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How this modest €4.8M seed VC fund aims to supercharge the Belgian startup scene in 2024

The Syndicate One team
Image credit: Syndicate One

In a tale of highs and lows for Belgium’s startup landscape, 2022 boasted a record-breaking year in funding, soaring past €1.5 billion. However, the momentum took an unexpected dip in the first half of 2023, witnessing the growth companies securing only €300 million – the lowest since 2017. Despite this setback, key players such as Collibra, Odoo, Cowboy, and Deliverect are still some of the leaders in scoring funding within the ecosystem.

Yet, the Belgian startup scene sought to regain its footing on the heels of success stories like Revolut in the UK, Adyen in the Netherlands, and Spotify in Sweden. In a bid to amplify the Belgian dream, a bunch of native entrepreneurs and investors from the country have joined forces to launch the Belgian angel investment group, dubbed as Syndicate One. Their debut fund has already secured a €4.8 million first-close, aiming to inject renewed vigour into the country’s startup ecosystem. 

Sofina, one of Belgium’s largest holding companies, is the new fund’s anchor investor, with other investors including SFPIM, Wallonie Entreprendre, and Finance Brussels. The first-close means that Syndicate One can immediately start funding the next generation of Belgian startups. The founder of Syndicate One, Laurens De Poorter joined TFN to discuss the path they took to founding Syndicate One and why they feel it’s important for the Belgian startup scene.

A return to Belgian roots

De Poorter is a Belgian, but in his early life dreamed of leaving, telling us, “I was born and raised in Belgium, but always wanted to escape!” His dream was to get to the US.

Achieving his ambition, he headed to Harvard to study for an MBA. But while he acknowledges his good fortune, describing himself as an ordinary Belgian and a first-generation university graduate, the experience left him reevaluating his views of home. “I finally got there, and I realised it’s not all unicorns and rainbows and sunshine,” he said. “I started appreciating the country that I was originally from much more.”

It led to him returning to Europe after Harvard, and starting his career with Dawn Capital in London. His time there saw some successful investments in Belgian startups like AI data intelligence startup Collibra.

However, it also highlighted the need for more support for the Belgian startup sector. “I really like the idea of bringing back what I learned from the US,” he says. But he felt that what he learned showed that Europe was not doing as well as the US. “Valuations were, in my opinion, skewed a little too much to the US, while European startups were demanding much lower valuations compared to their revenues or their profits.”

A fund dedicated to Belgian startup success

“Belgium is really behind a lot of other European tech ecosystems,” De Poorter says. “We have very few unicorns compared to our population, and we have the lowest VC funding per capita in Northern and Western Europe.”

He says, however, that he could not make the difference he wanted, “I was not going to have any impact by trying to push Belgian startups in the Investment Committee at Dawn Capital in London.” Instead, he realised that Belgium needed its own, dedicated vehicle, resulting in the creation of Syndicate One.

Although primarily an angel investment group, Syndicate One is dedicated to building the whole Belgian startup market. As well as funding high-potential startups, they will also offer founders’ access to expertise and networking to support their growth. While other initiatives, like the first standardised convertible note agreement for the Belgian market, are aimed at strengthening the entire tech ecosystem.

In the two years since it was founded, Syndicate One’s investments include Kennek, Techwolf, Aikido, SAPI, Sirona Technologies, and Job Protocol. The fund’s first-close will enable them to further expand their support and seed investment and they’re already planning to announce a funding round in an aviation startup from the country.

As well as more than seventy external investors, a range of existing Belgian entrepreneurs have invested. This will help Syndicate One deliver on its belief that the best support for startups comes from those who have already met with success. The entrepreneurs include Teamleader’s Jeroen de Wit, Stijn Christiaens from Collibra, Showpad’s Pieterjan Bouten, and Datacamp’s Martijn Theeuwissen.

The aim is to build a self-reinforcing cycle of entrepreneurial success in Belgium. De Poorter points to the collections of people in other countries who become serial investors, such as Silicon Valley’s ‘PayPal Mafia.’ “All these extremely successful startups created this belief that it was possible to build really big tech businesses in that country,” he said. “But in Belgium, we don’t necessarily have that yet. And so the idea emerged, why don’t we bring all the very best tech talent that we have in our country, and we start investing with our own money in the Belgian companies that, we believe, could be the next unicorn.”

Building Belgium’s tech coalition

And, having started the process, De Poorter is finding plenty of people share his vision. Anchor investor Sofina, for example, was attracted by the ambition for Belgian tech, with Giulia Van Waeyenberge saying, “Bringing Belgium’s top tech talent together in one startup ecosystem, will help scale Belgian tech innovation to new heights.”

A second close is planned for early this year, and is already oversubscribed, further highlighting confidence in Belgian tech as well as Syndicate One’s approach. And De Poorter is clear that their mission is not to support the whole nation’s tech sector, not just their investments.

“We can expand our network to have even more influence on the success of the investments we make, but also the overall tech ecosystem,” De Poorter says. “Our group does not only do investments, we also bring together all the stakeholders in the Belgian tech sector, through events and summits.” He continued, “We have to say no to 98% of the entrepreneurs we speak to, but we want to improve the ecosystem for all entrepreneurs in Belgium.”

As Belgium looks to recalibrate its position on the global innovation map, Syndicate One’s emergence signifies a collective effort to support and propel the next wave of promising startups.

Interview by Akansha Dimri

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