-accomplice Roi Carthy (now a managing partner at VC firm Initial) has published an interesting blog post to lament a recent report in the Israeli business press about Apple’s supposed acquisition of PrimeSense.

The problem is that, apparently, the deal was/is not yet signed and done, leading Roi to suggest whoever leaked the news was being irresponsible and possibly impacting “hundreds of people’s livelihoods”:

“People’s livelihood in jeopardy because of a leak, is a state of being I have a problem accepting.”

I think it’s a bit ridiculous to state that this sort of leaks can people’s livelihood in ‘jeopardy’ – it’s not like it’s literally putting folks in a life-or-death situation. Too strong a word any way you slice it.

But as a journalist that has also dabbled in entrepreneurial ventures, I understand his position. Leaks can spike business deals and ‘rob’ people (not just founders, but their employees and investors) of financial reward, job security, and more. That sucks, and I totally get why that makes people ticked off at the leaker(s), whoever they may be or regardless of their agenda(s).

It may not to be the wisest thing to say as a journalist, but I do agree that leakers should sometimes be more thoughtful and careful when passing on crucial business information to the press or peers.

What I vehemently disagree with, however, is Roi’s stance on how the Israeli business press should have handled the leak.

Roi pleas for them to make a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between them and “do the right thing”, which is apparently to stop publishing reports based on leaks. That is not how an independent media is supposed to work, of course, and the reality is that it would only take one rotten apple to ruin the whole thing. And if everyone miraculously sticks to the gentleman’s agreement, a new apple will fall from the tree and start publishing reports based on leaks anyway. It wouldn’t, and I argue shouldn’t, ever work.

Referring to the Israeli ecosystem’s journalists and startups as a “family”, as Roi does in his post, is dangerous and detracts from his stronger point, which is that the leaker is acting irresponsibly.

Coincidentally, I’ve had this conversation before, also with a well-known member of the Israeli startup community, who argued that leaks about the Facebook-Google bidding war for Waze would kill the deal and (there we go again) deprive a lot of Israelis of substantial financial reward for their hard work over the past few years. Except, of course, the rumours didn’t kill the deal at all.

If I were running a business like PrimeSense and a leak happened before the dotted line gets signed, I’d be pissed too. But I’d be angry at the leaker(s), not the press whose duty it is to report on business happenings, whether they’re ongoing or finalized.

Leaks have occurred for ages, across industries and the world (try reporting politics instead of tech for a real taste of behind-the-scenes ‘information sharing’). They’re not going away. Deal with it, basically.

Attempting to dictate when a journalist can report something is a very slippery slope, and pulling the ‘family’ card has a averse effect in my mind. An independent media should decide for themselves what and when to publish, and the public will choose to pay attention or ignore it on the basis of its authenticity, accuracy and accountability.

They shouldn’t be put in a position where they would have to defend their way of working because they are ‘part of the ecosystem’. They don’t have to go on the defensive and argue what they have to gain from publishing reports based on leaks – it’s not just about being first or beating the competition, it’s about doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Blaming them for botched business deals is wrong.

The media’s role is to stay as neutral as possible, and journalists should stay on the sidelines to the extent where they can report on business deals without having to consider “people’s livelihoods”.

That’s on the leaker(s).

They are typically part of the ‘family’ Roi refers to – not the journalists, in my opinion.

Behold, a Buzzword Filter for Chrome – No need to thank me, fellow journalists.

I often do presentations / workshops for startups to try and explain how best to approach and deal with media, and why they should pay attention to the ‘packaging’ of their message when pitching journalists.

One of the things that really get me going is the insane amount of hyperbole – which, by the way, I just recently learned to pronounce correctly – that is often found throughout press releases or blog posts.

Thus, I tend to urge people to avoid meaningless buzzwords that somehow find their way in most every news announcement, such as ‘leading’, ‘next-generation’, ‘cutting-edge’, ‘ground-breaking’, ‘award-winning’, ‘breakthrough’, ‘innovative’, ‘game-changing’ and all that other gibberish.

When you have to read a lot of announcements on a daily basis, it gets very tedious to weed those out mentally, as almost every journalist quickly learns how to do. But now there’s a better solution.

The friendly developers over at Woorank (a great, bootstrapped Belgian startup co-founded by my buddy Jean Derely) have been nice enough to develop a Google Chrome extension especially for me.

Dubbed Buzzword Filter, it does exactly what you’d expect: install the browser plugin, and you’ll be able to create a list of words you don’t like to read.

Click the icon whenever you’re on a Web page with too many of those words, and bam, they’re gone (you can easily toggle it on and off). Simple and useful. Just the way I like my software.

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