The Belgian region of Wallonia and Tuscany in Italy are officially designated as the EU’s two 'creative districts' – areas with specific policies to help create a supportive ecosystem in which entrepreneurs can innovate, develop and internationalise their ideas. .
Taking advantage of the support the scheme offers interior architect Thibaut Gilgquin and graphic designer Hélène Hoyois created a business making verrines, little edible food baskets.
They were given a launch fund of 40,000 euros and access to the expertise of an agency that helps innovative start-ups get going in Wallonia.
“We came with just an idea. For three months, from 8am to 8pm, we worked with two coaches who sped things up,” said Gilgquin. “And that enabled us to build up our company, to have a business model, a business plan, to study the market and really build the firm.”
Self-belief was a key element in getting their project, ‘Do Eat’, off the ground.
“We learned how to defend our project, to do a pitch in less than a minute to convince investors, said Hoyois. “Separately, we managed to raise a first cash injection of 60,000 euros.”
The results were very encouraging. Production levels soared. Two acclaimed chefs came on board and the product went on sale little by little in Europe. The verrines were made in a workshop in Hainaut, one of the Wallonia regions hit hardest by the recession.
The pair had a particular reason for basing themselves there.
“We’re very attached to our region and we’d like to develop the product and automise the production process, but also to continue working with local workshops around here. They will help us both grow, us and them,” said Gilquin.
“It’s important for us to continue with this facilitation service, because we meet lots of other start-ups with whom we connect and get advice, particularly on the development of our website,” added Hoyois.
To better understand how it all works Business Planet went to Brussels to meet the man behind the initiative. It was in 2011 as the Wallonian economy minister that Jean-Claude Marcourt launched the Creative Wallonia project, believing that the innovation and creativity of individual entrepreneurs would make it a success. .
“Creativity is often seen as limited to the creative industries; cinema, design, said Marcourt. “What I really wanted was to spark industrial creativity, to set up new modes of behaviour in our industry and services.”
Today there are some 20 initiatives up and running in Wallonia, among them a start-up facilitator agency, co-working services, specific training for young people and a trend observatory .
Marcourt explains how the scheme encourages people to work together: “An entrepreneur friend of mine recruited an anthropologist who had no clue about accounts or income statements. In return he gave my friend a different way of looking at his clients’ needs and how to respond to them.”
So what are the keys to success in this entrepreneurial context? For Thibaut Gilquin and Hélène Hoyois they are “to have confidence in yourself, to have confidence in others and, above all, to not be afraid to talk about your ideas”.