Flanders has a vibrant industrial sector. An open economy situated in the heart of western Europe, Flanders’ key industries include chemicals and pharmaceuticals, auto manufacturing, food and beverage processing, and the diamond trade (among others). Stakeholder organizations include the Flemish network of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (VOKA) and Agoria, Belgium’s largest employees organization and trade association for the technology industry.
Turning next to the education and research system, Dr. Sypns, listed Flanders’ 7 major universities in addition to 22 institutes of non-university higher education and other associations, private colleges, and research centers. Also active in this arena are the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR), which is an umbrella consultation body between the Flemish universities and the Belgian authorities responsible for higher education and research, and the Flemish Council for Non-University Higher Education Institutions (VLHORA).
Bridging innovation at universities and industry are several intermediary organizations. This includes strategic research centers like IMEC for semiconductor and nanotechnology, VIB for biotechnology, and VITO for environmental technologies; 11 competence poles to bring multidisciplinary focus to research in technologies related to food, logistics, materials, and cars; 15 centers for collective research that addresses the needs of traditional industries; and 5 university interface groups.
In all, while Belgium’s federal structure provides strong regional autonomy to shape Flanders’s innovation system, sustained, high level attention to innovation policy by Flemish policymakers has been equally (if not more) important. The result, Dr. Spyns concluded, is a “relatively well-performing Flemish Innovation System.”
Flanders Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT)
Mr. Sleeckx discussed evidence that money spent by the Flanders government on innovation is providing a good return on investment. He began with some key figures, including the annual budget provided by the government of €250 million, about €90 million of which goes to R&D projects at subsidy levels of 25-50 percent. An additional €15 million goes to about 400 innovation projects of small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), €37 million to “strategic basic research,” €7 million to higher education research, and €30 million to cooperative innovation networks. Altogether, he said, IWT works with about 150 large enterprises per year and 500 SMEs.