Yes, exciting Belgian startups are a thing. Success stories like the popular Storify – a site that pulls together a timeline by combining different social media platforms – have already proven that innovative energy is bubbling beneath the country’s modest surface. Here, we take a look at 10 Belgian startups that have the potential to make it big, from foldable canoes to an app for ‘slow messaging’.
That Belgian Burgundians would welcome a handy guide telling them which foods pair well with their acclaimed beers, chocolates or ‘French’ fries seems almost a given. Foodpairing does just that, and then some. Backed up by a solid ingredient and flavour database and aimed at foodies, but also professional bartenders and chefs, the app provides unexpected flavour combos for both meals and drinks. It’s inspiration that’s meant to blow your foodie mind and gets you to explore new cooking horizons. The app is already available in 125 countries.
With the people of the world collectively growing greyer and greyer, it’s no wonder that Geert Houben’s Cubigo caught the attention of Google’s prestigious Blackbox Connect program. Handpicked by the company as one of 2015’s 15 most promising startups, the platform is best described as digital assisted living and makes it possible for elderly people to stay in their own homes longer by integrating meal services, scheduling doctor appointments, messaging to stay in touch with family members and so on. With new offices in San Francisco and a recent investment round that scooped up four million euros, Cubigo looks to create a more independent future for ageing citizens.
Coming from Ghent, where the canals form an essential part of the city’s charm, Otto Van De Steene and Thomas Weyn felt the need to go exploring by canoe. Failing to find a suitable boat that was lightweight and compact, the duo set about creating what they wanted to see in the world: a foldable origami canoe. When not in use, their sleek white model called ONAK folds up to a trolley, and takes less than 10 minutes to set up.
In an idea that eliminates waiting for a waiter, Mark Willems created tsjing, the free app that allows you to order at restaurants, bars or festivals straight from your smartphone. Apparently patience with waiters is running low, because the startup from Mechelen reeled in a quarter of a million euros through a combination of crowdfunding and those coveted angel investors in early 2016. Tsjing is currently expanding its reach into Antwerp and Ghent and is pairing up with festivals, eliminating physical queues at food stands left, right and centre.
Trying to inject a little more meaning into our fast-paced social media lives, Chestnote is putting its money on so-called ‘slow messaging’. Taking a page out of the Pokémon Go playbook, users can set up their messages to only be unlocked in a certain place. By also allowing them to change the time and enabling text as well as audio and video, founders Peter Wellens and Tom Le Clef are convinced their free app will allow messages to mean more to their recipients. Let’s wait for the Chestnut marriage proposals to roll in!
You can be lounging on a sunny terrace, taking your dog for a walk or getting a coffee and still have the package you ordered delivered to you instead of having to brave the queues at the post office. At least inhabitants of Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp can. Parcify is active in these three Belgian cities, and as long as you fill in their address on your delivery form and let them know where you’re going to be, their bicycle courier will come and find you anywhere as late as 12am.
Evolving 3D-printing technologies are turning man into even more of a maker than he already was, and Twikit was created with the goal of producing highly individualised products in mind. Twikit clients have a hand in designing their own item (from seal rings to furniture to phone accessories), and with 16 employees and offices in New York as well as Antwerp, the company has earned the right to call itself a scale-up. Most recently, they introduced ‘Stan’, a 100% customisable standing desk that’s made on demand using 3D printing and laser technology to fit your exact size.
Antwerp startup iReach’m aims to make voicemail frustration a thing of the past with messages that pop up to tell you when you and the person you’re trying to reach are both available. Instead of repeatedly calling back and forth and missing each other, the app puts your schedules side to side and figures out the times when you’re most likely to connect. The company refers to their product as a ‘personal assistant’ and the idea does seem to benefit productivity. So far, the startup has managed to rake together over half a million euros in seed capital, and is hiring fast.
Founded in 2013, the festival-booking app Beatswitch reeled in their biggest fish two years later. Antwerp-hailing fellows Gertjan De Wilde and Thomas Van Orshaegen managed to seduce Tomorrowland, the Belgian-based electronic behemoth, to use their intelligent organising software to book artists, manage transportation and generally have their team communicate better. Since then, Beatswitch has gone cross-continental and has managed to woo Asian and American festivals as well as many Dutch clients.
The best way to learn a language remains living in the region where it’s spoken or, failing that, befriending a native speaker you can practice with. The free online community Speaky makes it easier to find that friend. The Brussels-based company has been connecting language learners for three years now, attracting tens of thousands of users worldwide.