EY is partner of Co.Station Ghent: new hothouse for young digital companies with ambitious growth plans

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On 29 September, a brand new campus with 2,600m2; of work space, specifically geared to the needs of young digital companies with ambitious growth plans, is opening in the Quantum building close to Ghent-Dampoort station. Co.Station Ghent is designed to provide a ‘village’-style co-working space, together with a learning academy and an accelerator programme, all aimed at ‘scaleups’ – i.e. young companies looking to take their growth to the next level.

Following the success of Co.Station BXL, which commenced activities in February 2015, the opening of Co.Station Ghent is the result of a partnership between BNP Paribas Fortis, EY and Proximus. Meanwhile the 2.845m2; Co.Station BXL is already bursting at the seams and will be adding a further 1.052m2; of space before the end of the year.

From startup to scaleup: speed is vital!

Promising startups that are capable of turning innovative ideas into marketable products or services deserve support and assistance to scale up their business, generate cash flow and – not least – make a breakthrough into international markets. Speed is of the essence when it comes to new digital innovations. Markets and customer behaviour change so fast nowadays that only highly responsive scaleups – those that have a resilient team and use agile, modular methods – will be able to succeed.

Ghent a startup epicentre

The choice of Ghent as a venue for the new Co.Station space was an obvious one. Although Ghent was recognised earlier this month by online technology news platform Venturebeat.com as the epicentre of the tech scene in Belgium*, the city still had no dedicated campus for scaleups, despite the fact that it is precisely during the scaleup phase that innovative entrepreneurs need to make the right contacts among established companies if they are to succeed. This is what Co.Station Ghent is offering, in conjunction with its three partners – BNP Paribas Fortis, EY and Proximus. Each of the partners will be making a financial contribution to Co.Station Ghent, and also fostering permanent dialogue and cross-fertilisation between the ‘residents’ of Co.Station Ghent and the innovation units within their own organisations.

- “Following the success of Co.Station BXL, it was only logical to expand to other cities – especially Ghent, which is noted for its tech scene, but today has no Co.Station-type facilities. Moreover, when we came to Ghent we received every possible support from the City authorities, the university and the existing startup community.” – Max Jadot, CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board of BNP Paribas Fortis.

- “At EY we have an unshakeable belief in entrepreneurship. Co.Station Ghent is a perfect addition to our network of partnerships. Our main focus in this collaborative initiative is to further expand the existing ecosystem around ambitious growth companies so that we can provide them with considerable added value. The international network that we can open up for them, coupled with the broad in-house expertise from which these entrepreneurs can benefit, are extremely valuable when it comes to growing their business.” – Rudi Braes, Chairman and CEO of EY Belgium.

-“Innovation is a very important aspect of our growth strategy at Proximus. We unhesitatingly opt for Open Innovation – i.e. calling on external parties to develop the products of tomorrow with us. Through our involvement in Co.Station Ghent we want to make available the latest technologies produced by scaleups and so help to meet the challenges of the digital economy.” – Dominique Leroy, CEO of Proximus.

- “Ghent is focusing on scaleups. As the City authorities, we want to turn Ghent into Belgium’s ‘scaleup city’. This will be crucial for boosting employment and creating new jobs, and vital for internationalisation. Going forward, the City of Ghent intends to act in conjunction with Co.Station Ghent.” – Mathias De Clercq, Deputy Mayor of the City of Ghent.

Close cooperation with government and the academic world

With this initiative, Co.Station Ghent and the three partners, BNP Paribas Fortis, EY and Proximus, are backing the ambitions of the Flemish Government to engender a more ambitious entrepreneurial culture. This support for the growth of digital ecosystems is also in line with Federal Government policy, notably the ‘Digital Belgium’ action plan, which sketches out a long-term vision for Belgium in the digital field. Co.Station Ghent intends to cooperate in this direction with other players – such as Netwerk Ondernemen, EY, Start-ups.be, Bryo and Vlerick – that are working towards the same goal.

Huge opportunities for job creation

Both the Flemish and the Federal Government are clearly taking a highly positive attitude to innovative enterprises. Today many established firms across various different sectors are slimming down their workforce. Job creation will therefore, to a large extent, have to come from innovation. Everyone concerned is of course hoping that one of the scaleups working at Co.Station will become the next ‘unicorn’ – a term used to signify a startup company that attains a market capitalisation of one billion dollars. But even without becoming ‘unicorns’, a number of today’s scaleups should be able, given appropriate support from the business world, to grow into successful, sustainable and profitable companies and so help to create jobs and make a vital contribution to the SME landscape going forward. Today there are already a number of Belgian scaleups that employ over 100 people.

Co.Station Village

Co.Station Ghent offers furnished offices accessible 24/7, with fibre optic cable Internet connection, free use of meeting rooms and ‘pitching areas’, plus useful opportunities for networking. Occupants are offered flexible contracts. Moreover, the ‘cohabitation’ of a number of ambitious digital entrepreneurs, together with the physical presence of the corporate partners creates a very special atmosphere. Given that the occupants are all working hard to scale up their products or services, often for international markets, this close proximity leads in many cases to valuable cross-fertilisation of ideas.

Co.Station Academy

Co-Station also functions as a training centre, where training sessions can be run and coaches provided to entrepreneurs and startup and scaleup teams. The training offer includes such subjects as finance, marketing and communications, and legal matters.

Co.Station Accelerator

Co.Station Ghent offers an accelerator programme for scaleups – i.e. specifically for growth-stage companies, as distinct from traditional incubator programmes for startups. This 6-10 month coaching and mentoring programme is designed for young companies looking to grow the business and go international.

Some facts and figures

  • 3 partners: BNP Paribas Fortis, EY and Proximus
  • 2,600m2 on 3 floors, with 27 offices, 5 meeting rooms, 2 lounge areas, flex areas, 1 pool table, terrace, secure cycle and vehicle parking facilities and Romain Roquette restaurant and coffee bar (as from mid-October)
  • Official start date: 12 May 2016
  • Existing Co.Station Ghent scaleup community includes Sinnolabs, Crunch Analytics, Netwerk Ondernemen and Rialto, with arrival of AllThingsTalk e.a. in the pipeline
  • Location: Quantum building on the Dampoort, with easy access to public transport (Dampoort Station) and exit roads via the R4 to both the E40 and E17
  • Surrounded by water and positioned in the heart of the startup community on the Old Docklands site
  • The Quantum building is rated ‘Excellent’ by BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method)
  • Address: Co.Station Ghent, Quantum Building, Oktrooiplein 1, 9000 Ghent
  • Website: www.co-station.com