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How Flanders makes a great innovation partner for the US

In February 2017, Johnson & Johnson invested USD 50 million in the LION project, a state-of-the-art R&D lab in Flanders. In June 2018, Marianne De Backer, the firm’s VP of venture investments, made the Women of Influence list published by the Silicon Valley Business Journal in June. In the same month, Flanders-based scale-up Showpad acquired artificial intelligence company LearnCore (US). Clearly, Flanders and the US make great partners in R&D.

Innovation doesn’t stop at national borders: its sole objective is to keep moving forward. In 2017, Flanders hosted 46 investment projects originating from the US valued at USD 837.2 million in total, USD 164.3 million of which went to R&D. On the other side, Flanders also invests resources and talent in US companies. Let’s have a closer look at two telling examples.

Marianne De Backer, a Silicon Valley woman influencer from Flanders

In June 2018, the Silicon Valley Business Journal put Marianne De Backer in the spotlight by adding her to their Women of Influence list. Two years earlier, she was also chosen as one of the 100 most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical sector and was selected for the Boardroom Ready program of the professional organization Women in Bio.

This passionate bioengineer from Flanders has been active in San Francisco since 2015. Among other achievements, De Backer realized 200 partnerships, which led to five new medicines. Since 2017, she has been vice president of venture investments for Johnson & Johnson in Silicon Valley.

Tech players with US ambitions

The US ambitions of Flanders-based companies aren’t limited to Silicon Valley. In June 2018, Showpad, a tech scale-up from Ghent (Flanders), acquired Chicago-based LearnCore for USD 50 million. Showpad aims to deliver an intuitive sales enablement platform to make content easy to find, present, share and measure. Founded in 2011 by Pieterjan Bouten, Louis Jonckheere and Peter Minne, the scale-up recorded an annual turnover of USD 50 million.

With the ambition of delivering strong experiences, the founders seek to build a company where people want to work. The acquisition of LearnCore, the world’s largest provider of sales training and coaching software, will help it grow in the AI market. It's the fifth time that Showpad has taken over a business. This illustrates that the company doesn’t shy away from taking action to achieve a worldwide leadership position.

Vibrant R&D and start-up scenes

So, what’s Flanders’ secret sauce for R&D success in the US and the rest of the world? Flanders is one of Europe’s top knowledge regions, thanks to its tight network of R&D clusters and strong collaboration initiatives between industry, academic and governmental players. Together with unique financial incentives for R&D projects and firms, the numerous research institutes and universities in Flanders place the region at top of the charts in R&D and innovation.

Flanders spent 2.7% of its GDP on innovation in 2016, making the region one of the European frontrunners when it comes to R&D expenditure. This is also one of the main drivers behind Flanders’ successful start-up scene. In June, Silicon Canals listed 5 promising start-ups from Flanders: Rombit, RetailSonar, Intuo, Octinion and Yields.io. The last three even won the 2018 UK Digital Pitching Competition. The talent demonstrated by these young companies indicates that Flanders will continue to drive innovation in the future.

Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade
18 July 2018

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