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Antwerp, just another historic city with a port? Think again. The urge to excel, a nose for opportunities and an impressive flamboyance make Antwerp an ideal breeding ground for creative ideas. Discover in this introduction the story of an extended network for innovation and entrepreneurship, across a wide range of industries.

The rich history and the bustling port, Europe’s second largest, obviously play an important part in Antwerp’s success story. For centuries, Antwerp has been a meeting point for capital, large and small companies and knowledge institutions. From Christoph Plantin establishing the city as one of the world centres for printing and publishing in the 16th century to the avant-garde fashion designers of today. For many creative companies, Antwerp is the breeding ground to grow and flourish internationally.

This urge to innovate and create has ensured that Antwerp has developed into a gateway to one of the world’s most prosperous regions and is now home to numerous highly innovative businesses. The city is proud of its pioneers in mobility, health care and sustainable chemistry. As stated, Antwerp is home to Europe’s second largest port and the continent’s top chemical cluster. Today, the city is becoming a hub for digital and circular innovation.

Antwerp has always been a city with an open view to the world, a city where experiment is encouraged, a city where life is good, as demonstrated by the many bars, restaurants and shops. Antwerp breathes the art of living, working and doing business. Moreover, Antwerp is a city where you can try, fail, start again, create, discover and excel. Innovation is ingrained in its DNA. Key to this is an open innovation spirit. In Antwerp all stakeholders – city, university, companies (big and small) and citizens – collaborate in innovation hubs or specific projects. This cross-fertilization makes Antwerp an innovation hotspot.

A wide range of innovation clusters
One thing is clear: if companies want to innovate, there’s no better breeding ground than Antwerp, where creativity and innovation go hand in hand. Innovation is embedded in the city and this is something that deserves to be captured and celebrated.

Digital innovation, circular economy, design services, mobility, education and culture; in Antwerp, innovation is everywhere you look. Discover Antwerp’s many competitive advantages in its wide range of high quality clusters.

Digital innovation is booming
Whether they are dealing with Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) or other innovations, digital entrepreneurs can be found all over Antwerp. Start-ups spring up all the time and often grow into scale-ups. In 2020 Antwerp was home to more than 500 of them. These innovative businesses raised 200 million euro in 2020, an increase of no less than 50 percent compared to 2018. Within six years, Antwerp wants to occupy a place in the European top 10 scale-up cities.

Here’s a selection from Antwerp’s vibrant ecosystem of digital innovation:

BlueHealth Innovation Center stimulates entrepreneurship within digital healthcare, a booming business in Antwerp. An example is Byteflies, they developed a technology which allows Covid-19 patients to leave the hospital sooner while they stay under medical supervision.

StartupVillage / Campus 29 is the place where start-ups, companies, mentors and investors meet. Thanks to the City of Antwerp innovative start-ups can find affordable office space here. A few of its inhabitants:
Eyesee (marketing optimisation through eye-tracking and face recognition), Datylon (development of a platform for data visualisation) and Survey Anyplace (interactive quiz contests, surveys and assessments).

For the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, Europe’s second-largest, digital innovation and high circular ambition are the pillars of its future growth. The port is experimenting with drones, unmanned vessels, digital platforms (NxtPort) and much more.

The Beacon is the headquarter for Antwerp’s digital innovation community, bringing together the City of Antwerp, tech companies, research, skills, innovation actors and citizens. It’s an innovation hub, focused on AI & IoT, searching solutions in smart city, logistics and industry.

A living lab for pilot projects
The city of Antwerp is also actively investing in innovation. Its starting point for all public service and communication is: ‘maximum digital and automated’. Digitisation reduces unnecessary red-tape for citizens and improves user-friendliness while automation makes it even unnecessary. Simultaneously, the city continues to offer an analogue alternative for essential services.

Together with its partner imec, Antwerp wants to be a living lab for pilot projects that aim for a safer, healthier and more sustainable city. In the project “Groenplaats – Via Sinjoor” for instance, the city researches how smart technology can contribute to the further development of the reconstruction of Groenplaats, one of Antwerp’s largest squares. And in the university quarter, “Luistervinken” (eavesdroppers) aims at testing an innovative and digital solution to limit nightlife noise.

Circular economy for a better future
If Antwerp wants to be a future-oriented city, then it has to consider its environmental impact. Sustainability is a big issue, also in Antwerp. The city takes a lot of initiatives to ensure that future citizens and visitors can enjoy a beautiful, inspiring and vibrant city.

Most notably, Blue Gate Antwerp is a newly developed industrial site focused on circular economy. It is the first site of this size in Belgium with this exclusive focus. Ambitious, and a striking example of Antwerp’s DNA.

Based on this site, Antwerp BlueChem and BlueApp nurture the future of the chemical industry in Antwerp, the largest chemical cluster in the world. Also at Blue Gate Antwerp, Maritime Campus Antwerp will be a world expertise and innovation hub for clean shipping and hydrogen.

