Published on 8 September 2023
Ghent is the Flemish leader in terms of the number of start-ups. The great appeal of the city as a student city certainly plays a role in this regard. Every year, more than 80,000 students study at one of the many higher education institutions in Ghent. These students increasingly opt for some extra income and the adventure of becoming a student-entrepreneur, instead of doing a traditional student job. But why has Ghent been so successful, and what kind of positive impact do all these student entrepreneurs have on the city? Ahead of the annual Ghentrepreneur Awards earlier this year, two people who are closely involved with the programme shared their insights in an interview.
Evelyne’s job as the coordinator mainly consists of supporting colleagues in Ghent’s higher educational institutions by promoting student-entrepreneurship. The focus is on informing students, and inspiring them to consider entrepreneurship alongside their studies. In addition to providing marketing support, the programme offers workshops, events and competitions, as well as involving previous student-entrepreneurs as role models.
Koen’s role is mostly behind the scenes. Back in 2010, he helped a group of computer science students to develop and market an app through the Appstore. This entrepreneurial experience proved it was a great concept with wider potential, and the idea quickly won the backing of Ghent University. It was rolled out across the whole university, and subsequently led to the establishment of the Ghentrepreneur programme.
Today, the programme is available to eligible students from any of Ghent’s higher educational institutions. With a single ecosystem, students can move around freely and collaborate with colleagues from other institutions. It also makes branding, marketing and communication much easier, as well as having the benefit of comparing the experiences across multiple institutions. The strength of this collaboration has enabled the Ghentrepreneur programme to achieve far more than if it had been confined to one university.
A challenge that was overcome early on was the creation of the ‘student-entrepreneur’ status for those enrolled in the Ghentrepreneur programme whilst studying. This status allowed any eligible student on the programme to be able to start up a business before completing their degree or needing to meet other specific criteria. They can also request to reschedule exams under some circumstances, and if they’re designated as self-employed-students, they can earn up to 6,000 euros per year from their business venture. The programme has become widely recognised and valued, and is now embedded across Ghent institutions.
In 2016, 560 students per year received coaching through the programme. Last year it was 1,543 students. So the number of student entrepreneurs has tripled in just over six years and the potential for expansion is huge. Annually, 250 of the 3,200 local start-ups are established by the students coached through the Ghentrepreneur programme, which equates to almost 8% of all start-ups in Ghent. This is quite an achievement, especially considering that 40% of the companies founded by students continue to exist after the students graduate – and with some notable successes. For example, Deliverect, which was the first ICT unicorn in Ghent. Other examples include Teamleader and Techwolf. All of these impressive entrepreneurs were studying at Ghent institutions just a couple of years ago.
Many of the students who study in Ghent are from outside the region, but they often choose to remain in the city after they graduate. With students being responsible for almost 1 in 10 new start-ups, their economic impact on the region is significant. For example, the Computer Science programme creates more jobs than there are graduates as each new student start-up company creates additional employment opportunities.
This multiplier effect on growing the economy is well recognised, valued and supported by the City of Ghent and the high numbers of student start-up companies makes the city attractive for future students and businesses looking to locate there. In fact, the competencies that the students develop having been through the Ghentrepreneur programme, such as taking risks, entrepreneurial spirit, and perseverance, make them highly sought after candidates in the local jobs market, even if they don’t go on to set up their own business. It’s a win-win!
The Ghentrepreneur programme has proved there’s a real entrepreneurial spirit amongst student populations, and that given the right coaching support and networking environment, it’s a model that can deliver real commercial success.
To find out more about student entrepreneurs in the city of Ghent, follow this link.
To find out more about the Ghentrepreneur programme, follow this link.
[Summarised from an interview with Professor Koen De Bosschere, Ghent University, and Evelyne Verhovert, Ghentrepreneur Programme Coordinator].