The coronavirus crisis hit Belgian start-ups and scale-ups even harder than expected: they all experienced sharper declines in their growth than anticipated. Yet, they remain optimistic about the future. This year, they even want to hire an average of five new employees.
Bigger blow, despite windfalls
In April 2020, nobody expected that we would still be in this Covid crisis a year down the line. Neither did the many Belgian start-ups and scale-ups. Their turnover growth in the past year has been even more disappointing than initially expected: companies with a turnover of less than 1 million euro saw their turnover growth halve (-49 percent). Companies with a turnover between 1 and 3 million euros lost more than a quarter of their expected turnover growth (-28 percent). The largest scale-ups (more than 3 million euro) expected 7 percent less growth but saw 12 percent evaporate.
This is the conclusion of a survey by Deloitte involving 125 Belgian start-ups and scale-ups, mainly (93 percent) with a B2B focus. The companies were surveyed first in April 2020, and now, almost a year later, they look back. Enterprise software, fintech and sustainability appear to be the most resilient industries, while smaller companies were hit hardest. The transport industry received the biggest hit.
So what are the most prominent obstacles? Fewer or delayed new customer contracts have been the number one issue for a year, although today already 15 per cent fewer scale-ups suffer from this than during the first wave. International travel restrictions and liquidity problems are also not as bad as feared last April. The latter shows that the support measures of the government are effective, concludes Deloitte. However, smaller start-ups of less than a million have significantly more cash flow or liquidity problems.
Leaders in job creation
Still, the start-ups and scale-ups are confident, even more so than at the start of the Covid crisis. They are optimistic about 2021: more than three scale-ups out of four are adamant they will grow as expected. Over a quarter of them even think they will at least double their turnover this year. By comparison, their average growth in 2020 was 33 per cent. For this year, the forecast is, on average, a growth of 70 per cent.
This also translates into more job opportunities - a lot more. The 125 respondents alone plan to hire 2,692 additional employees this year. On average, this is five new people per company. "This makes them the leaders in job creation in Belgium," says Anaïs De Boulle, Director of Scale-ups Ecosystem at Deloitte.
"The Belgian scale-ups thus realise a job creation of 320 jobs per 1,000, which is considerably higher than the average job creation in Belgium (57 per 1,000 jobs). Scale-ups are therefore real drivers of employment." However, half of them fear not finding suitable talent.
Also, this year they want to focus on new customers and new markets. Therefore, 65 per cent are looking for additional funding. A quarter of the companies even hope to raise more than 3 million euros. So, young Belgian companies are once again going for growth.
Every year, Deloitte also compiles a list of the 50 fastest growing technology start-ups. The winners of 2020 can be found here.