Article

18.04.2018

How to instil the start-up mind-set?

Although originally, hackathons were restricted to the small community of developers and geeks, the phenomenon has gathered momentum to become a real catalyst for agile innovation for companies.

Over the last few years, hackathons - contraction of the words "hack" (from "hack away") and "marathon" - have become commonplace. In practical terms, hackathons bring together various talents (entrepreneurs, developers, web designers, graphic designers, etc.) around the development of an IT project. Arranged into teams, the participants have a limited amount of time (from a few hours to a few days) to develop a prototype, a piece of software or an app on a given theme. To stimulate competition, the event generally finishes with the presentation of the results to a jury of experts and the selection of the winners. Intensity, co-creation and inventiveness are the buzzwords.

Not only for start-ups

In Belgium, it is estimated that since 2011 nearly 150 hackathons have taken place, a third of which were in 2017. A boom that can notably be explained by the growing interest from companies of all sizes and from all sectors, and even public institutions. And on the grounds that these development surges represent an excellent way of instilling innovation and agility specific to start-up companies. Whether they are internal (for employees only) or public, these events give an opportunity for experimenting with other ways of tackling a problem, finding solutions and putting them into practice. All while strengthening collaboration and team spirit. But it's more than developing a new product, it's an opportunity to think outside the box, as well as to give a boost to the digital transformation process. For large corporations, it's also an excellent lever for detecting and integrating the talent of tomorrow. So it's not by chance that hackathons are diversifying and becoming more professional.

All sectors are jumping in!

By adopting this type of event, big companies are seeking to connect to the ecosystem of digital start-ups. All sectors are doing it and there are countless examples... Thus, the 3rd BNP Paribas International Hackathon, which took place in 2017 across 10 international towns and cities, invited participants to improve the efficiency of banking products and services. Another example: "Hack my ride", arranged by the STIB (Brussels Intermunicipal Transport Company) in 2017 and dedicated to public transport, whose objective was to develop digital apps by using data published by the public body's open data platform. In 2018, Hack Belgium will hold its second event, devoted to the social issues of tomorrow. On the programme: 1,500 hackathonians united around 12 big challenges linked to various facets of society: energy, circular economy, employment, media, finance, education, healthcare, etc.

Maintaining the dynamic

Although "hackathons" or other "start-up weekends" are very good at stimulating innovation for companies, the real issue is maintaining the dynamic. Indeed, although it is crucial to orientate the event towards a tangible output, this is rarely fully achieved at the end of the hackathon. The company should therefore seize the winning project - or even other ideas brought to light during the competition - in order to integrate it into an internal innovative process. In collaboration with the participating team, the objective is to pursue the development of the prototype, to support it and to make it succeed. By way of example, the BNP Paribas International Hackathon gave the prizewinners the chance to be involved in the bank's acceleration programme, in order to follow the development of the prototype presented during the hackathon, with the aim of creating a solution deployed within the company or with customers.

Article

01.12.2023

Investment grants for your business

Belgium’s three regions provide a range of grants for companies and self-employed people making investments. Our experts can help you make sense of the situation and submit your application.

The terms and amounts of investment grants vary greatly from one region to another. The applicable rules depend on the location of the operational entity making the investments. The company’s registered office is not relevant and can be located in any country. You should also bear in mind that applying for a grant is still a fairly cumbersome administrative process. That’s why our experts take care of all the steps, from submitting the grant application to collecting the grant money.

Flanders: a range of grants

Various types of grants are available in Flanders, the most important of which are support for strategic transformations, the ecology bonus, strategic ecological support, the SME e-wallet and the SME growth subsidy.

Each type of support targets different types of investment and different companies. Subsidy levels also vary widely, from 8% for a strategic investment by a large company to 50% for consultancy fees paid by an SME.

Our experts can help you identify subsidy opportunities and then arrange for you to meet a specialist from VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who will then help you with the rest of your application.

Wallonia: traditional and ecological aid

In Wallonia, investment grants are reserved for companies operating in a limited number of eligible sectors. Excluded activities include retail, transport and the liberal professions.

The terms and conditions also differ according to the size of the company. Small businesses must invest a minimum of €25,000. Large companies need to reach higher thresholds and invest in a development zone.

