Ghent welcomes European startups and scale-ups for The Big Score, an event filled to the brim with investment opportunities
The Big Score takes place on November 8th and 9th at Ghelamco Arena, connecting European startups and scale-ups with investors.
This event enables rapid interaction between three essential key players in technological growth: high-quality data tech solutions experiencing significant growth, international venture capital, and the quest for business innovation. How? By inviting European innovative startups and scale-ups to pitch live to international venture capitalists and companies.
The City of Ghent has been a partner of this event for several years because it has brought about a real acceleration for many (local) startups. Raising capital is never easy, especially not in the current economic climate. We want to provide startups and scale-ups with the necessary tools to grow. That's because Ghent is a hotspot for startups, ranking 21st place worldwide.
To demonstrate the potential impact of this event, we spoke with some individuals who have previously presented their startup or scale-up to an international audience, on previous editions of this event.
By invitation only
To pitch at The Big Score, you have to receive an invitation. Startups doing remarkable work or founders connecting with the right people through their network, that's how you get in. "We were already familiar with the concept," says Vera. "We presented our company on stage last year, which actually happened by chance. We received a phone call, and although we weren't actively seeking investors at the time, we were looking for visibility. This way, we were able to pitch comfortably and showcase our product."
Arvid got in touch with The Big Score during a fundraising round. "One of the funds we connected with was Smartfin, which has been one of the annual investors at the event for several years. Additionally, we’re part of the ecosystem around imec.istart, and the name of the event circulates there every year."
Jorim laughs, impressed by the strength of local connections. "Everyone here genuinely wants to help each other, it's incredible! We’ve been on that stage several times before, and we’ll be there again this year. Currently, we don't necessarily need the money. However, we’re actively attracting international clients and scaling globally, so we’ll need it pretty soon. Additionally, let's not forget the significant commercial aspect of The Big Score. You meet potential big clients with whom you can have valuable conversations at a high level. It's also an opportunity to test your presentation skills."
Flourishing Ghentian community
In Ghent, we’ve already built a certain tech legacy. We have a lot of shining examples that light the way for the founders who come after them. "We’re the hometown of Showpad, Silverfin, Teamleader, Deliverect, etc.," says Jorim. "What I really appreciate about these entrepreneurs is that they’re willing to support the new generation with both advice and action. The fact that they’re even willing to share their own missteps and show how to do things in a better way is fantastic."
Vera nods in agreement: "Indeed, local entrepreneurs have a very informal connection with each other. There are also VOKA training programs, where you can connect with other startups and scale-ups, often facing the same challenges as you. The entrepreneurial atmosphere here is thriving, allowing us to share many tips and tricks with each other. We also constantly meet each other at events, which always feels wonderfully familiar."
WeGroup is more focused on the insurtech sector, which is, of course, an even smaller niche. "That's right, everyone knows each other in our industry. But many aspects of a startup or scale-up are independent of the niche. If we need advice on Business Development, for example, we’re not too proud to go down one floor and ask the folks at Showpad. Beyond that, we also have many startups that started around the same time and where you can observe similar growth. For example, we have that relationship with Henchman. So we have definitely felt that community spirit, regardless of the niche we’re in."
"It's even to the point," says Arvid, "that nowadays we’re being asked by higher education institutions to give guest lectures and tell the students more about entrepreneurship. I don't mention the word 'insurance' there, or else I'll lose them (laughs). But I do give them general lessons that apply to any tech sector."
The three of them find it only natural that an event like The Big Score takes place in Ghent. "It's a city that you simply must visit," says Arvid. "Especially if you want to start a company tomorrow. We have a very strong university that produces a high percentage of engineers annually. I'm mainly talking about software developers here. Besides that, Ghent also offers high-quality education through colleges and the business school, just to be clear. We simply have a very fruitful breeding ground."
Ghent is a city that you simply must visit. Especially if you want to start a company tomorrow. We have a very strong university that produces a high percentage of engineers annually.
Preparation is key
Alright. Let's say you've been invited to present your startup or scale-up on the stage of The Big Score. After the initial nerves settle, you start thinking about what you're going to say. Because how do you best prepare for that 7-minute pitch? "Try to stand out as much as possible," says Jorim. "I always try to be slightly different from the rest. But stay clear and concise. Communicate confidently and purposefully, ensuring that others can retell what you've said. That's actually the most important thing."
