Lode Uytterschaut, CEO Start it @KBC & Beatrice de Mahieu, CEO BeCode
Belgian start-ups are often in a hurry and in urgent need of IT people. They look for them abroad, although there is also quite a lot of talent much closer to home. That is why Start it @KBC and BeCode are joining forces, with the aim of having homegrown programmers work for start-ups. Bloovi spoke with Lode Uytterschaut, CEO of accelerator Start it @KBC, and Béatrice de Mahieu, CEO of Belgium’s largest coding school BeCode, about how they want to close the gap and suddenly promote a more diverse recruitment.
It started with a cup of coffee in December last year. Lode Uytterschaut and Béatrice de Mahieu at one table, sitting around one thought: “Admit it, it would make sense.” What they are talking about is connecting the start-ups of Start it @KBC to the tech talent of BeCode. Start it @KBC has supported around 1,300 start-ups since 2014 and has grown into the largest accelerator in the country. BeCode, in turn, is a programming school where people who are struggling in the labor market are trained in seven months to become web developers, DevOps or cybersecurity experts, AI experts or SAP consultants.
A more than logical match, according to Uytterschaut: “We are complementary, yes. But there is a deeper message.” According to Agoria, the umbrella organization for technological companies in Belgium, our companies currently have more than 20,000 IT vacancies open. “If I let it be known on LinkedIn that I am looking for a front-end developer for a short or long-term assignment, I will be referred to Ukraine, Portugal, Hungary. And that while there is simply more than enough talent here.”
Tech talent after 7 months
BeCode takes care of that IT talent. CEO Béatrice De Mahieu: “The people we train often have a hard time on the labor market because they ‘only’ have a humanities diploma. But refugees with a PhD also come knocking at our door. That in itself does not matter: we teach them everything they need to know, from basic IT skills to further specialization in AI and cybersecurity. What is important to us is that they are and remain highly motivated.”
At BeCode, candidate IT professionals are technically trained during a seven-month boot camp. “They learn to ‘code’ but also work on their soft skills: how do you look for an internship, how do you organize your LinkedIn page, how do you get through a job interview,… Half of our recruits have a job immediately after their internship. Another 30% decide to take further training before looking for a job. To me, that proves that those people have regained their appetite”, said de Mahieu.
That enthusiasm, that is also what Uytterschaut feels about the start-ups that Start it @KBC has supported for many years. “Startups need to move forward. But that also offers opportunities. Nabil, for example, graduated from BeCode and is now working at Linkus, one of our start-ups. Then there were four of them, today there are eight and as Highway Performance Manager he is in charge of new recruits. Cool right? It is of course different to work in a start-up than in a corporate: you usually have to find your own way. But on the other hand, you can grow with the company and perhaps become a part owner of it.”
It could be a bit more diverse
It therefore seems logical that the communities of BeCode and Start it @KBC are moving closer together thanks to this partnership. “The goal,” says Uytterschaut, “is for our start-ups to know that BeCode exists. But this partnership must go much further than just exchanging logos. It must offer real social value.”
“Our dream? Giving more chance to real diversity”, said de Mahieu. “And I don’t mean that you have to make choices between man and woman, black or white, headscarf or not. No, it means you put a junior next to a senior and let them learn from each other. That you don’t just hire people with a master’s degree, as if they are the only ones who can think. You have to mix knowledge and levels.”
This partnership should be much broader than just exchanging logos. It must offer real social value
“With Start it X, our growth & innovation arm, we work a lot for corporates,” says Uytterschaut. “The average age of IT people there is often alarmingly high. Age in itself is not a problem, but it is a risk to innovation in our country if no new talent is attracted. Apart from that, that group is not diverse enough. By comparison, at BeCode, 30% of recruits are female. That is still too little, but already a lot more than in the rest of the sector. Having your target group in-house is important if you don’t want to miss a market.”
Moon shot: doing more and better
So more than just exchanging logos. And then we ask ourselves: what is the ultimate goal? “For me, it’s about building bridges between the BeCode campuses and the cities where Start it is active,” De Mahieu replies. “But it goes further than that: I believe that we can offer economic added value in this way.”
Entrepreneurship is what makes a country move forward, and today you can hardly build a company without needing an IT person
For Uytterschaut, the focus on IT and entrepreneurship should ultimately trickle down to education. “There is hardly any room for that in the humanities at the moment. An elective where you learn how to screw apart a shaving machine is really outdated. Entrepreneurship is what makes a country move forward, and today you can hardly build a company without needing an IT person. I therefore prefer to put a zero behind the 900 recruits per year that BeCode delivers and the 150 start-ups that we support”, concludes Uytterschaut.