Examples of eligible business investments include buying/building a property, buying land and buying new business equipment.

The basic grant varies from 4% to 6%, but can be higher if the applicant creates jobs, takes an innovative approach or diversifies abroad, for example. A larger grant, up to 20%, may be obtained for projects that promote the sustainable use of energy and environmental protection.

Please note that it is essential to submit the request before any firm investment commitment is made: investments for which you have already accepted a quote can no longer be subsidised.

Our experts can guide your company through the entire process.

Brussels: the most generous

The Brussels subsidy for investments in goods, property or works is open to most sectors. In total, around 80% of the capital's economic activities are eligible for grants. The two main exceptions are education and real estate.

To qualify for a grant, the investment project must be worth at least €10,000 for a start-up business and at least €15,000 in other cases, depending on the size of the business. In addition, it must aim to develop or improve an existing activity: simple replacement expenditure does not qualify.

The aid can amount to up to 30% of the investment, although the average is 12.5%. The level of subsidy depends on a number of criteria, such as whether the company is a start-up and whether the investment will increase the number of people employed by more than 30%.

Over the course of 2024, reforms to the aid system will increase incentives for sustainable and circular economy projects.

Please note that it is essential to submit the request before any firm investment commitment is made: investments for which you have already accepted a quote can no longer be subsidised.

Our experts can guide your company through the entire process.

Article

06.09.2023

New mobility: driven by technology

Can technology drive the transition towards more sustainable mobility for businesses? See what Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert, has to say on the matter.

Now more than ever, businesses need to rethink mobility so that it forms part of the sustainable transition that needs to take place in our societies. Since 1 July 2023, the regulation meaning that company vehicles with combustion engines will no longer be longer tax-deductible by 2026 has started to have an impact. At the same time, Belgium’s Federal Mobility Budget and its recent developments are making this (r)evolution much more concrete and practical. And one thing is for sure: technology – and especially apps – have a key role to play. Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert at Arval BNP Paribas Group, explains why.

1 July 2023: a key date

“In the few weeks that have passed since the pivotal date of 1 July 2023, we have already seen a change in the needs expressed by our corporate customers,” says Kahn. "Some of them had already taken practical steps towards sustainable transition. But nowadays, more and more of them also have to address the specific questions and concerns of their employees. How will I be able to use an electric car when I live in a city and have no charging stations available? Do I want to search for a reliable place to charge every day? And am I ready to fundamentally rethink how I get around? Providing a satisfactory answer to these questions is inevitably a priority for employers. As well as the end-to-end management of company electric vehicles – including the question of charging them – more and more companies are starting to rethink their overall mobility policy, analysing all existing alternatives, particularly multimodal solutions. And that’s great news, because it’s essential for their future. So I think the demand for such solutions is only going to grow. Technology, and apps in particular, are key tools for a smooth transition".

Anticipating change to serve companies better

Whereas this issue is only just emerging for many companies, it has been a priority for Arval BNP Paribas Fortis and Philippe Kahn for years. "For more than five years now, we have been anticipating the changes that are now taking place, ensuring that our vision of mobility and expertise go far beyond leasing. We now have an entire department that deals with these matters exclusively. This enables us to meet and even anticipate the needs of companies that have no experience of these issues, and who sometimes feel a little lost when it comes to this revolution in travel.”

A simpler, smoother experience thanks to technology

But why and how is technology playing an important role in this transition to more sustainable business travel? "It’s making the experience of new mobility easier and smoother for its users. And that's where the latest developments in the market are heading," says Kahn. "In fact, that's also what our new Mobility Arval App now offers our corporate customers. It makes it easier for employers to manage the mobility budget established by the federal authorities. This budget, its three pillars and recent developments are crucial factors when a company is rethinking its mobility. But at the same time, it involves some regulatory complexity. That’s why, five years ago, we started developing a whole range of technological tools to help companies deal with these matters. For example, we  make it simple for our customers to manage the combination of an electric car and bicycle within this mobility budget. In this spirit of innovation, and aiming to improve the user experience, our app integrates all facets of new business mobility, which are all accessible from a smartphone. Use of public transport, shared mobility, taxis, and even parking – even though this is not one of the pillars of the mobility budget – everything is in one place. The app also makes it easier to manage transactions: low-value mobility transactions, such as buying a bus ticket, are automatically captured and validated, so manual checks are no longer needed. Similarly, there is no longer any need to advance money to employees or reimburse them for anything, and no need for them to keep and present tickets or any other proof of purchase. In short, our app translates the entire mobility budget, which can be pretty complex, into a user-friendly tool where all the important components are taken into account: car, bicycle, scooter, multimodal solutions, public transport, shared mobility, etc."

