Connecting Brussels with Silicon Valley 2017
This year’s Connecting Brussels with Silicon Valley mission brought together 12 startups for a week-long immersive experience in Silicon Valley, including a group of 11 coders led by Ibrahim Ouassari and Julie Foulon of MolenGeek, despite their hectic arrival. Our mission was presided by Cecile Jodogne Secretary of State in Charge of Foreign Trade and included B2B meetings, networking events, and visits with innovative startups. Eight of our participating startups – WooClap, Apptweak, Upcall, LuckyCycle, Springsyple, MolenGeek, QuickLyric, SportyVerse - exhibited at the 11th annual TechCrunch Disrupt Conference where the format combines “top thought-leader discussions with new product and company launches”.[i]
Silicon Valley is an important territory for Belgian technology Startups. The Silicon Valley region has claimed the top regional spot in dollar amount invested since 1995 according to Regional Aggregate data provided by PwC’s Money Tree Report.[ii] Brussels Invest and Export in San Francisco Commissioner Eric Gabrys welcomed mission participants Sunday afternoon with a kick-off covering tips on how to adapt to the American style of doing business and an overview of the week’s busy program. Henry Vantieghem, our Belgian General Consul in LA joined the kick-off meeting and was first to present its activities in its jurisdiction on the West Coast. Each of our participant then enjoyed an opportunity to present its innovation and goals for the mission to other members of the delegation.
Our Secretary of State Cecile Jodogne set the tone with a call to participants to take full advantage of the week, emphasizing that “the Brussels digital ecosystem represents 7.6% of regional GDP, 5 billion euro in revenue, 2,000 businesses, and 31,000 jobs; more than 25% of Belgian Startups are created in Brussels,”[iii] during her inauguration of the Brussels Pavilion at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Laurence Van den Keybus, Executive Director of BelCham - Atelier in the Bay welcomed Belgian startup presenters Jens Verhiest of LuckyCycle, Gauthier Philippart of BluPods, Thomas Querton of Atlas Run, Benjamin Le Cam of Zorabots, and Sebastien Tron Hopsy Beer, all who presented on building a business in Silicon Valley. Hopsy Beer provided an update on its impressive growth rate and recent launch in New York. The demo from Zorabots showcased the companies value proposition as a caring solution based on the NAO robots of Softbanc Robotics, and provided a stunning Flamenco dance.
Guillaume Bourcy Director of Sales & Development at BICS San Francisco, a $1.7 Billion company with 570 employees, spoke about BICS’ recent acquisition of Telesign as a move to provide added value security services to its worldwide customers, as well as noting that this is one of the largest IT acquisitions by a Belgian company of a California-based entity.
At a visit with Denisse Halm and Olivier Sinson of Udemy, a global marketplace for learning and teaching online, delegation participants learned about Silicon Valley’s culture of perseverance: After being rejected more than 30 times, Udemy finally got funded by Venture Capital firm Lightbank and currently has $173 million in funding from 17 investors.[iv]
At Branch, a startup providing developers tools to provide links between websites and apps, participants met co-founder Dmitri Gaskin who started coding at age of 8, dropped out of Stanford University at 18 years old to fund his first company, and currently runs a Branch with 3 co-founders and has raised more than $60 million Series C from Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures company.
Professor of European Union economics and policies, Christopher Crombez, hosted a tour of Stanford University, covering the founding of the University by Mr. Leland Stanford as well as its important role as a nexus connecting innovation to the venture capital and co-founder communities in Silicon Valley. Delegation members had the opportunity to take in a view of the campus from the Hoover Tower, which consists of an historic library, cast iron church bells manufactured in Belgium, and the emblematic Belgian Gates.
Nathalie Delrue-McGuire welcomed delegation members to a tour of SFMoMa, at the close of which participants enjoyed a luncheon with Chad Coerver Chief Content Officer at SFMoMA who spoke about the critical role that technological solutions play in the Museum’s day-to-day operations and overall strategic management.
Molengeek participants particularly enjoyed a presentation by Nathan Gold “the demo coach” on how to open a presentation with 6 signals and gave tips for opening techniques in a high-stakes presentation. Moreover, he reinforced to the audience the importance of preparation when pitching to investors, by referencing Benjamin Franklin’s well-known adage “By failing to prepare, you are preparing for failure”. The advice was well received!
Our participants attended the European Innovation Day 2017 where an afternoon of discussions covered the fostering of innovation between EU nation states and Silicon Valley.
