Belgium has a strong backbone of small businesses (SMEs); the country's creative flair is renowned worldwide. But not enough of those companies are online. Their internet economy represents 2.5% of GDP, less than next-door neighbour The Netherlands. But this isn't about Benelux rivalry: SMEs that embrace the opportunity to grow online generate new jobs twice as quickly and are 50% more likely to sell products and services abroad.
The government knows this, and Minister for the Digital Agenda Alexander De Croo is on a nationwide Tournée Digitale to get companies online. The Flemish and Walloon governments have similar projects. We’re keen to play our part,, so we're launching the Google Growth Engine programme in Belgium. It's simple: SMEs throughout the country get training in the essential digital skills they need to grow online. We'll work with small business associations Voka, Unizo and educational institute Syntra to deliver the courses, starting next month. The ultimate goal is to train 10,000 people in 2015 and 2016.
Last night in Kortrijk at the start of his digital tour, minister De Croo said: “It’s absolutely necessary to go the extra mile so that our SMEs can become European digital champions. I’m satisfied that Google shares that ambition with its Growth Engine programme.”
There are plenty of Belgian entrepreneurs who have already achieved growth through their smart use of the Internet, and we want to add more. The companies don't have to be techy, either -- two of our favourite examples are Maxime Verhulst with her fitness centre NewFit offering Zumba dance fitness classes in Zaventem, and Jules & Juliette, which sells baby clothes. Their actual shop may be in chic Knokke-Heist, the St.Tropez of the North Sea, but online, their customer base knows no borders. See here for more Belgian success stories.
According to Belgian retail body Comeos, 60% of Belgians shopped online last year, so the opportunity for Belgian businesses is huge. Our Growth Engine programme gives SMEs practical training that will allow them to take advantage of that opportunity.
Posted by: Thierry Geerts, country director Google Belgium