The Big Score, scoring deals at the highest tech level in Ghent

From the 30th of November till the 2nd of December, Ghent will host The Big Score, the international event that connects tech start-ups and scale-ups with companies, top investors and venture capital funds. The goal? To score investment and sales deals. The City of Ghent spoke with Bruno Vandegehuchte, who has been organising The Big Score for years with Startups.be | Scale-Ups.eu, about the power of this international event, the role of corporate companies and the assets of Ghent and its tech ecosystem.

For those who have never heard of The Big Score, what is it exactly?

"The Big Score is an international, 3-day event where scale-ups, i.e. fast-growing start-ups with their own software or tools, negotiate with the cream of the international venture capital world and meet company prospects. In cooperation with partners such as Voka, Engie Impact and Deloitte, and top foreign funds, we make a selection of 50 scale-ups with growth potential to present their solutions live, on stage, to national and international investors and large multinationals. A beauty contest at tech level, so to speak. On the last day, we turn the tables. Then, 35 giants from the business world, such as Volvo Cars, will present their operational challenges to tech start-ups that, provided they have convincing digital solutions, can win a contract."

Who are you aiming at for this international event?

"We welcome the founders of 50 nominated scale-ups from different countries, from top Ghent start-ups to even big names from Madrid and London. In the room, we have international, 'deep pocket' investors, often venture capital funds that invest in technology companies and are looking for fast growers, as well as project leaders who are looking for niche solutions to keep their company competitive, more environmentally friendly or make processes more efficient. Lots of bright spots." 

What is the strength of The Big Score?

"Well, these fast-growing scale-ups often need extra capital in addition to their own funds to make the big jump to other markets or to recruit en masse. These are investments of millions of euros that come with great risks. The funds that can cough up these amounts are mostly located abroad. Moreover, in addition to the money, they often have the experience and contacts to break through internationally. So you meet these investors physically at senior level at The Big Score. In addition, we support plenty of non-nominated start-ups by presenting them with 35 budgeted challenges from multinationals. These large companies really want to invest for a high-performance tech solution."

What exactly does a day at The Big Score look like?

"We welcome our guests to the wonderful MeetDistrict in the Ghelamco Arena. On day 1 and 2, the founders of the 50 scale-ups get exactly 7 minutes to pitch their solutions and ambitions. A clock at the back of the meeting room counts down their seconds relentlessly. On stage, they will present their company and product as clearly as possible in order to convince an international audience of investors or to convince company prospects. Between the presentations, everyone can use our networking tool to book targeted 1-on-1 speed dates in comfort. That quickly adds up to 1600 live meetings per edition. So these are tough days for our guests. Of course, we do everything we can to make The Big Score as enjoyable as possible: the best line-up in the Benelux in terms of content, nicely bundled information, a handy networking tool, culinary treats and relaxed evening events at top Ghent locations."

You just mentioned that The Big Score will take place in the MeetDistrict in Ghent. Why did you choose Ghent as your host city?

"Ghent has many strengths. It is located a few 100 km from financial centres such as London, Amsterdam and Paris. So the city is easily accessible in the heart of Europe. It also has the ideal hosting infrastructure. In addition, it is a historically attractive destination for our foreign guests. Finally, Ghent is highly regarded in many lists as the start-up capital of Belgium. Ghent clearly has similarities with The Big Score: small enough to care big enough to deliver. And admittedly, for me it is very pleasant to work with many familiar faces: from local top talent to Ghent artists and catering. It is always coming home."

Since last year, corporates are strongly involved in The Big Score. Why is their involvement so important?

"The large companies simply can't cope with the technological evolutions anymore and realise that the niche solutions of specialised start-ups can give them a competitive advantage more quickly. In general, you could say that these days Software as a Service (SaaS) is the order of the day. Digitalisation is winning, that much is clear. COVID-19 has also accelerated the acceptance of digital solutions. Look at software that coordinates logistics better, tools that facilitate remote working, monitoring of production and processes, cyber security for critical sectors, marketing tools, online sales, access to credit lines, personnel planning, etc. The digital train has become unstoppable."

How do international venture capitalists rate the Belgian and Ghent tech ecosystem?

"Very well. We are a talent cluster when it comes to tech profiles and a high quality of life. Our start-ups are increasingly looking across the border from day 1. We are culturally a real passthrough and have a tradition of doing business sparingly with our own resources first. That is called bootstrapping. In Ghent, there is also a strong generation of serial entrepreneurs, such as the founders of Netlog, Deliverect, Showpad, Combell, etc. Dozens of other companies have emerged from this. There are also great start-up ecosystems around imec, Ghent University and KUL."

What is still missing in our local tech ecosystem?

"The big capital funds are more likely to be abroad, but that doesn't have to be a problem. I think a lot of dormant savings can still be put into young talent. The share option scheme is also completely outdated, which makes it difficult to recruit international top talent. In terms of the number of entrepreneurs, too, we are dangling in the mid-range in Europe and we also lack more storytelling at various levels. We need to do more to highlight our achievements and strong technology. Give our inspiring entrepreneurs and innovative technology some extra air time."

What professional advice do you give to Ghent start-ups and scale-ups?

"In the last 5 years, European technology investors have raised a record amount of € 50 billion, more than doubling in five years. These investors are in fierce competition to provide the most promising start-ups with the necessary millions. Keep that in mind. Fight for your company's recognition and run a rigorous campaign negotiating with funds that have experience in your field. And don't forget to register for The Big Score through the City of Ghent (laughs)."

Thanks for this interview Bruno. Make it a fantastic edition in the Technology Capital of Europe.

Source: Stad Gent

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