"And think about what you want to achieve," adds Arvid. "Our first time, in 2019, we wanted to raise capital or at least connect with investors. That turned out to be a goal we achieved because we eventually ended up in an investor's portfolio, which has been crucial for our growth. But you know that when you're targeting investors, you need to emphasize certain aspects and leave others aside."
"When we stood there for the second time, we really wanted to engage potential clients because we knew all major banks were present in the audience. So it was important to demonstrate what our product can do. Those two days led to very fruitful conversations with parties that are now our customers. So know what you're going to ask, what your final slide is, and build up to that nicely."
Jorim fully agrees with that. "I truly believe that your pitch should tell the other person what they want to hear, more than what you want to tell. As an entrepreneur, you're often passionate about your product or service, making you talk about it with enthusiasm, even down to the smallest detail. But that's not necessarily important to the audience. So it's best to prune your presentation."
I truly believe that your pitch should tell the other person what they want to hear, more than what you want to tell. As an entrepreneur, you're often passionate about your product or service, making you talk about it with enthusiasm, even down to the smallest detail. But that's not necessarily important to the audience.
Finding the right fit
For Hive CPQ, the situation is different as they founded the company with two business angels and currently don't need any additional investments. "We’re bootstrapped: everything we earn is reinvested into the company. For us, The Big Score was an opportunity to introduce people to what we can do so that we aren't completely unknown when seeking investments in a later stage. And I actually assume that it won't be easy to find the right investor for our company. We really need that match based on vision and approach.”
"Exactly," says Jorim, "finding money is actually easy. It's the conditions that need to remain sustainable. I like to say that we raised 5 million euros in customer funds, in addition to 200,000 euros in investments. That's ideal, of course, when you can grow rapidly with profits. Not every startup or scale-up can say that. But it does provide the necessary comfort to fully pursue your own vision."
"In terms of entrepreneurship, we’ve been uniquely successful in Ghent. When raising investments, that ambition needs to align as well. Simply raising investments for the sake of raising investments is becoming less and less common. You need to be level-headed enough to decide when to do it and when not to.”
Vera agrees with this as well. "We’ve been very lucky in that regard. We had a few major clients who believed in us from the beginning. They invested in us, and that has truly been our success. If we’d raised capital from the beginning, we wouldn't be the company we are today. We’ve grown on our own strength."
If we’d raised capital from the beginning, we wouldn't be the company we are today. We’ve grown on our own strength.
What attracts these entrepreneurs to Ghent? "Ghent has several unique advantages for us as entrepreneurs," says Jorim. "It's a historic city with a modern twist, filled with talent and experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to help each other."
"It's mainly the atmosphere that prevails here," says Vera. "For example, we have many people who’ve come from abroad to work here. They love living here because it's just a very cozy and vibrant city, on a human scale."
Moreover, we don't really struggle with internal rivalry here. "We've had it happen a few times," says Arvid, "where our employees are contacted by other local tech players. But I simply pick up the phone and rely on the unwritten code of conduct that seems to prevail here. I call the CEO in question and address the issue. And those phone calls stop immediately. That's what sets us apart from those major world cities where there's a real hunt for each other's employees. We allow each other to be successful."
That's what sets us apart from those major world cities where there's a real hunt for each other's employees. We allow each other to be successful.
Vision for the future
Hive CPQ continues to grow, focusing heavily on partnerships. "Because we also expect new leads to come from there," says Vera. "In addition, we will further optimize our product and seek a good fit with the market. Then, most likely, we will need capital because we also want to expand further internationally. But the ultimate goal is, of course, to become the best CPQ with a dealer platform."
WeGroup is already looking towards international expansion. "We’re already doing a lot of business in other European countries through some of our major Belgian clients. But it's not always easy to provide local support because customers expect to be addressed in their own language. We will optimize that service as best as possible. Internationalization is a top priority for us, and The Big Score helps us with that, of course."
Manual.to aims to become the world leader in "how-to" guides. "Eventually, we want to bring everything that people traditionally search for online to our platform," says Jorim. "We started with larger companies ourselves and gradually want to reach smaller companies in order to eventually reach every person in the world. And at this event, you can meet people with equally ambitious goals, which leads to very interesting conversations."