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How Flanders blazes the R&D and innovation trail in Europe

Flanders’ innovation-driven economy provides everything your company needs to grow sustainably through top-notch R&D in the heart of Europe. This is no coincidence, as private, public and academic players in Flanders go to great lengths to join forces and innovate together – often as clusters. In addition, the government of Flanders strongly supports innovative activities through grants and subsidies, while the local R&D-friendly tax system allows companies to recover part of their investments.

A worldwide reputation for innovation

Few regions are as consistently ranked among Europe’s and the world’s finest innovation environments as Flanders is. But don’t take our word for it! Here are a few prominent examples: 

  • 1st in Europe when it comes to the proportion of enterprises with innovation activities (2016 Eurostat Community Survey, published in 2019).
  • 2nd within the EU for innovation linkages (2019 European Innovation Scoreboard). This means that SMEs in Flanders have great in-house innovation capacities and excel in setting up effective joint projects. It also refers to private players in Flanders co-funding public R&D expenditures, which indicates great public-private cooperation.
  • 3rd-best innovative system in the world (2020 ZEW Innovationsindikator).
  • 6th-best research system in the EU (2019 European Innovation Scoreboard). 
  • 14th-most innovative economy around the globe (2019 Bloomberg Innovation Index).

Infographic on R&D in Flanders

Tap into some of the world’s most innovative universities

Flanders’ five universities – in Antwerp (UAntwerpen), Brussels (VUB), Ghent (UGent), Hasselt (UHasselt) and Leuven (KU Leuven) – are among the world’s most innovative and outstanding. Not only do they generate the majority of the region’s non-private scientific output, they also feature consistently in the top 100 of most-innovative universities published annually by international news firm Reuters.

  • KU Leuven is Europe’s most innovative university and number 7 worldwide (Reuters, 2019).
  • UGent is number 48 in Europe and 98 worldwide (Reuters, 2019).
  • VUB and UAntwerpen rank 59th and 93rd in Europe, respectively (Reuters, 2019).

Access top research centers and knowledge institutes

Flanders aims to be a pioneer in the European knowledge society and economy in a wide range of sectors by boosting its knowledge base and innovative potential. With this goal in mind, it’s no wonder that 4 cutting-edge strategic research centers are headquartered in the region. What’s more, Flanders boasts a variety of scientific institutes and R&D platforms.

Join Flanders’ innovation clusters for R&D in key domains

To boost Flanders’ competitiveness on a global scale, the region has established spearhead clusters and Innovative Business Networks. These unique groups of private companies, public organizations and academic institutes are supported in their collaboration goals for the long term through financing and support.

Leverage unique financial incentives for R&D activities

In Flanders, your innovative company can benefit from an array of tax credits, grants and other incentives for your R&D-related investments.

  • Innovation income deduction – up to 85% of your company’s net innovation income is exempt from corporate taxation.
  • R&D investment deduction – up to 13.5% of the investment value (at once) or 20.5% on the annual depreciations (staggered).
  • R&D payroll tax incentive – up to 80% of payroll withholding tax paid on professional income for researchers and academic personnel can be recovered.
  • Structural grants and funding for R&D projects are provided through government agency Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
  • Expatriate tax status in R&D allows tax-free expatriation.

Ambitious goals for the future of innovation in Flanders

Flanders’ Council for Science and Innovation (VRWI) follows an ambitious compass in planning the development of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Flanders. 7 key priority transition areas have been identified by VRWI, with ambitions in 9 themes that cover society’s needs on economic, ecological and sociocultural levels. Flanders plans on achieving these ambitions by 2050.

  • Hard goals for 2020
    1. Rank among the top 5 knowledge regions in Europe
    2. Employment rate of 76%
    3. R&D expenditure of 3% of GDP

  • Seven transitional areas for 2025
    1. Society (socioeconomic engine)
    2. Digital society
    3. Food
    4. Health and well-being
    5. New energy demand and delivery
    6. Urban planning, mobility dynamics and logistics
    7. Smart resource management

Big R&D spender

Innovation is big business in Flanders – and the figures confirm it. The region ranks among the biggest R&D spenders in Europe and even around the globe:

  • Number 11 worldwide for gross expenditure on R&D (WIPO’s 2019 Global Innovation Index).
  • Number 6 in Europe for R&D intensity measured as gross domestic expenditure on R&D (Eurostat’s 2019 Europe 2020 Indicators).

According to the Center for R&D Monitoring (ECOOM), Belgium – of which Flanders is the northern region – spent 2.89% of its GDP on R&D in 2019. This is significantly higher than the European average of 2.0%. 

Did you know that researchers from Flanders…

  • … were the first to unravel the DNA sequence of a gene?
  • … were behind the conception of the first technology that introduces new genes in plants?
  • … developed leading medicines in pain management, anesthesia and schizophrenia treatment?
  • … discovered Fentanyl, 200 times stronger than morphine?
  • … developed leading tPA thrombolytic therapy for myocardial infarction?
  • … were the first to use stem cells in bone transplantation?
  • … approved ground-breaking new cell therapy for cartilage?
  • … created a lab-on-a-chip for early breast cancer discovery?

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