Thriving ecosystems offer great value
Connectivity at the core
fDi Intelligence, a specialised division of the Financial Times, ranked Antwerp as the fourth best large city for connectivity in its fDi European Cities of the Future 2022/23 ranking, ahead of cities such as Glasgow, Marseilles, and Frankfurt. Such a high ranking indicates that companies in Antwerp are highly connected not only to the rest of the world, thanks to Antwerp’s central location within Europe, but to each other, thanks to the city’s scale and its thriving ecosystems.
As a startup, you’ll feel right at home in Antwerp. The city is one of the 15 most attractive cities for international startups and scale-ups to grow. According to Dealroom, Antwerp is home to 762 startups, with 445 founded in the last ten years. This ecosystem is valued at €3.4 billion, an increase of 77% in the last five years. Antwerp’s recipe for success? The presence of creative entrepreneurs, a highly-trained workforce and a consumer base that includes early adopters and the tech-savvy.
Start-up ecosystem at work
- Contributors to Antwerp’s start-up ecosystem: 12 incubators and accelerators, 3 innovation hubs, numerous VCs, knowledge institutions, talent and a supporting and facilitating city council.
- Startups.be & Scale-Ups.eu connect Europe’s most promising startups and scale-ups, offering a fast track to innovation and collaboration with high-tech companies.
- Antwerp is part of SCALE.CITIES (the Startup Cities Alliance). Scale Cities is a collaborative force of global cities who work together to facilitate, strengthen and connect the European startup ecosystem for entrepreneurs.
- Startup.Flanders, a new brand and open start-up database, is a partnership between Flanders Investment & Trade and Dealroom to promote Flanders’ start-up ecosystem among international entrepreneurs and investors.
- Birdhouse is an accelerator open to startups worldwide. Companies from all over the world participate in their (online) programme. Birdhouse Ventures Fund is a new European investment fund (value: €20 million) that acts as a potential co-investor after acceleration.
most innovative economy around the globe
innovative system in the world
Digital innovation ecosystem
A major theme among Antwerp’s startups is digital innovation, especially the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Thanks to a culture open to change, a solid consumer base and strong ambitions, Antwerp is the fastest-growing digital innovation ecosystem in Flanders.
Digital innovation ecosystem at work
The keystone of the ecosystem is The Beacon, a community of more than 100 companies and research institutions sharing a building near the Scheldt River. Are you developing digital solutions for ports, industry or smart cities? At The Beacon, you can connect with corporations, local startups and various high-potential digital companies.
An important member of The Beacon is the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. The port is implementing a digital management system and has developed a digital twin that guarantees safety and improves efficiency and investment decision-making. IoT solutions are essential for operational safety. The Port of Antwerp-Bruges is a pioneer in the use of drones and 5G technology. It is also a test lab that has become an innovation platform for new technologies. Do you want to contribute to creating the port of the future? Then the Port of Antwerp-Bruges is the place for you.
© Victoriano Moreno
Sustainable chemistry ecosystem
One of Antwerp’s top priorities is achieving the sustainable transition of the chemical cluster. This ecosystem brings together major players from the industry, knowledge institutions, and the public and private sectors. Together, they work on innovative solutions to significant challenges. All the innovation hubs are strongly interconnected, ensuring a productive and suitable environment no matter the life stage of your business or innovation.
Sustainable chemistry ecosystem at work
The beating heart of this ecosystem is the open innovation hub BlueApp and the incubator BlueChem, both focusing on sustainable chemistry and European pioneers Europe. Thanks to their support and strategic advice, startups can focus on doing what they love most: innovation and research.
© Victoriano Moreno
Beating climate change in an effective ecosystem
Another major ambition of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges and the City of Antwerp is beating climate change. Antwerp has been the first out of the traps to create a future-oriented city by adopting an ambitious Climate Action Plan. This plan envisages concrete measures to reduce CO2 emissions by 50-55% by 2030 and create a climate-neutral city by 2050. Belgian companies are also investing in measures to combat climate change, making it the fourth-best country in Europe.
Climate change ecosystem at work
- As an energy hub, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is where the energy transition is taking shape, where wind and solar energy and residual heat are being harnessed, and alternative energy sources are being leveraged.
- The port is also becoming a major European centre for hydrogen. The Hydrogen Import Coalition between major private companies is a unique partnership, active in all areas of the hydrogen value chain. By combining different expertise, resources and perspectives, this ecosystem is leading to the development of new technologies, solutions, and business models for the energy transition.
