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Finally, the 3 winners of the Export Lion Award 2021: Molecubes (Ghent), Sylva (Lievegem) and Locinox (Waregem)

Brussels, 29 September 2021 – This 20th anniversary edition of the Export Lion Award comes with a premiere: for the first time, Flanders Investment & Trade is granting the award to three Flanders-based exporters. During the award ceremony – from Brussels and via livestream – Roel Van Holen, CEO of Molecubes, Tim Van Hulle, General Manager of Sylva and Mik Emmerechts, CEO of Locinox received their trophy from FIT CEO Claire Tillekaerts.

In the ‘Companies with up to 49 employees’ category, the final jury had a particularly difficult time choosing one winner out of the three rock-solid nominees. As successive rounds of voting and deliberations kept resulting in a tie, there are exceptionally two winners in this category: developer of compact scanners for molecular imaging Molecubes (Ghent) and forest & hedging plant grower Sylva (Lievegem) claimed victory over expert in cargo securing Container Technics (Wijnegem).

In the ‘Companies with 50 or more employees’ category, Locinox (Waregem) took the award home. The developer of access control products outmatched Camco Technologies (Heverlee), a pioneer in container identification & tracking, and telecom specialist OTN Systems (Olen).

Dirk Van Steerteghem - Head of DepartmentTrade - Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), Mik Emmerechts, CEO Locinox, Tim Van Hulle, General Manager Sylva, Claire Tillekaerts, CEO FIT and Roel Van Holen, CEO Molecubes

Molecubes: 2021 Export Lion Award winner in the ‘Companies with up to 49 employees’ category

4 out of 10 Ivy League research institutes use our devices, but we are already well represented in the leading academic institutions in Europe, Japan and Australia as well. We are very grateful for being able to sell to top institutes that are targeted by many of our competitors.”

– Ewout Vansteenkiste, cofounder of Molecubes

Molecubes’ compact molecular imaging scanners are used to visualize organs, tumors or the effect of medicines. All hardware, software and production technologies are developed locally. Their compactness also makes them the only type of scanners that can be used in highly secured virological lab environments, such as those involved in COVID research.

The Ghent-based technology company was founded in 2015 as a spin-off from Ghent University (UGent). The scanners are already being used in 14 countries. To take full advantage of its growth opportunities in the US, Molecubes set up its own subsidiary in Boston’s biotech and pharma hub. In addition to the current export markets, most prospects are situated in distant destinations such as China, Japan and South Korea.

Ultimately, this born global company won over the jury with its figures which show a strong performance. While, as a very young HealthTech company, Molecubes already has an impressive track record, it also has great ambitions in the North American market and the Far East.

ID Molecubes (2020)
  • Site: Ghent
  • Number of employees: 20 full-time equivalents (Belgium)
  • Turnover: EUR 4,969,013
  • Export share in turnover (2020): 96%
  • Share of non-EU countries in exports: 49%
Discover Molecubes: 

Sylva: 2021 Export Lion Award winner in the ‘Companies with up to 49 employees’ category

We grow plants in consultation with our customers and entirely to meet their needs. It’s not about the largest volumes or the lowest price, but about very specific plant species that are also grown perfectly and sustainably. Even cultivators from important floricultural countries, such as the Netherlands or Germany, come to us.”

– Tim Van Hulle, general manager Sylva

Sylva grows around 25 million plants a year on 115 ha in the Ghent area, under the strictest environmental requirements. Despite the very traditional image of the sector, the plant grower from East Flanders is definitely playing the innovation card. For example, Sylva developed a sorting and harvesting machine among other equipment, and the business is used to test mechanical weed control.

Sylva’s history dates back to the 18th century, when the Van Hulle family started a tree nursery. Since then, the company has steadily grown into a well-established name in forest and hedging plants, initially sold in Belgium, and later also internationally.

Today, the products are shipped to 40 export countries, mainly in Europe. In the coming years, the company will mainly focus on promising non-EU markets such as Russia, Turkey, South Korea and China.

The final jury was moved by the fact that Sylva, driven by innovation and a bold vision, is following an impressive international development path in such a traditional industry. By investing in technology, they have obtained a head start that will fully pay off in the coming years, not least in remote markets.

ID Sylva (2020)
  • Site: Lievegem
  • Number of employees: 30.5 full-time equivalents (Belgium)
  • Turnover: EUR 7,918,327.07
  • Export share in turnover (2020): 80%
  • Share of non-EU countries in exports: 13%
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Locinox: 2021 Export Lion Award winner in the ‘Companies with 50 or more employees’ category

Every innovation has to pass the sustainability test: we take the recyclability of our materials into account right from the design stage. To ensure that every component can be dismantled and reused at the end of its life.”

