Helping growth companies develop sustainable innovations for the chemistry of the future. This is the goal of incubator BlueChem. Leentje Croes and Jeroen Vangindertael talk about this unique initiative.
BlueChem is the first independent incubator in Flanders – and far beyond – that focuses specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. A unique ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs, knowledge institutions and major global players will take up residence at BlueChem's brand-new premises in Blue Gate Antwerp, an eco-efficient and water-bound business park. Leentje Croes, who has a degree in Bioengineering (Chemicals and Biotechnology), has been a Manager at BlueChem since 1 January 2019. Jeroen Vangindertael, who has a PhD in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, is an expert in this field at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre of BNP Paribas Fortis, which has forged a partnership with BlueChem. Hearing them discuss BlueChem's plans, even a layman cannot help but become enthusiastic about this venture.
How did BlueChem come into being?
Leentje: "essenscia, the Belgian cross-sectoral federation of the chemical and life sciences industries, observed in 2012 that disruptive innovation often came from start-ups. essenscia wanted to stimulate this drive for innovation by supporting these start-ups, so between 2012 and 2014 they carried out an initial feasibility study based on the question 'What is needed to help these companies and keep the chemicals and plastics industry successful?' After all, our industry is extremely important for employment and prosperity in Belgium. The feasibility study led to the idea of an incubator. A follow-up study, between 2014 to 2016, provided the finishing touches: the theme 'sustainable chemistry' was linked to the incubator, a financial plan was drawn up, and the process was set in motion. In 2017, BlueChem was born!"
Jeroen: "The time was right to roll out this model in the chemicals industry. We have seen for some time at essenscia – the cross-sectoral federation of the chemical and life sciences industries – that big companies support or engage biotech start-ups. The purpose is to follow what these start-ups are doing and potentially enter into collaborations at a later stage, but also to accelerate and keep abreast with innovation. And although there was a wealth of established companies in the chemicals and plastics industry, a lively ecosystem of start-ups was still lacking."
Why does sustainable chemistry matter?
Leentje: "The scientific innovativeness of the chemicals industry is essential for our planet to be developed sustainably. At BlueChem, we consider sustainable chemistry as the industry par excellence of the 21st century and a pacesetter for the circular economy. Moreover, the chemicals industry provides crucial innovations and products to successfully address climate change."
Jeroen: "The chemicals industry is often criticised for not being sustainable enough. But everyone uses the products developed in the chemicals industry in their daily lives. There's virtually no technological product that doesn't contain any plastic, for example – that's almost impossible. Today's research into batteries is also about chemicals. Biodegradable packaging materials in supermarkets are manufactured by the application of complex chemistry. And recycling also involves a great deal of development. In the transition to more sustainable chemicals, an incubator like BlueChem is a perfect model."
Leentje: "Smartphones also have a long list of materials made by the chemicals industry. Developments in the chemicals industry have a knock-on effect on many aspects of everyday life, but most people are not aware of that.
At BlueChem, we want to improve the image people have of our industry. We want to show the general public all the wonderful things chemicals make possible."
What has BlueChem achieved since its creation?
Leentje: "The subsidy application we submitted in 2017 to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for financial support for our construction was approved in that same year. It was a major milestone! Construction began at the end of 2018 and provisional completion is scheduled for 5 February 2020.
A year ago we only existed on paper... and now we have a state-of-the-art building with all the facilities a start-up could need.
We have achieved a lot in a year, such as entering into partnerships with BNP Paribas Fortis but also Deloitte, Deloitte Legal and Port of Antwerp. What's more, the first tenants will soon move into our building: Arpadis, Catalisti, Creaflow, InOpSys, Triple Helix, Vito and large companies such as BASF, Borealis and Ineos. This mix of small and large companies creates an interesting dynamic within the ecosystem. Our objective for the first year of operation, an occupancy rate of 20%, had already been achieved four-and-a-half months before the opening."
Jeroen: "December 2019 saw the launch of the BlueChem Kickstart Fund, an investment fund of approximately EUR 3 million made available by the City of Antwerp. This fund gives BlueChem tenants a financial boost of up to EUR 700/m² for furnishing their labs."
What can BlueChem and BNP Paribas Fortis do for each other?
Jeroen: "Our bank has an extensive network and we see almost all start-ups in Belgium – not only through our Innovation Hubs but also because we invest in a lot of university spin-off funds through Private Equity. Our ambition, therefore, is to promote BlueChem throughout Belgium. We also have a wealth of experience, through our Innovation Hubs, with business plans for start-ups that want to evolve into scale-ups. We can certainly support companies in this process. Chemicals is a capital-intensive industry, and sooner or later these start-ups will need equity or debt financing to finance their growth. Clearly the bank plays an important role in this. It is also valuable for us to follow these companies from the very beginning so that we understand what they are doing. It means we can respond quickly if and when there is a need for financing. In this connection, Conchita Vercauteren from our Business Centre Antwerpen Stad and myself will also sit on BlueChem's Advisory Board."
Leentje: "Although we are still in the start-up phase, we have achieved many successes together in the past year. BNP Paribas Fortis is an ambassador for BlueChem and contributes to our brand awareness among start-ups and in general. That opens doors for us, of course. We have also referred a number of start-ups to our branch in Antwerp, as they had questions about setting up business or transferring their company from abroad. They got the advice they needed from BNP Paribas Fortis."
What are your plans for the future?
