Success stories from Singapore: 5 Antwerp start-ups tell us their story

The harbour cities of Antwerp and Singapore have a lot in common. Not just because of their link to the water, but also because they resolutely opt for digital innovation and the Internet of Things. The city of Antwerp is a member of the B-DNA network, a Belgian network of architects, designers and engineers. The city decided to share the advantages of this membership with five Antwerp start-ups and grant them access to network contacts and free office space in Singapore. Three years later, it is time for some reflection: what opportunities did the start-ups Playpass, Romware, T-Mining, Spacewell and IPee get and exploit?

“Thanks to B-DNA’s help, we now help a music festival in Singapore with cash-free payments and access control systems”, says CFO Ron Schuermans from Playpass, a company that makes smart applications for access and payments at events and festivals. “The facilities and the exceptional support from the team at B-DNA give us the opportunity to better position ourselves in Southeast Asia.”

From harbour to harbour

Singapore’s harbour is the second largest in the world. This makes the city an interesting target market for many start-ups developing innovative products that are based in Antwerp’s harbour. Evert Bulcke (Romware): “With Romware we offer a technological solution to security issues, and this is extremely important in the world of terminals. Our software is coupled with wearables that, among others, help make people more visible for vehicles, give them access to certain zones, or allow them to leave with a vehicle. The opportunity to work in Singapore with container handling giants like PSA and Katoen Natie, one of the biggest logistics service providers in the world, gave us a big boost in this technology development.”

T-Mining also found an important market in Singapore for their innovative supply chain solutions. T-Mining uses blockchain and similar decentralised technology to make it a lot more efficient and safer to share and transfer documents between various stakeholders. This is especially interesting for players such as the Harbour of Antwerp, and specifically for PSA, the biggest terminal operator in the Antwerp harbour. It is not surprising that PSA headquarters are in Singapore. Nico Wauters, CEO at T-Mining: “Singapore was an important market for us straight away, especially when you consider that it is the second biggest harbour in the world. An on-site operation base was more than just a nice thing to have for us: this collaboration with B-DNA through the city of Antwerp was a gift that fell from heaven.” (laughs)

Looking for innovation

Why is Singapore a Mecca for start-ups? It has a lot to do with their innovation and business culture. Evert Bulcke (Romware): “In Belgium, in the last few years there has been an enormous desire to run a business and to continue to grow, but we are still trying to find the right way to do so. In Singapore or the US, they have already been making adjustments for the past decade towards a smart city and the new harbour. So, if you then get the opportunity from the city of Antwerp to go and collaborate at this level, it is a great display of trust.”

The software company Spacewell also gets the impression that Singapore wants to progress. Vishal Mani, Regional Sales Manager for Spacewell India: “We discovered that entrepreneurs in Singapore see things from a futuristic perspective, especially when it comes to new technology. They are very conscious of trends and opportunities, and they find staying up to date with the worldwide best practices very important. However, we get the impression that they like to collaborate locally. Having an operation base in Singapore is extremely helpful when it comes to closing deals.”

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The Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC) is the world's largest trade fair about cities and smart urban solutions. The city of Antwerp presents its urban innovations aimed at creating a sustainable society.