Furthermore, the city wants to heat as many buildings as possible in a sustainable way. Heat networks, like the one in the new neighbourhood at the river ‘Nieuw Zuid’, are crucial in that respect. In this area ‘Circular South’ is a testing ground for circular economy in daily life.

Sustainability is also crucial in the port. Antwerp ECLUSE is the very first large-scale industrial steam network in the port of Antwerp. It paves the way for alternative energy sources and does its part to build the port of the future. NxtGen is a new industrial site in the port offering space to circular businesses. NxtGen is complementary to Blue Gate Antwerp.

Antwerp as a matchmaker for creative businesses
Have a look at Antwerp’s fashion scene, or discover the craftsmanship of Antwerp’s diamond centre, the largest in the world. Creativity is obviously an essential part of Antwerp’s DNA. One out of ten businesses in Antwerp is a creative one and by proactively connecting key players in following creative networks and festivals, Antwerp fulfils its role as matchmaker for creative businesses.

Speaking of matchmakers, ANTWERP. POWERED BY CREATIVES. is a platform for creative entrepreneurs that wants to materialise collaborations between creative businesses and businesses in other industries, to improve designs and rethink products, processes and services.

Collaboration is also key at Antwerp Design Factory, a physical and virtual hub of the University of Antwerp. It is a place for pre-incubation, design research and creative collaboration. Students, university employees, businesses, organisations and public institutions collaborate, resulting in innovation of products and services by multidisciplinary teams.

Finally, Antwerp is also home to a great number of exciting events. At Us by Night for example, creative spirits from Belgium and abroad meet up and inspire each other by showcasing their products.

Innovative solutions in mobility
Urban planning and mobility are a hot topic in cities worldwide. In Antwerp, innovation is a basic attitude in these fields. This applies equally to urban projects, stakeholder operations as well as participation processes. Innovative solutions are always the focus. “Smart ways to Antwerp”, for example, is an award-winning programme and a pioneer in the deployment of smart mobility, Mobility-as-a-Service and shared mobility. It offers a multimodal and is the first of its kind route planner for citizens, visitors and commuters, including all means of transports, like electric scooters, bike and car sharing.

By developing NXTMobility data architecture and a MultiModal Mobility Manager platform, “Smart ways to Antwerp” wants to make it possible to offer structured insights in how different mobility solutions are used and what their impact is. The city of Antwerp also focuses on innovation when it comes to traffic and city parking. This includes the development and usage of payment apps, digital parking enforcement, dynamic traffic lights and smart signage.

The story of the major transformation of Antwerp’s ring road
The Big Link is a unique and innovative process that resulted in a new future project for the Antwerp Ringway, which connects Belgium with its neighbouring countries and further destinations. In the last few years, the city of Antwerp, its citizens, the Port of Antwerp, citizen movements, Lantis and other partners have designed the plans, together with the manager of the “Oosterweelverbinding”, the new connection that closes the ring road around Antwerp. The Big Link will result in better mobility
for the whole region, a greener city and cleaner air, thanks not least to Antwerp’s innovative ecosystem that will participate in the development of this exceptional project.

“Antwerp has striven to enable innovation, creative arts and the digital economy.”

(Thanks to The Big Link, Antwerp has been proclaimed one of the six innovation capitals by iCapital Awards in 2019)

Education capital for 50,000 students annually
If Antwerp wants to keep growing as an economic and innovative hub, then future talent must also find its way to the city. That is why Antwerp aspires to be Flanders’ education capital. Not only in size, but also in quality, innovation (including the growing edtech industry) and emancipatory movements. The city welcomes more than 50,000 students annually to its numerous institutions of higher education. Students prepare themselves in Antwerp for international careers in diverse, often unique, domains of Antwerp’s economy, including logistics, fashion and technology.

TAKEOFFANTWERP is an operation and a physical hub where (international) students can develop their entrepreneurial skills and mindset. TAKEOFFANTWERP connects the city, educational institutions, (social) profit and of course the students themselves. The goal of this unique partnership between the City of Antwerp, the University of Antwerp and several colleges is to stimulate entrepreneurship. Not without success: amongst the 50,000 students, more than a thousand are self-employed.

A rich past as a basis for a creative future
Over the centuries, Antwerp has been a great city for arts and culture. Its rich past is the basis for a creative future. The city empowers artists to develop themselves and to showcase their work. Diversity is important in cultural attractions. And easy accessibility, community building and participation are key in all Antwerp sports and youth clubs. Some of Antwerp’s most recent innovative achievements in this field include an agreement between the city of Antwerp and Google to digitise a large portion of the collections of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library and the Plantin-Moretus Museum as well as the Socrates project, which investigates whether it is feasible to provide cultural tips based on personal preferences for every resident.

Antwerp, an ideal place for innovation
Yes, Antwerp is a city with a port. But Antwerp is so much more. As you browse through this book, you will understand why innovation is such an important affair in Antwerp. Here, you are part of something greater than just your business or your innovation – you are part of a community. This smart community has a lot of wonderful innovation stories to share with the world and this book offers you a glimpse into these stories and into the future. Enjoy reading!

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