Ghent University in Fifth Place in European Ranking of Digital Scale-Ups
Apps, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, SaaS (software as a service), wearables, drones... We’re bombarded with them. Here at Ghent University that’s not so surprising because we’ve been creating a continuous output of digital spin-offs for years. And with such success that we’re currently occupying fifth place in Omar Mohout’s European ranking of digital scale-ups. Credits to Molecubes, Luceda, Morrow, Indigo Diabetes, FEops, Pozyx Labs, Sentea, Antelope DX, and a whole host of others.
Mohout is a former technology entrepreneur, widely-published technology author, advisor to fast-growing start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Antwerp Management School. Someone, in short, who knows the start-up landscape like the back of his hand. In his role as Entrepreneurship Fellow at Sirris, the collective centre of the technology industry, he has, since 2013, kept up a ranking of European digital scale-ups that raise capital and develop from spin-offs from just under 200 universities and knowledge institutions. Data from more than 10,000 European scale-ups show that Ghent University can boast a firm fifth place after centres of excellence such as Oxford and Cambridge Universities, ETH Zurich, and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
‘This is not a fluke but the result of a clear strategy by Ghent University to focus on the valorisation of research,’ says Omar Mohout. That is confirmed by Wim Van Camp, general manager at Ghent University TechTransfer. ‘This result shows how, thanks to funding from Interface, the IOF and others, Ghent University has been able to build spin-offs over the last fifteen years, and how these start-up companies can grow into successful scale-ups in the Ghent ecosystem.’ And he goes on to say that ‘With our unique valorisation structure within the UGent Association, we will continue to focus on supporting, sensitizing and motivating researchers to get more out of their research in the coming years.’
‘With our unique valorisation structure within the UGent Association, we will continue to focus on supporting, sensitizing and motivating researchers to get more out of their research in the coming years.’ Wim Van Camp, general manager at Ghent University TechTransfer
‘Of course, the environment in which these spin-offs thrive also plays an important role,’ says Mohout. ‘Wherever you look, start-ups appear like mushrooms overnight, so to speak. But most of them disappear as quickly as they came. Some continue to be active on a small scale; only a minority continues to develop, both organisationally and financially, and acquire growth capital to support that upscaling. As a company you need a strong ecosystem that further supports and finances you and organizes training courses and events...
'Ghent is a good example of an ecosystem that has grown bottom-up, from the entrepreneurs themselves.' Omar Mohout
For example, the Ghent company Netlog produced a whole generation of ambitious tech entrepreneurs. That has given rise to up to fifty companies. Just think of the founders of Showpad. And the interaction between city and university only strengthens this ecosystem.’
‘Since 2010 you’ve seen a real quantum leap in the number of spin-offs that continue to grow, which may also be due to the lowering of the threshold of open-source, cloud infrastructure, apps and powerful programming languages … that stimulate and democratise innovation,’ according to Mohout. ‘But whereas a few years ago many thought that it would be mainly technologies such as blockchain and virtual reality that would prove to be the biggest game changers, today we see that AI is the main breakthrough. It’s still early days, but the valorisation of photonics and smart materials through spin-offs is starting to gain traction, areas in which Ghent University can show the necessary letters patent.
In any case, the next few years promise to be an exciting time in scale-up-land,’ he concludes. His appeal to researchers is therefore loud and clear:
‘Get out of the building! Valorise your research, listen to the needs of the market and society and look for ways to respond to that in your research.’