– Mik Emmerechts, CEO of Locinox

Locinox develops and produces mechanical, electromechanical and access control products (such as locks, hinges, hydraulic pumps, electric motors, keypads) for fencing and gates manufacturers. The company derives two thirds of its added value from the product range itself, one third from the ancillary services.

The complex, high-tech components require continuous innovation. When it comes to the digitization and automation of its production and support processes, Locinox also pulls out all the stops. Following extensive efforts in digital marketing, for example, the company already generates 30% of its turnover directly through its B2B webshop.

Founded in 1990, the Waregem family business has grown into the European market leader in its niche in three decades. The lion’s share of this turnover now comes from exports, with Locinox mainly focusing on Belgium’s neighboring countries, as well as Poland and the US.

It was mainly this innovative mindset in a niche with a fairly traditional reputation that swayed the final jury. From its technologically advanced product range to all underlying business processes and the circularity of components, this family business has the courage and ambition to think outside the box across the board.

ID Locinox (2020)
  • Site: Waregem
  • Number of employees: 83 full-time equivalents (Belgium)
  • Turnover: EUR 38,902,346
  • Export share in turnover (2020): 90%
  • Share of non-EU countries in exports: 15%
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The Export Lion Award as ambassador of Flanders’ export success

With Molecubes, Sylva and Locinox, this anniversary edition of the Export Lion Award produced three new export ambassadors. A first! At the same time, I believe that this clearly proves how an innovative spirit and passion remain the key ingredients to push boundaries. Indeed, let’s not forget that in addition to the three winners, our nominees also displayed impressive results internationally. So, congratulations to Container Technics, Camco Technologies and OTN Systems as well.”

– Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of FIT

In the first 6 months of 2021, Flanders exported no less than 8.5% more than in the same period in 2019. This strong export recovery is largely – but certainly not only – attributable to the large-scale export of COVID-19 vaccines. The performance of our Flanders-based exporters is even more impressive when we take into account the unprecedented challenges they faced in recent times. The new ‘Export Lions’ demonstrate not only a clear export vision, but also determination and audacity. I therefore hope that these ambassadors will inspire many other entrepreneurs to spread their wings.”

– Flanders’ Minister-President Jan Jambon

About the Export Lion Award competition

For the 20th successive year, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) is honoring Flanders-based companies that excel in export with the Export Lion Award. With this prize, Flanders’ agency for sustainable international business emphasizes the massive importance of export for the economy of Flanders. The award brings recognition and new opportunities not just nationally, in Belgium, but also internationally via FIT’s foreign network.

Former winners include Skyline Communications, MediaGeniX, DEME, Duvel-Moortgat, HTMS, Jaga, BOPLAN, Biobest Group, Sioen Industries and Caeleste. Their success stories serves as a role model and incentive for other Flanders-based companies with international ambitions. This year’s competition was sponsored by BNP Paribas Fortis, Credendo and DHL Express.

Both companies with up to 49 employees and companies with 50 or more employees can compete for the award. On 10 June 2021, 3 nominees per category were shortlisted out of 33 original contestants. The jury based its shortlist on sales figures from exports, geographical diversification, the main lines of the company’s export policy, corporate social responsibility and innovative strength among other factors. The 6 nominees then presented their competition dossier to a 9-member final jury panel on 20 September. That’s also when the final decision was taken.

In addition to presidents Claire Tillekaerts (CEO of FIT) and Sonja Willems (Chair of the FIT board), the jury panel included: Dirk Van Steerteghem (Head of International Trade at FIT) Peter Lauwers (Head of Advisory KPMG Belgium) Frank Haak (Head Sales Global Trade Solutions BNP Paribas Fortis) Marion Debruyne (Dean of Vlerick Business School) and Luc Huysmans (Senior Writer at Trends). With Geert De Peuter (CEO of Caeleste) and Mark Van Hemelrijk (CEO of FAM) the Lions of 2020 were also part of the final jury.


About Flanders Investment & Trade

Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) is the government agency which promotes Flanders as a business location for foreign companies, and also supports Flanders-based companies in their international business ambitions. They can make full use of FIT’s expertise and its national and international network. The Export Lion Award fits within FIT’s overall mission, which is to promote international business among Flanders-based companies and encourage them to grow internationally.


Press Contact

Tine Van Valckenborgh, spokesperson for Flanders Investment & Trade
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29 September 2021