© The Beacon

The Beacon

Thriving ecosystems offer great value 

In Antwerp, an ecosystem is more than a buzzword. Thanks to the scale of the city, the presence of startups, investors, large companies and a supporting and facilitating city council, there is a lot of added value for entrepreneurs in the various ecosystems. Discover what each of our thriving ecosystems has to offer.

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. 

Dunden netwerkmoment

Start-up ecosystem

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. 

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Belgium is in top 5

innovation leaders

after Sweden, Finland, Denmark and The Netherlands

most innovative economy around the globe

Source: 2021 Bloomberg Innovation Index
3rd best

innovative system in the world

Source: 2020 ZEW Innovation indikator

total start-ups/scale-ups

€944M total worth

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.  

“The ability to get in touch with major international companies and startups in such an easy and approachable way is a huge benefit for us.

Pauline Van Ostaeyen - Co-founder Dockflow
Gebouw BlueChem

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.  

Find out more about BlueApp and BlueChem.

“Antwerp can be seen as one big coffee bar. Antwerp does business in a very natural and human way.”

Barbara Veranneman - BlueChem

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.  
Picture Jacques Vandermeiren

We would like to become the first in the world port to reconcile the needs of economics, climate, people and the environment.

Jacques Vandermeiren
Gebouw Vaccinopolis

Health ecosystem

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. 
Pierre Van Damme

Vaccinopolis is the only one of its kind in mainland Europe.

Pierre Van Damme

Fashion ecosystem

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.  
Jan-Jan Van Essche

Everything that’s going on in Antwerp, especially within the fashion industry, tends to be trendsetting.

Jan-Jan Van Essche
Diamantmuseum Diva

Diamond ecosystem

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. 
Philip Hoymans

In Antwerp we play on the highest level, call it the Champions League of diamonds.”

Philip Hoymans
Tekst The Power of design

Creative ecosystem

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. 

Picture James Kruger

“Being honest builds unbreakable trust and that pays off in the long term.”

James Kruger