Leentje: "Once our official opening on 28 April has taken place and the tenants have moved in, we will focus on the day-to-day support of our tenants. This can range from administrative advice to finding the right partners within our network. Organising seminars with BNP Paribas Fortis is also one of the possibilities."
Jeroen: "We at BNP Paribas Fortis are very enthusiastic about BlueChem's future. Belgium and, more specifically, Antwerp have been top players in the chemicals industry for many years. It's good to see they are forging ahead on the same path and are now also a frontrunner in sustainable chemistry.”
How sustainable is your company?
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.
What is the future for mobility post-coronavirus?
The health and economic crisis has affected all aspects of every sector. Among them, mobility, for both private individuals and for companies.
Mobility is evolving every day. And it has been driven further as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Many people have been locked down and working from home has been widespread in many parts of the world.
The coronavirus crisis has changed concerns about transport
We are no longer moving around in the same way. And concerns are no longer the same. According to a BCG Consulting report, social distancing and vehicle cleanliness are the most important aspects for 41% and 39% of respondents, respectively, when choosing a mode of transport. There is also pre- and post-Covid mobility, with respondents being more likely to choose walking, their own bicycle or scooter, or their car than before the crisis.
Sustainable and alternative mobility in the years to come
Mobility has not necessarily waited for the coronavirus crisis in order to evolve. And, according to the same report, the share of more environmentally-friendly vehicles will continue to increase. By 2035, more than 35% of new vehicles will be electric cars, becoming the predominant form of motorised transport worldwide. Autonomous cars will also become more common, with 10% of vehicles being level 4 vehicles (able to travel without a driver, for example), and 65% level 2 or higher.
Customised mobility for employees, right now
The future of mobility is also relevant now, especially for businesses and the self-employed. The need for alternative modes of transport does not only concern private individuals, but also employees. There is no longer a single mode of transport for all situations, but a range of means depending on the need at a given moment. Electric cars, hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, a public transport season ticket, car sharing, leasing, etc. These modes can take different forms and be combined in a mobility card, for example. There are benefits for the employees and managers of a company but also for the company itself through cost reduction, optimisation and fleet management.
Find out more about our tailor-made mobility solutions
The road to alternative mobility
Nowadays, responsible fleet management is built around sustainability. We're here to help you identify and realise your Corporate Social Responsibility ambitions.
Together we can cut your company's carbon footprint, improve employee mobility, and make sure these steps become a central pillar of your company's added value. In short, our aim is to have an alternative mobility policy.
We can help you make the switch to alternative mobility and new technologies to reduce your carbon footprint. Our SMaRT approach ensures your fleet has the best energy mix to match your strategy and driver profiles.
Alternative mobility needs new technologies to go hand in hand with new infrastructure. That's why we offer not only electric cars, but also the right charging solutions, too. As part of our integrated service provision we can determine how many charging points you need, install them, and manage how they are used both at the workplace and at the driver's home.
Modern mobility management is about more than just cars or vans. You need a 360-degree approach. We'll work with you to determine your mobility strategy and needs. Greener cars are just one of the options available. We have a number of mobility management solutions (such as the Mobility Card) and alternative mobility solutions (such as bicycle leasing) to inspire your organisation to offer a more flexible range.
Focus on employees
When you put your employees at the heart of your organisation, you're in a better position to find skilled employees, satisfy them, and retain them. Go a step further than just an alternative mobility solution: focus on their safety and let them play an active role in achieving your sustainability goals. Trust us to improve their safety and integrate new technologies.
Operational leasing is offered by Arval Belgium SA/NV, with the intervention of BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV – Montagne du Parc/Warandeberg 3, B-1000 Brussels, Brussels Register of Companies VAT BE0403.199.702.
Promotion only available from Thursday 21 January up to and including Wednesday 31 March 2021 and is only available to professional clients (self-employed, liberal professionals and SMEs) of BNP Paribas Fortis and Fintro.
The information provided here does not constitute an offer. An offer is made only after your file has been accepted and is always subject to Arval Belgium SA/NV's General Terms and Conditions.
Mobility, more than just four wheels
BNP Paribas Fortis offers complete mobility solutions. Sometimes a four-wheeled fleet is not enough for your mobility needs.
As a reliable partner, we can help you with every step – or pedal – of your mobility trajectory.
Mobility analysis and advice
Our mobility managers can work together with your relationship manager to develop a future-focused mobility strategy.
We start by listening to you: we want to understand your needs and concerns when it comes to mobility. This is our starting point for creating the best mobility solution for you and your company. We will build on this foundation with our expertise, while also taking Belgium's specific legal and fiscal ecosystem into account.
New mobility solutions
As well asfull-service leasing,we also offer our core product giving you access to our full mobility range, a wide range of basic services and added-value services such ascar parts,carpool management,bicycle leasingandmobility cards. All of our mobility services and their associated services such as parking, electric charging, fuel, tolls and car washing are within reach.
Managing your mobility budget
We'll help you and offer advice about implementing the federal mobility budget[VBK1] in your company. If that's too limited to meet your specific needs and aims, we can develop a personalised mobility budget solution to manage your mobility costs in line with the legal framework, just as we've done for a number of clients previously.
We've already implemented some tailored cost-neutral solutions, allowing our clients to combine lease cars with lease bicycles or other mobility solutions. This means the company can meet its goals while also making good on its promises and obligations.
Those ambitions might range from an ambitious CO2 agenda to a competitive offer to attract talent or a solution to solve your lack of car parking spaces.