Disruptive innovations : welcome or block ?

#AngelSession2: innovating mobility (Uber, Taxis, Minister Mobility, iMinds)

In May 2015, we organised an AngelSessionBXL. These are short evening meetups we started in Brussels, and will now expand to other cities around Belgium.

That evening was very interesting with the following participants: Minister of mobility Pascal Smet, Uber Belgium chief Filip Nuytemans, Taxis Verts (Brussels) chief Jean-Michel Courtoy and Professor Pieter Ballon (iMinds). (see Photo)

It was an intense debate. Very intense.

Looking back – a couple of thing remain on my mind:
1. Brussels is one of the most challenging cities in Europe related to traffic. Brussels has traffic-free central lanes, the rest of the boulevards are constantly blocked (driving a car is becoming a nightmare), the trains are on strike often and the metro-network is averagely developed. This could be the perfect starting point to have an totally re-thought system of transportation. Let’s be honest, it cannot become much worse. When we stayed in LA, the 405 highway had a bad name. But that’s nothing compared to driving from Brussels center to Antwerp center. So why not use this opportunity. Why not re-imagine from the ground up and make Brussels the most modern and innovating city on mobility ?

2. Belgium does not know how to handle disruptive innovation. Over the course of my life, I’ve been confronted with regulatory frameworks. For example: at Skynet (a Belgium-based internet provider), we were confronted from the early days with copyright issues (the begin of the web), with privacy (when things got more mainstream), and when we launched digital tv (Belgacomtv was one of the 1st telco’s in Europe to launch interactive tv) it was immensely complex. But it was still easy, when you compare it to the current complexity in data and disrupted marketplaces.

Being a startup in Europe is somewhat complex, although we shouldn’t exagerate. You all know the challenges of multiple markets, the lower amounts of growth capital available (compared to the US), etc etc. The regulatory complexity is another hurdle.

The regulatory complexity across Europe related to crowdfunding is very unclear as well. (I always seem to be in a regulatory challenged domain :-).
Belgium is one of the more conservative countries, leading to major delays compared to the UK or other markets. Belgium has a limit of 300k€ without a prospectus, UK has a limit of 2M€. It has hindered the development of companies active in the domain, and hence the entire market. Belgium is the lowest per capita crowdfunding market. Fortunately, new legislative initiatives such as a tax shelter for startups, reduced contributions for starters and crowdfunding platform incentives are arriving. Belgium has adopted to the new phenomenon very slow.

When I read today’s (Oct-16-2015) news that the UK government had approved the framework of operations of Uber in UK and declared it legal since its start begin 2012, it came to mind that UK is again leading the way to creating better conditions for innovation. In Belgium, Uberpop just had to stop its service.
Let me be clear : I don’t think Uber should be allowed to do anything it wants. But the experience of Uber is something that creates a totally new expectation. No useless waiting, a friendly atmosphere, no more cash-payments (and discussion with the driver if he ‘wants’ to accept a credit card), etc. But there are laws, and we all need to comply with them.

However, legislation needs to adapt to the realities of modern life. If we like it or not, technology has increased the speed and ease, and has had a positive impact on life (mine at least, although I think we are all trying to control and slow down the speed of life a bit). Why not draft the conditions in which one can operate, instead of saying no to innovation. Why can’t legislation and regulation set the scene ?

Why not, like this UK official indicates, say

“As a government we welcome innovation and we welcome ‘disruptive technology’,” said business secretary Sajid Javid this week. “And I wouldn’t want to see anything done that jeopardies our status as a country that welcomes investment and jobs, and puts consumers first.”

That said, 2 concluding remarks (a son-remark and a plug):

  1. my son, 7 years old, does not see Uber as a taxi-app. He likes the service a lot, and like every other icon on my iPhone homescreen he knows the brand. But he though I could unlock a bike to rent too. Uber is for him a synonym of easy usage of transportation. It could be any brand, but Uber was first.
  2. the next #AngelSessionBXL will be about innovative marketing.
    – Bert Marievoet, country lead of Twitter Belgium
    – the amazing Clo Willaerts who has an exceptional view on marketing
    – insights from the community-driven Mobile Vikings by its chief Viking Hans Similon
    – and perspectives for growth by Golden pages marketing chief Wim Vermeulen.
    Also : we’ll also host again an “AngelStage”, allowing entrepreneurs to pitch their company.

Registration for the AngelSessionBXL of Nov-18 are open now!

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