Last week the MolenGeek project was granted half a million euro from the Federal Government to put a spotlight on young entrepreneurs in Molenbeek. “In MolenGeek we don’t just give the right tools to young people, but rather opportunities and perspectives to succeed in life,” says one of the founder Ibrahim Ouassari.
Situated just across the Brussels canal in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, MolenGeek is a magnet for everyone, and primarily for young people from the neighborhood who wish to work in tech or become digital entrepreneurs. MolenGeek's success formula seems to be clear: the coworking space welcomes everyone 7/7, offers support and mentorship plus there’s no entrance fee. "Every day we have about 30 people on premises and we see that this number is increasing," says Julie Foulon, Director and a co-founder of MolenGeek. Some join to work and ideate in a coworking space, others to participate in different workshops and hackathons.
Started two years ago by five young entrepreneurs, MolenGeek's mission is to encourage entrepreneurship in the light of cultural diversity, gender, generation and competence in Molenbeek. 170 square meters of coworking space allow people to work on their projects, ideate, exchange ideas and continue to challenge themselves in the field of digital entrepreneurship.
On the one hand, open to all, MolenGeek is both a springboard for aspiring entrepreneurs, and a stepping stone to existing organizations that help entrepreneurs. On the other hand, welcoming young people from Molenbeek and supporting them with the necessary tools: coworking space, activities and training – it becomes a breeding ground for entrepreneurship. "We welcome young people who work on their own projects, participate in our hackathons, or simply motivated young people who want to learn digital, learn how to program ...", explains Julie Foulon.
Connecting young people to opportunities in the tech world
Julie Foulon argues that the tech community is rather close off, where young people who start from the poor beginnings or just don’t fit the “right profile”, as for instance, have no diploma - experience more difficulties to enter the tech world. In the commune with around 100,000 inhabitants and an unemployment rate of about 30%, the initiative to engage young people in digital entrepreneurship is met with enthusiasm. Ambassador Bauer expresses her attitude towards the project, "Ibrahim and Julie, two of the founders of MolenGeek, and all past and future "MolenGeeks" have good reasons to be proud of their work. I look forward to the next initiatives they will launch in the future. "
Ibrahim Ouassari, one of the founders of MolenGeek is undoubtedly a role model for the many residents of Molengeek. Ibrahim was born in Molenbeek. After dropping out of school at the age of 13, and working in local social organizations until the age of 20, the turning point was when he bought his first computer. That was when he discovered the tech world and taught himself how to code. Since then he is at the head of four companies in the IT sector.
"I do all this without any academic background, it means everybody in Molenbeek can do this," Ibrahim says.
He continues, “In MolenGeek we don’t just give the right tools to young people, but rather opportunities and perspectives to succeed in life.” No surprise, it is growing in popularity and attracting more attention within the BeTech ecosystem and the Belgian government.
Granting support from the Federal Government
Last week MolenGeek opened its doors to Alexander de Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Agenda, and Denise Campbell Bauer, the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium; and granted a €500k support from the Federal government.
This support reflects the special attention paid by the Belgian government to the digital future. Alexander De Croo says, "Digital literacy is becoming increasingly important. The digital revolution is quickly changing our economy and our society. If we want to bring everybody on board, it means they need to be fully equipped and their digital skills should be strengthened. What level of digital skills people develop will widely vary. It is not intended that everyone becomes a programmer. But everyone should, for instance, be equipped with the skills to critically and consciously deal with technology. "
More focus on training
In 2017 the special focus of MolenGeek will be on training and providing more classes. On March, the Coding School will be opened to more than 15 job seekers from Brussels Capital Region who are between 18 and 25 years old. A training program is developed in partnership with Bruxelles Formation, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Google and Samsung. “Our mentors will provide first indicators and methodology to our students. The concept is to let them learning by doing,” says Ibrahim.