“VLAIO’s initiatives clarify the various facets of cyber security, and support Flemish companies to invest in it properly.”

Every entrepreneur in Flanders should be aware of VLAIO: this government agency encourages and supports innovation and entrepreneurship and contributes to a favourable business climate. Patrick Hauspie and Jeroen Fiers are advisors on the hot topic of ‘cyber security’, and work in close collaboration with the Cyber Security Coalition.

Patrick: I started working for VLAIO in 2019 as a programme advisor in cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence, putting my 30 years of experience from the private sector into practice. Jeroen and I work to inform entrepreneurs of the extensive offer, such as tools, websites, education, subsidies, etc…, and market them with our partners.

Jeroen: Patrick and I work in tandem on this topic. Patrick is in direct contact with the companies, I operate on a more strategic level. I am responsible for coordinating all VLAIO actions that fall under the cyber security heading.

Why did VLAIO decide to focus on cyber security?

Jeroen: In 2019, the Flemish government introduced their policy agenda on cyber security. The Cyber Security barometer showed the past years (and still shows) that companies overestimate their cyber security maturity. Most are still actually at the starting point of securing their business against cyberattacks, and they need to take big steps.

Patrick: Digitalisation was already a popular topic, which has caused cyber security as well as Artificial Intelligence to become more relevant over the past years. Companies and SMEs started to wonder to what extent these topics applied to them, so we decided to clarify that. We have noticed that while innovation comes quickly in some sectors, other sectors are less aware of the possibilities and opportunities.

Jeroen: Despite all our efforts and communications, the support measures are still far too little known. We will continue to communicate actively, amongst others with testimonials from companies and look for new channels to pass the message. Our aim is to highlight cyber security at as many events as possible and get companies talking about it among themselves.

What initiatives are on offer?

Patrick: We clarify the various facets of cyber security, and then offer support in all of those areas. To give an example, ‘Cybersecurity Verbetertrajecten’ (‘improvement trajectories’) help Flemish SMEs to sustainably improve their cyber security, with the support of a recognised service provider. VLAIO subsidises 50% of the cost of hiring this consultant.

Jeroen: One recent development is cyberstart.be, launched by Sirris & Agoria in the context of the industry partnership and with the support from VLAIO. This is an online tutorial where, for 36 weeks, you receive an e-mail with very approachable, hands-on information on cyber security. The information is linked to the Cyberfundamentals framework of the CCB, with roadmaps and exercises in case you want to learn more. It serves as an eye-opener, triggers a pattern of thinking, and works to inspire. We also provide links to partners who can help your business. We want to convey the full range to entrepreneurs in a structured way and have reach on a larger scale.

Patrick: The ‘Proeftuin’ is another great addition: it demonstrates to manufacturing companies what impact new technologies can have, but also the negative consequences of cyberattacks on business operations. By showing them visually, we hope to raise awareness. Moreover, several providers have their solutions tested there, and companies can make a more conscious choice of technology.

Why is it important for VLAIO to be a member of the Cyber Security Coalition?

Patrick: We reach more companies through the Coalition and can easily get in contact with experts from the Belgian industry and all research institutions. That is why I take part in the ‘Tools’ Focus Group, to share our views. We also exchange thoughts and ideas more easily, such as the increasing impact of gamification. Moreover, we receive concrete feedback, which is a very big added value for us.

Jeroen: We are broadening our natural network of partners. There are a number of members with whom we are not in contact and from whom we can learn things. But vice versa too: the Coalition is still missing out on some members who are already at the table with us, and we bring them into the discussion.

Our key concern today is that we – all stakeholders – must communicate the same message towards entrepreneurs. Otherwise, we will make it even more complex for companies to understand the cyber security ecosystem and the support measures Flanders has to offer. The Cyber Security Coalition helps us spread this unified message.

More information on VLAIO’s offer: www.vlaio.be/nl/begeleiding-advies/digitalisering/cybersecurity

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