Industry 4.0: Bridging the gap between large industrial companies and smaller solution providers

A word with Peter Vermeire, Partner, Jochen Vincke, Director, and Johan Van der Straeten, Senior Manager

Bridging the gap

Digital operations, or Industry 4.0, are high on the agenda of manufacturing companies around the globe. Following our investigation into the maturity of Industry 4.0 in Flanders by questioning industrial companies about their Industry 4.0 expectations, strategies and progress, PwC recently reached out to start-ups and scale-ups to understand their value propositions and corresponding go-to-market strategies. With a belief that the Belgian manufacturing economy will only flourish if the overall ecosystem joins forces and directs available energy and resources towards a shared goal,the aim of the research is to help bridge the gap between larger industrial companies and smaller solution providers. The study is the first of its kind in Belgium

What are the main drivers that persuade start-ups/scale-ups to bring their idea to market?

Jochen Vincke: According to 57% of survey respondents, the maturity of the technology was key in setting up their businesses, although they differed in their approach. There were those that developed a physical product (e.g. smartglasses), those that developed a specific service required by the industrial environment (e.g. advanced data analytics) and those that worked with a combination of the two (e.g. Internet of Things (IoT) platforms). A further 27% of respondents started their businesses from a combination of a market need together with the idea that the new available technologies could potentially provide a better solution, and only 17% started from an actual market need and then began searching for the right technology to support the solution.

What are the main focus areas for start-up solutions and who do they target?

Johan Van der Straeten: By far the largest focus industry is discrete manufacturing at 73%, followed by fewer than 50% of respondents by transport, postal and warehousing and electricity, gas, water and waste services (respondents could give multiple answers). Not afraid to think big in terms of size, targets tend to be larger companies, although predominantly in Belgium.  One of their major objectives seems to be to access a company’s key decision makers and the vast majority of respondents looks for first sales discussions with CEOs or other decision makers, followed by production directors, development directors and CTOs. The fact that they’re getting access to different levels and functions confirms that Industry 4.0 is high on the agenda of Belgian industrial companies.


What business imperative are they trying to solve or add value to?

Jochen Vincke: The key value proposition for 83% of respondents is to help improve overall operational performance, with 70% saying they aim to reduce operational costs, as they believe that these are what they’re target audience is looking to achieve. This fits well with the answers from our Industry 4.0: Hype or reality study that confirmed the priority of these operational objectives. This is definitely a positive match between Industry 4.0 start-ups and Belgian manufacturing companies.

With growth crucial to survival, how do these start-ups seek to scale their business up?

Johan Van der Straeten: The majority of participants agree that the most important factor to scale up is having a strong network and the right partnerships. The stronger the network, the easier it is for start-ups to rely on relevant support and increase their exposure within Belgium and abroad. Having customers act as brand ambassadors is also essential to increase credibility and scale the business. All start-ups that responded to the survey expect the ecosystem around them to bring appropriate and relevant support to help cope with the challenges in growing their businesses, but there were mixed views on the effectiveness of the Belgian ecosystem. Feedback shows that 83% feel that available support is moderately effective or even extremely effective for start-ups, but they’d like to see more focus on scale-ups.

How can Belgium’s ecosystem evolve to meet the needs of all players within it?

Peter Vermeire: Based on our interviews with start-ups and the conversations we have with  industrial clients, we’ve identified three main levers to take the Industry 4.0 ecosystem to the next level.

  • Industrial companies need to make sure every proof of concept (PoC) is connected to a higher purpose and linked to their overall strategy, which will make the rollout business case much clearer

  • companies need to intensify their existing relations and actively extend their networks

  • Organisations need to embrace change and design and implement a new process, inspired by firm business understanding and knowledge of available new technology solutions. Current limitations reside largely in the human factor, which will ultimately determine the pace of Industry 4.0 evolution



Industry 4.0

The perspective of start-ups and scale-ups in belgium


Download the full report


Get in touch with one our specialists


Peter Vermeire

Partner, Ghent, PwC Belgium

+32 493 51 87 28


Jochen Vincke

Partner, Ghent, PwC Belgium

+32 477 61 12 22


Johan Van der Straeten

Senior Manager, Antwerp, PwC Belgium

+32 474 48 47 55



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