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The Beacon: AI and IT for the smart society of tomorrow

Applying innovative technologies related to the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to make cities and societies smarter: that’s the mission of The Beacon in Antwerp. “We want to create a sustainable living environment that is in balance with a flourishing port and industry cluster,” says General Manager Wim De Waele.

The Beacon connects technology companies with knowledge institutions, governments and end users. Wim De Waele, general manager: “We help start-ups grow by, for example, connecting them with potential customers and partners as well as research opportunities and capital at home and abroad.

The ‘Yes, together we can’ attitude at The Beacon

“Together, we can:

  • help companies grow – we spot opportunities and link them with research, talent and capital;
  • create a smart society of the future – economically healthy, sustainable and livable; 
  • develop a district of smart technologies – by bringing together all initiatives related to AI and IoT.”

Pilot environment for new technologies

Wim: “Antwerp is a medium-sized European city, but also an international port with an extensive industrial cluster surrounding it and an oversaturated traffic junction. In other words: diverse urban challenges collide here. We want to use this complex environment as a testing ground for new technological solutions that could also help other cities. Moving Antwerp itself higher in the global smart cities ranking is not the priority. What we do want is to build knowledge, test it locally, and then grow.”

Diverse urban challenges collide in Antwerp.

Wim De Waele
General Manager, The Beacon

General Manager Wim De Waele

The many sides of smart

At The Beacon, they use AI and IoT to make cities, ports and industry smarter. ‘Smart’ can therefore assume a wide range of forms, from economically profitable and efficient to sustainable and liveable. So, in addition to being an economic driver, The Beacon also has an important social ambition.

Wim: “Today, 80% of our freight transport is by road. But if we made better use of inland waterways, we’d be able to resolve some of the traffic congestion around our cities. One of the member companies of The Beacon is currently involved in a project concerning self-propelled barges managed by a central control room. Within our community, we were able to quickly adapt to this innovative technology. At the moment, plenty of testing is underway in the field.”

Physical proximity stimulates creativity

The Beacon resides in the former toll house of the port city, just a stone’s throw from the Scheldt river. About half of its 50 members – and the community is growing rapidly – have offices in the building. The founding partners also occupy places here: the City of Antwerp, the Antwerp mobility company, the Port Authority, the University of Antwerp, imec and Agoria.

Even in the digital age, a physical hub offers key added value. Wim: “Informal human interaction fosters trust and promotes creativity. More, The Beacon is the face of the cluster and a great meeting place.”

Informal human interaction fosters trust and promotes creativity.

Wim De Waele
General Manager, The Beacon

The search for extra capacity

Almost every day, The Beacon receives both local and international delegations. Technology players as well as city and port authorities are gradually finding their ways to the community. Wim: “With sister cities like Singapore, Montreal and New York, we exchange knowledge and organize hackathons.”

A year after its launch, the former toll house has almost reached maximum capacity. Wim: “At the end of this year, we will probably have to establish a waiting list. Clearly, we are laying the foundations for a much larger tech hub. Perhaps in the long run we can unite the many initiatives in Flanders that have to do with AI and IoT within one smart technologies district.”

With sister cities like Singapore, Montreal and New York, we exchange knowledge and organize hackathons.

Wim De Waele
General Manager, The Beacon

ID The Beacon

  • Founded in: 2018
  • Services: support for business development, consolidation, market intelligence, partner search, funding, government interaction, internationalization, and more. 
  • Website:

The Beacon members in the spotlight

  • Helicus: uses drone technology to handle medical transport for hospitals and other healthcare players.
  • Seafar: develops technology to remotely control unmanned inland vessels.
  • Aloxy: develops IoT solutions to monitor industrial processes.
  • The Retail Factory: counts, measures and analyzes visitor flows and behavior in shops and malls and during events, etc.
  • Citymesh: sets up temporary WiFi 5G networks during events, in shopping malls, exhibition halls, etc.
  • Anyways: builds on advanced mobility applications, including a route planner that users can customize and publish online.

17 September 2019

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