- Transforming waste into new materials or energy is another area of focus in Antwerp. Recovery of waste produces cost advantages, reduces dependency on fossil fuels and offers critical environmental benefits. Major companies like Indaver and Umicore are ranked among the world’s top recyclers. NextGen District, in the heart of the port, is a hotspot for the circular economy. Here, you have space in which to test and grow your demo projects while connected to a network where you can exchange ideas and share resources. An example of how ecosystems can foster success is Triple Helix, a resident of NextGen District, developed out of BlueChem.
Find out more about NextGen District.
© Vaccinopolis-Marcel Van der Brug
Health is a vital innovation cluster for Antwerp, thanks to an extensive hospital network of 28 campuses and top research institutions like the renowned Institute for Tropical Medicine (ITM) and the University of Antwerp. This ecosystem mainly focuses on pandemic preparedness, digital health, urban health, and medical devices.
Health ecosystem at work
- Antwerps has a thriving health ecosystem which includes the state-of-the-art Vaccinopolis vaccine research centre. This remarkable 6,000 m2 vaccine trial facility is a beacon of innovation at the University of Antwerp's Drie Eiken campus. It holds the distinction of being the sole facility of its kind on the European mainland. Vaccinopolis plays a vital role not only in conducting outpatient vaccine trials but also in critical assessments for Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM) studies. As well as research, Vaccinopolis also serves as a collaborative platform. It brings together startups, scale-ups, and corporate entities, fostering innovation and joint efforts to develop new products and services geared towards pandemic control.
- Smart health is one of the fastest-growing trends in international healthcare. Dunden is at the heart of Antwerp’s start-up movement. This curated tech hub provides health startups with a 24/7 business environment, affordable office space, and a readily available network of knowledge and business expertise. The Bluehealth Innovation Fund also provides funding for digital health companies.
- The importance of urban health is also growing in Antwerp, with the recognition that healthcare extends beyond just hospitals. The city is developing networks of doctors, fitness centres, healthy food centres, and even urban farming initiatives to promote well-being. Plans are underway to establish an urban health centre to further enhance these efforts.
Antwerp, along with Paris, London, Milan and New York, is one of the world’s top fashion capitals. The city is large enough to offer everything needed for international success and small enough to make access easy. Networking in the Antwerp fashion community is fast and smooth. Antwerp is a fantastic place in which to start, grow, and become an international fashion entrepreneur.
Fashion ecosystem at work
- The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp offers one of the world’s most prestigious and influential fashion degrees and is an important pillar of the fashion ecosystem.
- The fashion museum MoMu enjoys an enduring international reputation. Recently renovated and expanded, it is the meeting point for anyone eager to learn about fashion.
- Flanders DC works to encourage strong, future-oriented entrepreneurship within the design and fashion sector. It provides advice and support and brings together designers, entrepreneurs and companies, offering mentorship, coaching, workshops and events such as Fashion Talks.
- There are many crossovers and collaborations between Antwerp’s fashion industry and other creative sectors, such as photography, art, video, film, music, galleries, jewellery, costume design for theatre, dance and television.
- The design sector is an example of one such crossover. Antwerp design agencies are known for their fresh and innovative approach towards products and services. Product development has flourished in Antwerp for over 50 years, creating a close-knit community of like-minded product development experts, who specialise in assisting companies with innovation by conceiving, creating, and marketing new products and services.
- The city of Antwerp strengthens this ecosystem by supporting fashion entrepreneurs via incentives and business opportunities.
© Sigrid Spinnox
Thriving since the 15th century, Antwerp boasts the oldest and largest diamond industry in the world, proudly earning it the title of diamond capital. The combination of innovative technologies, hard work on sustainability, the creativity of its master polishers and its unparalleled pioneering role in compliance and transparency make the Antwerp diamond ecosystem a strong community.
Diamond ecosystem at work
- HRD Antwerp is responsible for the certification of polished diamonds and training diamond professionals worldwide.
- The city of Antwerp supports designers and jewellers by awarding the label of ‘Antwerp’s Most Brillant’ to those who meet rigorous quality standards.
- DIVA, the Museum for Diamonds, Jewellery and Silver, recounts the unique history of diamonds in Antwerp to visitors from all around the world.
- Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) offers various services, information and benefits to Antwerp’s diamond professionals and those wishing to join the business community.
In Antwerp, more than 1 in 10 businesses are creative companies, including avant-garde designers and creative service providers. This community of creatives helps other companies to innovate by rethinking and improving the design of their products, processes, and services.
Creative ecosystem at work
ANTWERP. POWERED BY CREATIVES. (APBC) is a networking platform for the Antwerp region that facilitates networking between the creative sector and other industries. APBC fosters cross-pollination, inspires Antwerp-based companies to innovate, and supports the growth of creative entrepreneurs.