Andreas De Neve is the co-founder and CEO of TechWolf, a Ghent-based firm that provides AI solutions to HR problems. The company’s software smartens platforms, connecting people with a certain skill set to the right job. We got together with Andreas to discuss the future of entrepreneurship and technology.
What has been the most striking evolution you have seen in the Belgian or European ecosystem in the last ten years?
In a company, everything boils down to working with people who have the right skills. For the better part of the last decade, that was exactly the bottleneck: finding those people to work for a European company. If you wanted to hire talented people with experience scaling companies, taking them public, you had to find them on the West Coast.
When Collibra started out, ten years ago, there was almost no one in Europe who could bring that kind of expertise and experience to a company. The talent pool in the EU was far more limited.
Now, we’re starting to see that type of ecosystem here. There is talent on the market with experience at fast-growing scale-ups like Showpad, Collibra, Deliverect. We have investors like Jurgen Ingels who were and are entrepreneurs themselves.
Attracting the right talent is a lot easier than five years ago. There’s this virtuous circle happening in the ecosystem, with talent from companies like Showpad. I honestly don’t know where I would have found it if not for the entrepreneurs who went before us. So we can definitely say things have changed for the better.
How do you feel about the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem today in BE/EU?
I’m quite optimistic, really. One of our strong suits in Belgium is that we have exceptional technical universities. Especially Ghent is a hotbed for engineering and STEM talent. Young Belgian graduates who just left university are well-educated, highly capable, and still quite affordable in comparison to other parts of the world.
We might have less expertise than in some parts of the US, but the wage cost and overall cost of living are a lot higher. Ghent is truly a sweet spot.
What are the most interesting trends and innovations that you are following today in your industry?
A trend that I’m seeing is international top-tier funds investing in Belgian companies. It is quite a fun trend to see. Ten years ago, you didn’t have many European – let alone Belgian – entrepreneurs who made it to the top-tier VCs on Sand Hill Road.
In the European and Belgian ecosystem, I see a lot of evolutions that are interesting. Belgium’s knowledge of biotechnology runs deep. We have strong research clusters in the field of AI.
Compared to the United States, Belgium tends to be more modest about its knowledge. Oftentimes you’ll find more “actual” AI in Belgium than in other parts of the world. Other countries tend to simply sell better. Here, we don’t have as much of a tech problem as we have a sales and marketing issue.
What do you believe the impact of AI to be?
AI can do two things: it can process tons of data that a person could never process in no time. And second, it can bring about a customized experience based on the data it has analyzed. Nowadays, you have Netflix and Spotify, which offer a personalised user experience. Personalized movie suggestions or playlists, AI gives another dimension to that user experience.
I think we don’t realize how much AI has improved over the last decade. As a consumer, you no longer expect to receive recommendations that aren’t tailored to your liking. You just can’t imagine a platform like Spotify or Netflix giving you a recommendation that doesn’t make sense.
In B2B, we still have a long way to go to achieve that smooth, personalized experience. There are a lot of applications that do not work properly. Oftentimes employees deal with outdated processes, software programs that haven’t been optimized yet, or old technology that is still in place. There is a lot of progress to be made there.
Do you think the following phenomena are fleeting hypes or will they really bring significant change?
- VR and AR: “A lot of technology is a solution looking for problem to solve. I do believe VR and AR have a lot of potential, but I do not see any relevant problems it can solve yet.”
- Fusion power: “I certainly hope so. Generally, it’s war or a crisis that bring breakthroughs in new technologies and adoption. Let’s hope the current energy crisis will free up resources to invest in new and promising energy solutions.”
- EVTOLs and flying cars: “I just don’t see it – not yet anyway. Getting to a point where eVTOLs are truly mature will probably take another hundred or two hundred years.”
- Crypto and bitcoin: “I am a crypto skeptic rather than a believer. 99% of people in crypto are in it for profit-seeking in the short term. Greed and opportunism are at odds with deep tech progress and sustainable development. To these crypto-bros, what they do is purely speculative. In the long run, it’s hard to find any credible use cases for crypto.”
Who in the European ecosystem would you like to start a company with if you had the chance?
Oh, I would start a company with Matthias Geeroms of OTA Insight. Not only is he an incredibly clever entrepreneur, but he’s so chill while he’s doing it! Creating a successful business is hard enough as it is. So you should try to work with highly capable people who are also great people. Otherwise, you’re just making things needlessly hard.
What do you appreciate most in working with the Cresco team?
Cresco is truly unique in the Belgian technology ecosystem as they are a one-stop shop for technology startups and scaleups endeavouring to grow fast, combining top legal expertise and deep market and sector knowledge and experience. Especially in the structuring and negotiation of our series A round, but also in our day-to-day commercial and legal business, we enjoyed massive support from the entire Cresco team and could lean on Glenn L’hoëst, senior associate at Cresco, for strategic and legal advice basically around the clock for the entire process. We had the feeling we were always one step ahead, not only in turnaround times but also in legal strategy and structuring of the negotiations.
I recommend the Cresco team to any startup or technology entrepreneur.