In recent years, the VRT broadcasting complex in Brussels has developed into a leading center for media innovation in Europe. One of the reasons for this success is that the VRT management believes in testing new technology, said Peter de Paepe of VRT Sandbox and Sarah Geeroms of Future Media Hubs in the MediaMatters-radioshow. "Here startups are allowed to fail and learn things.
According to Peter de Paepe, VRT Sandbox puts a lot of energy into keeping people aboard with the program. In addition, there are there factors why the sandbox mechanism works so well, he says. "First of all, the VRT management has an interest in allowing testing to take place. That is something else than a pilot. This is where start-ups and scale-ups may fail and things may go wrong". In addition, the VRT brings in knowledge from outside. Finally, there is a huge network to build the VRT Sandbox by connecting the hubs to the network. "It seems like it's all so easy now, but I'm working every day to convince our small team to put their energy into it and to keep them on board at the broadcaster," says Peter.
In the past 5 years VRT Sandbox 120 startups have been linked to the VRT. Initially these were all Belgian startups, but gradually this has become much more international. Half op the startups come from Belgium, the other half from Europe, the US and Asia.
"We strongly believe that when you want to get knowledge and opportunities from others, you have to share yours as well. And we do"
After 3 years VRT Sandbox started to focus more on building international communities around technology, talent and gaming. This umbrella network recently got a new name: Future Media Hubs. Sarah Geeroms is responsible for this international program. In addition to the international communities, the sharing of knowledge is also very important, says Sarah. "We strongly believe that when you want to get knowledge and opportunities from others, you have to share yours as well. And we do. We share our successes and our failures".
According to Sarah, gaining European prestige did not come about just like that. She says that especially the cooperation with European companies automatically leads to more opportunities that you turn into joint projects. On the other hand, there is also an economic added value that the VRT can offer for start-ups and scaleups. Even the Wallonian rival RTBF sees the need for cooperation with European companies. The RTBF is currently also a co-financier of the Future Media Hubs.
But what has the Sandbox really done for start-ups and scaleups? Peter de Paepe: "You don't always know for sure but I think they had a product that was ready to be tested in front of a large audience. We gave them that opportunity. We also made our network available. We opened the right doors for them. At the moment the VRT is working on a coaching program for scale-ups where the broadcaster also gets from the EU. "Something like this would never be possible with a subsidy from the VRT alone", Peter says.
In April 2018 the Participatie Maatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV) and the VRT jointly set up the investment fund Media Invest Vlaanderen. They put 10 million euros in that fund. In the Netherlands, such a thing would be practically impossible due to the limitations of the Media Act. Peter explains why this is possible in Belgium: "PMV invests in Brussels and Flemish companies. We use VRT's media strategy with PMV's knowledge". He also explains that there are certain restrictions attached to this. "What can't be done anyway is to invest directly from VRT in companies, our government has clearly indicated that.
Listen to the entire interview below (in Dutch):