Made in Belgium - 7 entrepreneurs face 5 biggest Startup Challenges

What do home automation for the elderly, advanced predictive analytics made easy and an auto-scaling cloud to manage brand marketing have in common? Together with a new online point-of-sale solution and an easy online B2B publishing platform, they’re all innovations by Belgian entrepreneurs. But innovators face tough challenges. To overcome these obstacles, seven aspiring businesses have joined Startathlon in a bid to take their business to the next level. 

Startathlon is a Brussels-based 8-step acceleration program for innovative SMEs. During four intensive months, participants learn from mentors, investors and each other and make accelerated progress on their perspective business. 

Read the inspiring story of these seven businesses. 

Challenge 1: Am I building the right product?

Surely, you have heard this before: 9 out of 10 startups fail or do not become large. Out of those who do succeed, 6 out of 10 change their original plan. Why is that? 

Very often, startups build a technology to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist. All entrepreneurs must ask themselves if their product will make a difference to their customers by solving a real problem, creating tangible results and benefits. 

You might think you know your market. Most of our Startathloners have years of experience and commercial success in their respective markets. They know their customers through and through. Yet, this doesn't automatically make their business scalable

Here is what we learned from session to session. There is a big difference between:

  • working closely with individual customers to offer them exactly what they need (service)
  • building a product that solves a pressing problem for a large number of customers in a frictionless way (scalable product)

"Startathlon is a must for every (would be) entrepreneur! This go-to-market coaching trajectory helps you to shape your initial idea into a viable business. Much like a sculptor who starts with a slab of marble which, over time, with skill, passion, hard work and the right coaching is shaped into a piece of art!"
Frederik Petre - Flanders Make 

Challenge 2: Building the right sales argumentation 

Even the best products don't sell themselves. You are just one of many fighting for a piece of your prospect’s mind and they have heard practically every sales pitch before. Or at least, that's what it feels like.  

It doesn’t matter how good your product is or how much of your sweat, blood and tears have been poured into this project. What matters is how effectively you can paint a picture of the better world in the eye of your prospect’s mind.  

And this is hard work. Our entrepreneurs painstakingly build the elements of a compelling sales conversation: attracting your prospects attention, building interest and desire for your product, communicating value and benefits, addressing sales objections, building trust, etc…

“Before starting Startathlon, we knew the vision and ambition of Skryv. We also gathered a great technical team to build the software we needed. But we did not know how to pitch and sell. Startathlon filled this gap. Even though this was certainly not an easy endeavour, the feedback allowed us to improve our story, highlight the core message and build a solid deck. The outcome is very clear: with Startathlon, we are much better prepared to see prospects!” 
Toon Timbermont - 

Challenge 3: Finding levers to grow your business 

Your new business just came online and your marketing budget is zero. How are you supposed to find your first (thousand) customers?  

Enter the growth hacker. You may have heard of growth hacking and online marketing levers, but you found many of the tactics difficult to apply to your business? 

Startathlon participants learn from mentors and each other tricks that also work for niche businesses and it works here in Belgium.

“Startathlon has been one of the best investments I’ve made. Not only did I enjoy every single session, I learned a whole lot in a very short amount of time. I am confident that many startups from our class will achieve success and do amazing things very soon. It has been a privilege to be a part of Startathlon and I will do my best to put the shared wisdom into practice. In fact, I have been doing it for a while, and miracles are happening!”
Katya Vladislavleva - Data Stories

Challenge 4: The optimal business model

It can be incredibly difficult to establish the correct price and choose the right business model. Entrepreneurs are faced with a myriad of pricing strategies, such as license-based, freemium, subscription, pay per use and many more... 

For example, it is easy to be swayed by news of 'freemium' now accounting for 71% of Apple AppStore revenues in the US, but equally important to remember is that, if not suitable for your product, it could be the worst mistake you ever made, if you fail to take other matters into consideration. 

With so many options available and the realisation that any decision could be the make or break of your business, Startathlon participants learn and explore both the benefits and pitfalls surrounding the pricing of your new product by taking a practical approach and fully understanding all of the strategies available.

“Startathlon brought us a lot of inspirational moments. New insights into marketing approach, price settings and pitching our story made the sessions very valuable. It gave us a headstart in our roadmap for Tilroy.” 
Peter De Ranter - Tilroy 

Challenge 5: Getting your innovation funded 

In a classical "service model" you get paid for the work you deliver. With little or no delay. If you want to grow your business, you need to hire more people and sell more hours.  

Startathlon participants want to break out of this cycle. They want to be smart. Work more up front, create valuable IP, and get a delayed, but bigger reward. That is the key mechanism of a scalable business. But it requires hefty means. External funding can be essential for entrepreneurs to accelerate their growth, and may be the only way to build a technology-heavy product.  

That's why our entrepreneurs present a short investor pitch each session. They hone their business presentation from session to session before eventually pitching in front of a jury of seasoned investment professionals.

“Session after session, pitch after pitch, Startathlon helped us structure our thinking and present our business in a clearer manner. While listening to other participants, we learned much about ourselves and our own business. And we initiated business relationships that appear to be meant to last. BIG thanks to the Startathlon team.” 
Pascal Binard - Marlin

And during the "pitching event" at the cosy Agoria bar, the entrepreneurs got to present their ventures to a crowd of experienced entrepreneurs. This time around, Data Stories won with most votes from the audience, and Skryv and Marlin-Ops ended up sharing second place.

Can you help entrepreneurship in Belgium flourish?

Belgium is entering entrepreneurial renaissance, and the startup ecosystem is getting stronger every day.

Initiatives like Startathlon are a part of this ecosystem. Following the Silicon Valley's "pay it forward" philosophy, mentors and participants help each other succeed. 

You can help too?

  • Spread the word about our entrepreneurs and the Startathlon program
  • If you have experience in building startups, join our mentors, or the next public pitching event
  • Have a business idea - or a product that needs an extra push? Get in touch, to be considered for the next Startathlon generation

We can do more when we join forces!

“We were flabbergasted at the creativity and technical know-how our colleagues presented, but soon found ourselves at ease, thanks to the mentors, the excellent atmosphere in which the program was run, and also the belief in our own project, however low-profile it seemed under the circumstances. Although we put our project on hold throughout the program, the ultimate go-to-market and following revenues have no doubt been sped up by our participation at Startathlon.” 
Frank Berckmans - At Home Publishers

"Startathlon is a very good go-to-market training; sessions are well distributed in time and the content is very interesting and consistent with the reality on the ground. The mentors and the organizer were of high quality but also the group of trainees was coherent and curious. The group was interested in others' subjects and readily shared its feelings and experiences with others; thank you all.” 
Karim CHADIR - Home Automation for The Elderly


This article is written in cooperation with Vladimir Blagojevic of 113 Labs, Startathlon mentor and expert in Go to market engines.