In focus: Some initiatives, grants & schemes available in Belgium to support women entrepreneurs
Belgium is one of UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) top 15 partners contributing to core funding, which looks at responding quickly and flexibly when crises strike, plus to pioneer and spread new ideas too.
Studies have shown that empowering women to participate equally in the global economy could add up to $28 trillion in GDP growth by 2025. Looking at the growing number of women entrepreneurs is a great sign of women’s empowerment. In Finland and Belgium, both developed economies, it appear to have the highest number of businesses that have women ownership. On a positive note, the European Union’s structural funds support numerous initiatives promoting women’s employment; and the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan calls for – awareness-raising, entrepreneurship training, improved access to financing, stronger networks & support in reconciling business and family life. In Belgium, the Young Company initiative aims to give students experience that closely resembles managing a business in the real world.
So, the Belgian context for entrepreneurship and SMEs has some strengths but there is room for more improvement. Addressing inclusive entrepreneurship strategies and objectives, it is seen that at the federal level, the main policy framework documents for inclusive entrepreneurship include – the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan (YGIP), launched in 2013, and the Plan in Support of Women’s Entrepreneurship (Plan en Faveur de l’EntrepreneuriatFéminin) launched in 2016. In Belgium, women represent only 33% of entrepreneurs, and this position has evolved very little over the past five years (over 1%). Moreover, women represent 23% of employers (which is slightly below
the European average of 26%).
Women entrepreneurship is on the rise in Brussels: one woman out of 10 is self- employed, which is the highest rate in Belgium, according to the 2019 edition of the bi- annual barometer of Women in Business ( the website for female entrepreneurship in Brussels).
Here are some initiatives, grants and schemes available in Belgium to support women entrepreneurs.
> Women in Business Initiative
The Brussels Government stepped up to boost entrepreneurship and diversity by creating a more supportive environment for female entrepreneurs by setting up a special grant fund. The government launched a project for the “Women in Business” initiative, while making available around €350,000 of public funds.
The tech start-up industry, is normally dominated by men. From 2020, Brussels has shown that the number of self-employed women has increased by 30% in the last decade. As the State Secretaries for Economic Transition Barbara Trachte (Francophone Greens) and Equal Opportunities, Nawal Ben Hamou (Socialist Party) noted, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an especially negative impact on female entrepreneurs, as many work in small companies.
It’s a huge support to women entrepreneurship, for the budget for the ‘Women in Business’ project (€350,000) is intended for initiatives that will support female entrepreneurship, including through self-help, coaching programmes, networking events and other activities.
> Women in Tech
Women in Tech has a clear mission worked out. Mainly it is – to provide a place where women in tech can both broaden their network, and also be in a place where they can become role models for a new generation of techies. They aim for a future, in which the technology landscape closely reflects the diverse community we live in.
> Private sector development (PSD) policy & strategy
Belgium uses different instruments and programmes to promote PSD, including BIO- INVEST, ENABEL, the Belgian Development Agency, which includes the Trade for Development Centre, and partnership mechanisms for the private sector.
ENABEL’s PSD approach rests on three pillars – improving the business climate, strengthening value chains and economic sectors, and creating businesses and improving their performance. ENABEL has a particular focus on fragile contexts, and projects a particular added value in investing in women’s entrepreneurship, digital entrepreneurships, fair entrepreneurship, access to finance and private sector engagement.
> Women in Digital
This involves working towards a strong and fully inclusive digital economy!
As society grows more than ever interwoven with the digital world, the labour market cannot lag behind. Digital literacy, advanced skills and soft skills are more important than ever. Yet the figures reveal a significant gender gap: women only make up 17% of all ICT jobs in the European Union.
The Belgian federal government, the FPS Economy, the private sector and other bodies have drawn up a five-year plan – to encourage more girls and women into STEM and ICT jobs.
The ‘Women in Digital’ strategy aims to explore the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the gender gap, raise public awareness, and reach out to the most vulnerable groups.
The 5 strategic objectives of the “Women in Digital” plan can be listed out as –
> Ensuring that more women graduate in the digital sector
> Promoting the integration of women in the digital workplace and/or sector
> Encouraging women retention in the digital sector
> Creating new images
> Closing the gender gap in specific target groups
Womenpreneur-Initiative is a Brussels-based organization, that was set up in 2016 which focuses on activities and initiatives are focused on Belgium and MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region.
Their aim is – to advance women’s place in entrepreneurial scene, technology, innovation & society. And this is achieved through a variety of innovative experiences, entrepreneurial activities, mentorship sessions, leadership programs, technology education, networking events and opportunities.
> ScaleupVlaanderen: support programme for digital product companies, including female founders
ScaleupVlaanderen has a developed a wide-ranging support programme for innovative digital scale-ups which are on the brink of an (international) acceleration of growth. The Belgian technology federation Agoria, imec’s business accelerator imec.istart and the technology industry collective centreSirris have joined forces for this unique programme. ScaleupVlaanderen is supported by the Flemish Agency for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), and by some carefully chosen partners.