Flanders Investment & Trade helps to sell Flemish innovation abroad, but also attracts strong technological and economic players to Flanders. It does this in part through its network of Science & Technology Offices, which was recently reinforced.

The mission of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) is to market Flemish expertise and to attract investments that strengthen the economic fabric of our region. Cleantech obviously plays an important role in this. As regards the ‘export’ of cleantech, FIT continues to see a huge demand from emerging countries for technological solutions relating to water, waste and energy management. “A lot of countries, for example, still face dire pollution problems,” says Ralph Moreau, who is a technology attaché (TA) in Silicon Valley at FIT. “So there is still a lot of demand for capacity building and end-of-pipe solutions.”

FIT focuses on sustainable as well as affordable solutions. Moreau: “Often it’s a search for the right funding, for a payment or revenue model that can work and that is scalable. We often end up with integrated solutions where different elements come together. These are long-lived and therefore sustainable, while they pay for themselves.”

New TAs
 To strengthen its presence abroad, FIT recently expanded its network of foreign attachés. Four new TAs were sent out in early 2021 to Science & Technology Offices in innovation hotspots around the world. “Now that we see that science and technology are advancing at an unprecedented rate in the fight against COVID-19, we are investing even more heavily in the international marketing of Flemish innovation,” says Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of FIT. The four newly-hired TAs are stationed in Copenhagen, Guangzhou, New York and Singapore – FIT has ten S&T Offices worldwide.

With the new recruits, FIT reinforces the marketing of Flemish innovation in the fields of digital, health and climate technology – especially in the latter domain, cleantech plays an important role. This fits in with Flanders’ ambition to belong to the most innovative regions in Europe. ‘We want to give technology-driven companies from Flanders an edge in foreign markets by putting them in touch with the right partners,” says Tillekaerts. “But we also want to attract strong economic and technological players from abroad to Flanders, not least the ‘missing links’. These are players who complement and strengthen the innovative and economic fabric of Flanders, and together with top Flemish talent, further develop our region into a world hub for innovation”. In addition, the S&T Offices bring Flemish companies, research centres, clusters, entrepreneurial organisations, incubators and accelerators together with foreign players and put Flanders more strongly on the map as a tech region worldwide.

Renewed green ambitions
2021, with the Green Deal in Europe and the change of power in the United States, will be a year of renewed and strengthened ambitions in the field of climate. For the US, FIT is looking forward to the actions that the new administration of President Biden will take, including a major recovery plan. “This recovery plan includes an ambitious component in the field of cleantech and especially climate technology,” says Ralph Moreau. “It should significantly enhance the sustainability of the US economy in the coming years.” While the US under the previous president lacked such ambitions at federal level, at a more local level, FIT saw how forward-thinking stakeholders continued to invest in this type of technology. “Think of states like California, but also a lot of large American companies. They have long been convinced of the need to do business in a more sustainable way.” FIT expects the opportunities for Flemish businesses in the US to grow, thanks in part to the recovery plan. “For example, we expect the demand for innovative solutions to increase, which of course fits seamlessly with the cleantech part of our mission.”

Then, of course, there is Europe, which, through the Green Deal’s unprecedentedly ambitious economic stimulus program, is drawing the environmental and climate card like never before. This will also bring new opportunities for the Flemish providers of cleantech. Tillekaerts: “As a strong European region, we are an open economy, we have the necessary expertise and we stand for quality. These are important assets in the pioneering role that Europe wants to play”.

Despite the fact that Flanders is a rather small region, the figures show that in the field of advanced R&D we belong to the European and world top. This is not least the case in the cleantech industries. And they know this abroad, too. In 2020, despite the fact that it was a year of deep crisis, the share of foreign investments in Flanders in these sectors (including the energy sector) amounted to no less than 30 percent. “This shows that FIT and Cleantech Flanders are natural partners when it comes to exporting and marketing Flemish expertise and know-how,” says Claire Tillekaerts. The sizeable investments from abroad are also good news for employment, as one in five jobs is linked to R&D.



Claire Tillekaerts
Managing Director FIT