The best start-ups in Belgium

Belgium is a notoriously fickle environment for entrepreneurs and their start-ups. Red tape bureaucracy, two-party politics and an adverse perception to risk-taking means that, most often that not, a good and sound idea is flattened before even making it to business plan stage. But, underneath the rumble of an economy held back by its structural shortcomings, a new generation of entrepreneurs is marching on, unabashed and unrepentant, bringing its ideas to market in ever more innovative ways. Bringing together our in-house team of editors, designers and web developers, we handpick the most promising Belgian start-ups of the year.

The judges

Geoffroy Delobel

Founded Central Design studio to think of more efficient and easier ways to use websites and applications. Otherwise enjoys baking, cooking, playing and listening.

Nicholas Lewis

Founder and editor in chief of The Word Magazine. Not exactly a technology buff but definitely a start-up fiend.

Damien Aresta

Graphic Design + Everything Else at PLMD. Professor at ERG in Brussels. Co-Founder of the Jaune Orange Collective in Liège. Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984.

Pierre Smeets

Co-Founder of PLMD. When it comes to glasses and typography size does matter.

Business to consumer

1. CHECKTHIS

Founded by Frédéric della Faille of web agency Bureau 347, Checkthis is a micro-publishing platform that allows anyone to instantly publish and share webpages, its strength lies in its open-to-all policy and its superb minimalism: no set-up or registra- tion is required and the interface couldn’t be any simpler. The platform can be used for anything from selling items and writing open letters to sending out event invitations and posting job adverts. Having just won Seedcamp in London, at the time of going to press the team was currently making its case for world-domination in San Francisco, pitching to the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Four Square. Why is it number one? Because everything from its purpose, its technology, its name and its design spells success.

www.checkthis.com

2. KICKTABLE

Imagine you’re a fashion photographer and your girlfriend cooks a mean truffle risotto. You like what you do, right? And chances are people might be willing to pay a little to spend an evening in your studio, learning the tools of the trade. Well, Kicktable allows you to do just that. Billed as a community marketplace for unique experiences hosted by passionate people, ‘hosts’ can upload all types of experiences (recent ones have included a presentation by a duo of former bankers turned hot-dog makers, or a beer-tasting session fol- lowed by a brewing workshop), in the belief that experience-seekers will take them up on their offer. Based on what you experience and not what you own, Kicktable puts passion at the center of its platform, allowing its users to make their urban lives that much more enriching. Experiences are the future people, and Kicktable is too, trust us.

www.kicktable.com

3. TWUSIC

Allowing users to build their own radio station at the click of a tweet, Twusic aggregates your #nowplaying hash tag into a custom-made playlist, enabling your followers to listen to what you’re listening to and discover new music along the way. Its strength lies in its simplicity, meaning users do not need to register on multiple platforms, have their listening times limited nor put up with different restrictions per country. Although we would have probably opted for a different name and put more attention to detail in the interface’s design, the technology behind the platform (Twusic’s algorithm converts a mind-boggling 2.5 million #nowplaying Tweets a day into music videos and additional information such as artist biography and tour dates), there’s no doubt in our minds that this is a winner.

www.twusic.com

Business to business

1. TWITSPARK

The brainchild of 23-year-old wiz-kid Davy Kestens, Twitspark’s the solution multinationals’ customer relationship managers have been waiting for. Using Twitter to efficiently coordinate companies’ customer service, the six-month old start-up allows the likes of Volkswagen to avoid missing important (read damning) Tweets whilst also enabling them to follow-up on these in order to better manage their online reputations. Twitspark’s genius lies in the real-time possibilities of reacting to a dissatisfied or disgruntled customer’s 140 character-long complaints at the click of a mouse. When most Twitter tools are mere marketing-based initiatives that are entirely devoid of any integration capability within existing structures, Twitspark doesn’t aim to add to the corporate layer, but be part of it. Expect its client list to double in size in 2012.

www.twitspark.com

2. WOORANK

Google Analytics and Facebook Insights are all well and fine, but they remain common denominators that don’t necessarily give you an edge over the competition. WooRank, on the other hand, goes a little bit further than mere analytics. A fully automated SEO analysis tool that whips up a basic report and scores your website out of a 100 in less than five seconds, it strengths lie in its consulting approach to analytics provision. Take for example its personalised tips to improve the website or, our favourite, the possibility to purchase a white paper, customisable at will, that can then be used as an effective sales tool. Some glitches here and there though (our location was listed as London’s glittering Islington and we apparently have over 13,000 Twitter followers – wrong Word Magazine folks) but nothing that can’t be fixed with some tweaks to the algorithm.

www.woorank.com

3. PAYCENTO

Facilitating online payment remains a huge issue for digital content providers – and a potential goldmine for whoever comes up with the right balance. And, with its system that allows users to pay casually small amounts for digital content by using their social network identity, we believe Paycento may be on to something. Enabling users to pay with Twitter, Facebook and soon even with Linkedin, the upstart (which is still currently at beta stage) combines real and virtual currencies to give control back to content providers, putting them back in charge of their pricing policies. Paypal, Visa and Mastercard are yesterday’s payment megastars. The future lies in fast and flawless payment systems, and Paycento’s upper hand on the industry is undeniable. Legal hurdles to internationalisation do exist though, but nothing a well-paid team of lawyers won’t get around.

www.paycento.com
 

Runners-up

1. KODESK

Encourages office space owners to provide unused space to individuals in need of a temporary place to work.

www.kodesk.com

2. 2HOUSES

Offers help to separated parents concerning the communication and the organisation regarding their children.

www.2houses.com

3. KICKOFF

A collaboration Mac application for small teams working on the same project.

www.kickoffapp.com