It’s no secret that Flanders is among Europe’s finest for innovation. In the European Commission's 2019 Regional Innovation Scoreboard, the region even ranks second in the top 10 of strong innovators. What is the basis for this success?
Mark Andries: “There are few regions where research institutes and private companies cooperate as closely as in Flanders. The accessibility of our local knowledge system has grown somewhat out of necessity. Many Flanders-based niche players lack the scale to carry out research and development on their own, which ‘condemns’ them to work together. At the same time, the government of Flanders has been investing intensively in the development of a connected ecosystem for R&D in high-tech areas since the 1990s. Our strategic research centers – imec, VITO, VIB and Flanders Make – are great examples of this approach.”
Philippe Muyters: “Behind these policy choices lies a clear long-term vision. If you look at today’s biggest innovations, for example, they are usually the result of cross-pollination between various disciplines. At the same time, companies are rolling out their innovations at an accelerating pace as they face a growing number of competitors due to increasing globalization.
To achieve the required multidisciplinary approach and speed, open innovation is crucial: companies and research institutions need to work together to find solutions to societal problems. Fortunately, Flanders can rely on strong assets to achieve just that. The fact that we’re all together ‘on a postage stamp’ is one key example. The bright and bold minds needed to innovate with flying colors can be found here within just a few miles of one other.
In addition to this personal proximity, Flanders guarantees a bottom-up environment: the government supports innovation without being in the driver’s seat. For example, our strategic research centers can freely use a variety financial instruments to experiment in collaboration with the business world. Moreover, doctoral researchers have the possibility to innovate not only at universities, but within companies.”
Claire Tillekaerts: “There’s no doubt that Flanders supports open innovation. In addition, we also focus on initiatives that strengthen our global innovation position by pursuing international cooperation models. Networking is as crucial for this as it is for innovation itself. To give just one example, there’s the renowned TCI congress, which FIT and VLAIO are organizing together this year and which is also supported by Visit Flanders. Thanks to this initiative, Flanders attracts the attention of clusters from abroad as well as international cluster experts. At the same time, we bring Flanders’ clusters into contact with foreign stakeholders so that they can grow into global players capable of valorizing innovations from Flanders internationally.”