Serial entrepreneur Bart Becks
Innovation and technology cannot exist without each other. That realization seems to be the common thread throughout Bart Becks’ career. That and a heart for start-ups and scale-ups resulted in our fellow countryman being the only one in the Benelux to have a seat on the EIC, the European Innovation Council that was set up by the European Commission in 2014 to identify, further develop, groundbreaking technologies and innovations. develop and commercialize. Now that the annual EIC summit has been completed, the Limburger likes to make time for a conversation with Bloovi about entrepreneurship, innovation and making more time for your children.
No, you can’t blame Bart Becks for lack of experience. Nowadays he is chairman of the board of directors of EURACTIV and E-Health Venture, but his career has spanned from CEO of Belgacom Skynet over SBS Europe to chairman of iMinds (now imec). Becks has also been a two-year member of the European Innovation Council (EIC), the European Union’s innovation program that supports visionary entrepreneurs in their search for new, gamechanging technology. Where does this love for innovation come from? And how does he see the future of entrepreneurship?
Grandma with an iPhone
For everyone born after 1990: the Commodore 64 was one of the first affordable home computers, and therefore the first step towards entrepreneurship for many developers. Also for Bart Becks: because of that Commodore he rolled into technology and ended up at Skynet fairly quickly after his studies, where he eventually stayed for almost ten years.
A quick look at that Commodore makes it clear: technology has changed beyond recognition. An evolution that Becks experienced from the front row. “With Skynet we have seen how the Internet opened up the world. That first web wave had a huge impact on how people lived. And then the wave of ‘the socials’ had yet to arrive. Now the third is gradually coming, with web 3: blockchain, artificial intelligence, metaverse,… Again very interesting and in all probability this will also be very radical.”
It is always a search for the right application, says the Limburger: “In the beginning you still had to convince people of the internet, but we recently saw how fast it can go. Two years ago, the lockdowns saw the fastest technology adoption ever. Suddenly even my grandmother had an iPhone and a QR code, because she couldn’t drink coffee without it,” laughs Becks.
The evolution of business
No one will deny that technology has changed. Entrepreneurship in the technology sector has evolved at least as fast. Take digital B2B platforms, for example, because that is what we often look at in Belgium – with large tech companies such as Showpad, Odoo or Collibra.
Bart Becks: “You used to have to build your own data centers, a huge part of building your company. While many companies are already in a no code environment. No hosting, no SaaS platforms, no code. Fortunately, the threshold to launch a company has become very low. However, it is becoming increasingly important to develop defensible advantages, whether through technology, business model or otherwise intellectual property.”
We are gradually entering the exit phase of a number of scale-ups. Acquiring those companies frees up resources for bold, ambitious entrepreneurs
But Becks also saw a positive change in the atmosphere surrounding entrepreneurship in Flanders and, by extension, Belgium. Where ten to fifteen years ago we still had ‘too few entrepreneurs’, we now see that, partly thanks to external financing, more and more start-ups and scale-ups are being born, he notes.
“We are gradually entering the exit phase of a number of scale-ups. Acquiring those companies frees up resources for bold, ambitious entrepreneurs. Either they will do something completely new, or they will buy into something, or they will start an investment fund – or they will go for a combination of both.”
“We already saw that happen in the US – just think of the PayPal group – and now we are also seeing the first successful exits here, with an enormous impact. Look at Jürgen Ingels: he could have stopped after his exit from Clear2Pay, but instead he set up a fund again.”
The typical Flemish modesty ‘we are too small to grow up’ is clearly on the wane, Becks notes. “There is indeed less fear to say, for example, ‘we will shift things to New York, or we will launch ourselves in the largest European markets’. That belief is now starting to grow strongly; very exciting to experience up close. There are still a number of disadvantages, such as too little funding.”
Innovate thanks to the EIC
Innovation and technology are clearly the red threads throughout the career of the Limburg tech veteran. Hence his role at the EIC: “One of the things that I find extremely important and interesting is the role of public policy in technology and innovation.”
“I first encountered this at Skynet: as an internet provider, we had to take security and regulation into account. From there I was asked to become chairman of iMinds – now part of imec -, where we also contributed and invested in research and incubation of the universities from a public role. When I see how many companies have come out of this, I know: those incentives work. Then I saw that as an entrepreneur you not only start things for yourself, but that you also start from a certain public policy role can contribute.”
When you see how many companies have come out of iMinds, you know: those incentives work. Then I saw that as an entrepreneur you not only start things for yourself, but that you also start from a certain public policy role can contribute
Becks must also feel at home in EU regulations, as chairman and shareholder of EURACTIV, a media company with about fifty journalists (about 120 employees) that publishes on EU policies. “I understand what the impact of Europe can be. The EIC aims to be one of the most ambitious innovative programs ever by helping entrepreneurs group and scale. A considerable budget has therefore been provided for this: about 10.6 billion euros over the next five-year period for the priority domains of health, greentech and digital. The intention is to significantly reduce the gap with the US and Asia – and especially China”, he says about it.
Ambitious, both personally and professionally
The EIC is already taking a serious bite of its time, but Becks also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of two organizations: EURACTIV and E-Health Venture – a new incubator that develops and helps grow start-ups with a focus on digital healthcare . In addition, our compatriot supports and guides a number of start-ups and in the meantime he finished an Ironman in his little free time. Enough to do, but what does the future hold for him?
It has always been my ambition to involve my son as much as possible in everything. When I think about where I’ve taken them all to…
“I have always had the ambition to involve my son as much as possible in everything. When I think about where I’ve taken them all to… I’ve really organized my life to be able to be with him as much as possible. Well, he is now 14 years old and will increasingly lead his own life: go to university or discover the world. But all the time that we can spend together in the meantime: I am very grateful for that.”
“It is partly thanks to that innovation and technology that all this is possible. Nowadays it is much easier to combine your personal life with your professional one. You can be just as ambitious, you just need to organize yourself differently. And yes, we will have to find a new balance in that too, but things like useless movements are gone. I trained hours before my full Ironman on my indoor bike, watching conferences on a screen. Isn’t that fantastic?!”