Top Belgian cities for aspiring entrepreneurs in 2021

People working in a start up office
Which Belgium city has the best opportunities and prospects for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Experts are calling 2021 the best time to start a business for entrepreneurs. Data from December 2020 shows there was an increase of 21% more businesses founded in comparison to the previous year. But, which Belgium city has the best opportunities and prospects for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Our study reveals the best Belgium city to start a business in 2021 using a variety of metrics, including access to talent, cost of living, available office space, proximity to universities and the number of startups.

While factors such as costs are key, it’s important that cities have the right culture for young professionals, nurturing talent and creativity. For this reason, lifestyle factors in each city are also a key component of this study.

Brussels revealed as the best city to launch a business

When it comes to planning your own enterprise, choosing where to base the business is just as important as deciding what you want to build. The city entrepreneurs choose can have a major impact on their success.

In our study, the capital city of Brussels ranked first in terms of being the best city to launch a business. This is because of the incredibly high number of existing start-ups and available flex-office space, as well as great access to talent. This doesn’t come as a surprise for a city this diverse, international and venturous.

Ranking as the second-best city for starting out as an entrepreneur is Liege. What’s good about this city is that the average rent here is quite low, €577 a month alongside an average annual income of 41k.

Additionally, the city offers good access to talent coming from six different universities creating an excellent breeding ground for start-ups, which explains the growing number of new businesses already taking root here.

To reveal our findings we created a weighted index looking at seven different metrics related to both business and life in and around a city. Each city in Belgium was then measured against the metrics with a different score awarded depending on the findings. Each score was combined to reveal one final score, the higher the score, the higher up on the ranking a city was scored.

Entrepreneur Table 1

Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp are home to the most start-ups

Our study reveals what opportunities lie within each city and which offer the best chances for startups to thrive.

While Brussels came top overall, the city also takes the top spot for being home to the most number of start-ups. There are many reasons for this, such as Brussels being a crossroad between Germanic Europe and Latin Europe, favourable investment climate and a strong business environment.

Ranking second is Ghent in terms of the number of start-ups, and in third is Antwerp. Both of these cities benefit from cheaper living costs than the capital.

Entrepreneur Table 2

Leuven is the place to be for uni, but what about after?

Leuven is known as the city to get a university degree: KU Leuven ranks in the top 50 universities worldwide, the city offers a vibrant student life and housing is plenty. But what are your chances of succeeding in launching a business after graduation in this thriving student metropolis?

With 6% of startups currently launched in Leuven, this city seems to offer a strong foundation for those wishing to start their own business. There is plenty of flexible working office space available, the cost of living is lower than in many other big cities and there’s excellent access to talent.

A one-bedroom flat in the heart of Leuven will set you back about €736 a month, whilst the average cost of living here is estimated at €633 on an average annual salary of 45k.

But, if you’re looking to make some big bucks after graduation, Brussels is the place to be for you. Not only is the average rent in this city relatively low at €839 for a central one-bedroom flat, but residents also see the highest average income in the country at 46000 euros annually.

Entrepreneur Table 3

Don’t have a big budget to get started? These cities have your back

Setting up a business can cause financial strain, so choosing a city to base both yourself and your business can be an important aspect. We’ve ranked the top 10 Belgian cities based on the cost of living, the average price to rent a 1-bed flat in the city centre and the average income to determine which city gives you the best deal.

Coming out as the most wallet-friendly place is the Wallonian city of Liege where the average price of a one-bedroom flat in the centre is only €577 a month, with an average cost of living of about €799. Additionally, residents here have some of Belgium's highest income with an average of about 41k annually.

Ranking second is the West-Flemish city of Kortrijk. Monthly rent here is on average €592, whilst the cost of living here is also rather low at an average of €700 per month. Additionally, the residents of Kortrijk enjoy an average annual income of about 43k.

The third cheapest location is Bruges. People here pay €615 per month towards their rent on average, whilst their cost of living is estimated at €784. Annual salaries here are about 42k per year.

Entrepreneur Table 4

Advice from experts on choosing the right location to start your business

We asked Omar Mohout, Entrepreneurship Fellow, Sirris, for his thoughts on why founders should consider location when starting a business in Belgium.

Founders should consider what industry they’re in when choosing a location

Within Belgium, the key factor is to be at a location where a relevant ecosystem for your industry or technology exists in order to access talent, customers, funding, support, suppliers, infrastructure etc.

DeepTech startups (i.e. photonics, semiconductors, autonomous vehicles), for example, are more sensitive to location than SaaS/Mobile app startups. Regulation should also be considered, as the more regulated an industry (i.e. HealthTech, Life Sciences, FinTech, aerospace…) the more important the location. For instance, starting a drone startup can only be successful if you’re in one of the few locations where you’re allowed to do test flights.

A thriving entrepreneurial culture in the area that founders choose is key

There are two main reasons why it’s important there is a thriving entrepreneurial culture in the area you choose to start your business. The first being that it will create positive energy and enthusiasm and the second being, the “pay it forward” mentality that is part of such a culture and helps founders immensely.

Methodology & sources

To reveal our findings we created a weighted index looking at seven different metrics. Two types of metrics have been taken into consideration: those directly related to business, and those related to life in and around a city.

All cities in Belgium were then measured against the seven metrics, with a different score awarded depending on the findings. Each score was combined to reveal one final score. The higher the score, the higher up on the ranking a city was scored.

The business metrics we have included in our study are the access to talent, which we determined by dividing the number of available jobs by a city’s population, the percentage of start-ups already established in a city, the number of higher education institutions per city and availability of hot desk offices.

The lifestyle related metrics that are included in this study are the cost of renting a 1-bedroom flat in the city centre, the cost of living per city and the average income.



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