Leuven business: European Capital of Innovation in 2020


Dave Deruytter looks at Leuven business and how the Belgian city is developing innovation.

For the sixth time the European Commission has chosen a European Capital of Innovation.

This time the city of Leuven in Belgium has been awarded the honour. It is the smallest city on record to win the title. Before it, Nantes, Athens, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona wore the innovation crown.

For insiders the choice for Leuven does not come as a surprise. They know about the Leuven 2030 project or about Leuven MindGate. And if not, they may know that the university of Leuven was started in 1425, almost 600 years ago, or they could know about Leuven as the home of the World’s largest brewer, AB InBev. Furthermore, techies should be aware that IMEC, also based in Leuven, is the flagship technology research centre of Belgium.

The nice thing about the election of Leuven as the European Capital of Innovation this year is that it not only involves the whole local population in its initiatives but also the province of Flemish Brabant. Also, Leuven has a lot of cooperation with other cities in Belgium and abroad, too. For example, they share with Gent the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and the Vlerick Business School, the number #1 Business School in the Benelux. Furthermore, whilst developing their capabilities and international reach the university and the hospital of Leuven work together with many of their international peers. When preparing for the International House of Leuven, a one stop shop for foreigners who want to install themselves in the greater Leuven area, the successful project of the International House of Copenhagen was studied, adapted and copied. All in all, the Leuven candidacy for the title had a lot to speak for it.

In Belgium other university cities have similar approaches to innovation as Leuven, and in other EU countries the race towards innovation ecosystems is also on heating up. But, it goes without saying that many of them can learn a trick or two from Leuven to do it even better or faster.

Innovation is of paramount importance for the continuously thriving and changing economies and businesses around the world. As such, it is very laudable that the European Commission stimulates cities, countries and companies to go the extra mile. Although the title is very nice to win, the €1m that goes with it is welcome to give Leuven even extra means to keep on making innovation happen.

Notwithstanding the great pain many people suffer from the current COVID-19 crisis, a positive side effect is that cross border cooperation is getting ever easier with the extra impetus the digital world and economy has received from the lockdowns of all sorts that the crisis has forced on us. Indeed many companies, particularly in the service sector, are still heavily relying on working from home. And the chances are high that that will remain, at least in part, a fundamental piece of the new normal that is being built in business. Though working remotely has its advantages, on the commuting side for example, it has its downsides too, like the lack of bonding opportunities with colleagues at work.

My 87-year-young father recently had a small health scare, and his landline and mobile phone were not working very well in order to get help from the place where he lives. To better cope with such situations in the future, my son installed a Voice and Video over Internet App on his tablet, which not only has fewer issues in making connection because of the good broadband internet my dad has, it also gives him the opportunity to see the other person whilst communicating, his doctor for example, and he even can show or see things by video now.

LEUVEN Leuven2030.be

In business and research the advantages of web meetings or seminars are even more obvious. When you organize a webinar, the whole world can participate in it if they have a good internet connection. Of course, technically that was mostly possible before now. But now many more people are using web meetings and their software. They are doing it far more often, or are using more features of the tools that provide these remote connection options. A noticeable example is the variety of backgrounds people are using in their web meetings, from cool stylish offices to their last holiday destination.

In conclusion, it is great that there are contests around the world that give the much needed innovation drives in the global economy extra support. Of course innovation should not be an objective in itself. The aim is to have tangible results for businesses and people, further increasing business efficiency and our quality of life. Given the current Covid-19 uncertainty, a vaccine that works properly is very high on our agenda. Fortunately, medicine, healthcare and biotechnology are fields in which the Leuven innovation scene is very active and successful.

Stay safe and take care.

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