On the plane this morning from Brussels to Stockholm I ran into one of the first persons that ever worked for me at Skynet. He has a successful international career in an international technology company. On top of that, I will have a quick dinner at the Stockholm airport this evening with another former Skynet colleague who needed to give a speech in Sweden. What an incredible amount of talent we once gathered at Skynet… but more about that in one of the next posts.

Anyway, when reading the newspaper, there was an article about the lack of entrepreneurship of Belgian students, Apparently Belgium is ranked last (last!?) in a study on the ‘western world creativity’.

The main reason would be that universities don’t encourage or support to start your business.
Well, I can totally believe that. I had the pleasure of attending studies or courses in University of Hasselt (then still LUC Diepenbeek), Universities of Liege, Vlerick in Ghent and Antwerp, plus some time at Columbia and Harvard in the US. Yep, even if I had to work and lend a lot – I wanted to learn as much as possible at a certain moment, hopefully for my entire life.

Truth being told and looking back on it, LUC/University of Hasselt (where I stayed for 4 years) didn’t really encourage risk-taking. I had a great student time (especially off the campus) and education was pretty ok, but a educational facility that encourages no sport, culture, entrepreneuship or politics lacks ambition. They are doing much better now. But would I be 18 again, I would probably leave after 2 years or so. Hell, they even managed to organize exams until the day after the Rock Werchter Festival. No joke: the Monday after probably Europe’s best 3 or 4 day festival there was 1 (crucial) exam. For this reason only one could boycott the school. That said: the school could be the perfect example of creating a multi-disciplinary intercultural school, establish a mini-Europe of Hasselt, Liege, Maastricht and Aachen and become a perfect test ground for research, start-ups and collaborative entrepreneurialism.
Damn, I would like to help to support that one day to do something back to the region I love so much.

Top of mind – here are some more possible reasons:
- Once you start a job in a corporate environment, all incentives to create disappear. Great salaries, comforting social security, company car: ‘hey, we are all in a comfort zone.’ Why risk anything?
- There is not a lot of support to take the risk. There actually are many initiatives – you probably should hire an ‘initiative programs’ manager to really understand all government programs, but this should be at the center of our attention. High taxes, an insecure future after 60 and few effective government support that really work. The risk is part of the fun, but when I see how Scandinavian companies and universities are working together…
- We probably celebrate and ban companies and their leaders too much. Just look at technology alone: Option, Real software, Ubizen, Lernhout&Hauspie – all of them won prestigious Manager or Company of the year awards… People that start and fail are doomed. So different to a culture where this is cultivated.

Over the last year I constantly hear that Belgian’s are great managers but poor entrepreneurs. There is probably some truth in it, even if we are the country of small business, where true innovation could come from. But we have all the elements at hand to build something amazing, being at the heart of Europe and with knowledge of any imaginable domain.

Entrepreneurs make that a country remain on the edge of research. Employment creates prosperity, and in our welfare system it is going to be crucial since employee and corporate taxes fund the sustainability of our prosperous country.

I admire people that create. That Dare. That dare to dream and give it all they have. I have talked, read and reflected about it so much over the last weeks and months, and the conclusion after today’s encounters with friends colleagues confirms the same: what holds us back? Why are we afraid to give up “security” before we are even 45? Even if it can be a choice which I respect, but why do young (university degree) managers nearly always choose the sure and well projected path, and not the risky but adventurous road of daring to follow our dreams? I would like to know the percentage of young graduates that choose a career in consulting or finance, to switch to an operational managerial function 5 to 10 years later to become CEO or Director when they are 50.

It doesn’t only have to be creating companies, but my generation doesn’t enter the risky world of politics a lot either. Nor do we discuss a sense of duty towards society and do what we idealistically believe in so much. I once heard Mark Eysckens (Belgian Minister of State) say that it is better to be an ideologist without illusions than an illusionist without ideology. Yeah yeah, sounds like the back of a calendar quote– but why do we, the post-baby boom generation, remain so nice, good and modest? I read about the explanation that we are the unlucky ones, after baby boomers we need 2 salaries to afford a house; we have unsure retirement plans and whatever… Give me a break.

Anyway – no judgement of anyone meant. Accept myself maybe.

bart