Our delegation held a luncheon on “How to Navigate Silicon Valley as a Professional Woman” with Anne DeGheest, a pioneer in the health-tech space and Managing Director of HealthTech Capital which is a group of private investors dedicating to funding and mentoring new health-tech startups, as well as Marcia Saecker, a nationalized Belgian, and successful startup founder who reminded the audience, “Be a victor and not a victim. And be grateful to people who support you”.
Secretary of State Cecile Jodogne met with Thierry Gabadou Head of International Banking Group of BNP Paribas/ Bank of the West to learn about Bank of the West’s Innovation Hubs, of which nine are located in Belgium.
Alain Demeulenaere, Managing Director of Numeca-USA, a fluid dynamics software application used by aviation and marine companies, shared his story with us: Numeca is recognized today as one of the most innovative companies in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and since opening a San Francisco office, its US revenue has increased 8-fold.
Participant startups had the opportunity to enjoy a networking dinner at The SF Cookhouse with founder Alfredo Coppola, and partners Jeff Snider and Chris Burry of US Market Access Center, which provides international tech companies with fast and successful access to the US and Global Markets through its Silicon Valley know-how and network. This was also a great opportunity to mingle with some of the Subject Matter Experts from Brussels Invest & Export large network in Silicon Valley.
Our delegation was invited to the Executive Briefing Center of DocuSign, an eSignature solution, to learn about how DocuSign’s technology empowers businesses around the world with managing and executing contracts, from employment agreements to sales and partnership agreements. At right, Boris Pavlovic shares an interactive display illustrating the documents signed every day around the world with DocuSign’s technology.
A meeting with TriNet was a great opportunity to meet with another one of the key ingredients of Silicon Valley success with an extensive network of service providers. The added value provided by TriNet was well explained in a presentation from female founder Ute Ruther of Q-Sensei a real-time, multi-Dimensional search, discovery, analytics and data visualization company. Ute came to Silicon Valley from Europe to grow her business, and with TriNet’s services, she could focus on her business’s core value proposition while externalizing its HR administration. This is particularly important for foreign born entrepreneurs who are not familiar with HR matters and particularities in the US.
At our mission’s marquee event, The 5th Annual Belgian Startup Pitch Competition at The Vault SF, WooClap, Apptweak, LuckyCycle, Springsyple, QuickLyric, and Sportyverse pitched their startups in maximum 4 minutes to an audience and panel of four Silicon Valley veterans , Max Shapiro of PeopleConnect, Radhika Iyengar-Emens of DoubleNova Group, Jorden Woods of Silicon Valley Fundraising, and Jeff Wallace of HubSV. Our companies were particularly impressed by the feedback provided by our panelists.
Right before the start of the competition, each panelist gave a last piece of advice to the presenters, insisting on the importance to articulate their value proposition to their audience and to keep in mind that potential investors always want to hear a response to their most pressing question: “What’s in it for me?”.
AppTweak won the pitch competition prize of a 3-month membership at the Vault SF. Apptweak CEO and co-founder Olivier Verdin noted, “this will be useful as we come back to the area to continue our development with partners in Silicon Valley” Indeed, Apptweak had promising contact with a well-known online dining reservation service. Jens Verhiest received honorary mention for best presentation.
The final day of the mission members attended a signing ceremony between digtal Kevin Carbone, CEO of digital advertising agency PRN LLC, and iDKlic, a Belgian startup in pharmacy digital advertising at San Francisco’s iconic TransAmerica Pyramid Tower with its amazing view of SanFrancisco Bay. Kevin Carbone of PRN LLC provided a warm welcome to our delegation, as well as to iDKlic’s co-founders Jean-Charles Figoni and Miriam Taub who had participated in last year’s Connecting Brussels with Silicon Valley mission, and upon this year’s return focused their time to solidify its relationship with Mr. Carbone and PRN.
To wrap up the week, delegation participants provided their feedback. Yassine Chahid of Springsyple said, “TechCrunch Disrupt and B2B Meetings had provided Springsyple with a dozen high-quality introductions”. Miguel Van Keirsbilck of the Belgian Foundation for Food Sciences felt “inspired and made 20 quality contacts”. Guillaume Hachez of QuickLyric enthusiastically noted, “At TechCrunch Disrupt, I had several interesting contacts, notably a representative from Samsung’s TV Division. Silicon Valley is great.” Ibrahim Ouassari of MolenGeek noted, “this trip has already changed our coders; it’s comforting to see that they don’t have to run from responsibilities, they have to grab them by their hands, propel themselves, and undertake the work”.[v]