Q: What makes Antwerp an interesting prospect to foreign investors?
A: We have a very long history of business and trade. [Historically, Antwerp has been at its strongest when] different nationalities and religions are living and working together. I think this has given Flemish people a sense of compromise, allowing Antwerp to expand as a city for both people and business.
In Antwerp we have four major strengths. We are the second largest harbour in Europe and we have the fastest connection to the European hinterland. We are proud to be the most important chemical cluster in Europe, second in the world after Houston in the US. Recently, Ineos announced a huge investment in the city. We have a long history in the diamond industry and we are still the number one in the world when it comes to the diamond trade. We are also very proud to be retailers’ favourite destination in Belgium, and we have been for many years. While we are very big in these clusters, we are also trying to attract new businesses, new plants and new companies.
Q. What is special about the city of Antwerp’s innovation and economic policy?
A: Our innovation policy focuses on fostering ecosystems for digital innovation, creativity and sustainability. The legislative agreement between the three coalition parties clearly states that we will focus on innovation and digitalisation to further strengthen all efforts that have been made in the past, and to expand wherever and however possible.
In the case of digital innovation, we have witnessed an explosive growth of 123% in the number of start-ups and scale-ups in the city over the past six years. The amount of capital they have raised has also quadrupled in that same period. We now have more than 400 start-ups in our city. A crucial initiative in developing this ecosystem has been the set-up of The Beacon, an innovation hub where corporates, start-ups, scale-ups and outstanding researchers collaborate to create innovative solutions for the harbour, the industrial sector and our smart city. Thanks to these initiatives, The Global Start-up Ecosystem Report 2019 called Antwerp a ‘city to watch’ – that’s what triggered us. Our ambition is to grow into a top 10 European reference city for digital scale-ups by the end of this legislative period, in 2024.
As a city government we have to provide overall conditions under which all businesses, including traditional and innovative, are able to flourish. Throughout history we have always applied this approach. We facilitate and strengthen the connections between the traditional economy and our innovative clusters. We help traditional clusters to innovate and become future proof, and stimulate innovative business to grow, not just domestically but also internationally.
We collaborate with cities that have a relevant economic relationship with Antwerp. We have a collaboration with UnternehmerTUM Munich and B-DNA Singapore, which provides an opportunity for start-ups and scale-ups to set up a business in these two locations. We are also a member of Scale Cities [the Startup Cities Alliance], which is a collaborative programme between several big start-up cities in Europe. We welcome future forward tech events, such as SuperNova, that will take place in October 2020.
Q: What are you doing to ensure sustainability at a city level?
A: We are focused on cleantech and on the circular economy, which is very important on the business side, and even more important in terms of the applications these businesses develop for industrial purposes, for the city and for its inhabitants – it is a crucial part of our business policy and approach.