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US companies are key players in Belgium’s innovation clusters

Belgium’s world-class research universities anchor local innovation clusters, supporting startups and attracting the R&D activities of international companies.

“By generating a huge outflow of state-of-the-art knowledge, the University of Leuven creates a favorable climate for entrepreneurship and innovation, making the Leuven region an attractive location for high-tech companies,” says Paul Van Dun, General Manager, KU Leuven Research & Development.

LayerWise, a pioneer in ‘additive manufacturing’ which was recently acquired by US-based 3D Systems, was a spin-off from KU Leuven. University researchers also work with large companies, like Goodyear and Mars, across a variety of disciplines on specific industry challenges, from tire noise to rice production.

“Complemented with a vast network of local research universities, Belgium is the ideal setting for future scientific breakthroughs.”

-Damien Bailly, General Manager, Baxter Belgium & Luxembourg

Knowledge transfer then is one of the main factors that drives 68% of US companies with R&D activities in Belgium to collaborate with either universities or public research institutions. Damien Bailly, General Manager, Baxter Belgium & Luxembourg, believes that Belgium is the ideal setting for “future scientific breakthroughs” – a strong argument for pharmaceutical companies, such as Baxter, to locate their R&D activities here.

R&D collaboration is mutually beneficial for companies and universities. On the one hand, companies provide vital funding and other assistance for universities to carry out cutting-edge research. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), for example, receives 24% of its revenue from collaboration with the private sector. Professor Hugo Thienpont, Vice-Rector for Innovation and Industrial Policy, describes this collaboration as “very important” for the university.

“Collaboration between the VUB and an extended network of high-level industry partners ... is very important.”

-Professor Hugo Thienpont, Vice-Rector Innovation and Industrial Policy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

On the other hand, companies are well-positioned to facilitate the commercialization of promising technologies developed in university labs. These technologies may be used either in the development of new or in the improvement of existing products and processes. Revenues from these technologies often flow back to the universities from licensing agreements with the companies. The VUB, which boasts “many innovative solutions for the technological challenges” faced by industry, collaborates with US companies including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and TE Connectivity.

The successful innovation clusters in Belgium, which have formed around its research universities, help attract R&D investment in the country. US companies are important players in these clusters, and the Chamber looks forward to growing this collaboration even further.

Download The Importance of US Companies in Belgium: R&D and Innovation

Photo: Main Reading Room, University Library, KU Leuven. By Thomas Guignard / flickr.