Technology as a strategy accelerator

Arval Belgium’s innovations perfectly illustrate why technology is an important accelerator when implementing new mobility strategies. And it goes without saying that what exists today will evolve very quickly, leading to an ever-richer user experience. As Philippe Kahn says, "there are a lot of innovative tools out there already. But one of the challenges, linked to the complexity of the situation in Belgium, is to bring together all the players involved under the same umbrella, so that the result of this collaborative work can be found in a single 'magic' app. The solutions that exist today in Belgium are often local in scope. This is a limitation that doesn’t exist in the Netherlands, for example, thanks to their OV card.  Belgium’s urban planning realities are also a challenge:  outside the major urban centres, it’s less easy to set up mobility hubs in which all modes of travel are accessible."

One thing is certain: for companies, the transition to new forms of mobility is well underway. And the new Arval Belgium app is a valuable tool for those companies. “This technological innovation now makes it possible to mitigate the regulatory complexity for employers, and to make multimodal transport a very fluid experience for employees,” concludes Kahn.

Arval Belgium SA, Ikaroslaan 99, 1930 Zaventem – Registered with the Brussels trade register – Belgian VAT number 0436.781.102.  Company with an ancillary insurance brokage business, registered with the Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) under number 047238 A. Subject to acceptance of your request.

Arval Belgium SA is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas Fortis S.A.

Article

22.06.2023

Shipping: focus on the impact of decarbonisation and energy transition

At the end of May, BNP Paribas Fortis and the University of Antwerp brought together a number of experts to discuss the many challenges involved in decarbonising the shipping sector. What are the key points to remember?

Established 12 years ago, the BNP Paribas Fortis Chair in Transport, Logistics and Ports - linked to the University of Antwerp - conducts in-depth research to find concrete and innovative ways of creating an increasingly resilient – and sustainable – maritime ecosystem.

Building on the success of its first two major events in 2017 and 2019, the Chair has decided to do it again this year. On 25 May 2023, a number of experts and stakeholders from the port and maritime transport sector gathered at the BNP Paribas Fortis premises in Antwerp to discuss the impact of decarbonisation on the maritime ecosystem.

Here are their main findings...

1 – We need to move up a gear

Shipping is currently the most carbon-efficient form of commercial transport in terms of CO₂ emissions per tonne and kilometre. But it can do better.

So far, industry players have favoured quick wins, such as modifying ship propellers and adjusting speeds. But on 25 May, the experts agreed that now is the time to experiment with new fuels and technologies, and move towards (near) zero emissions. The pace of change is accelerating, but there's no silver bullet yet. The costs (and risks) are huge.

2 – International regulation, please (and only one)!

The regulatory framework is complex and constantly evolving.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which reports to the UN, is committed to reducing the carbon emissions from all ships by 40% by 2030 and by 70% by 2050 compared to 2008.

The European Union has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. By 2024, an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will apply to all ships of more than 5,000 gross tonnes sailing to or from EU ports.

In short: things are moving, and in the right direction. The problem, according to industry players, is that numerous regional and supra-regional programmes continue to coexist. This leads to administrative and financial overload.

On 25 May, all those involved agreed on two points: firstly, that a single international policy is essential, as this is a global sector; and secondly, that players who do not comply with the rules must be sanctioned.

3 – The transition to carbon neutrality will be costly 

The investments required to build new greener ships is estimated at $5 trillion by 2050. The cost of modernising the existing fleet is not yet known, but it will not be zero. In addition, the investment required to renew port infrastructures promises to be huge.

4 – Fuel and/or preferred technology: uncertainty reigns

What will be the fuel or technology of the future? Opinions are divided.

Many types of low-emission fuels are likely to coexist for some time. Electricity will only be used on coastal vessels, ferries and some tugs. Large ships will use liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), methanol, ammonia and possibly even biofuels.

Long-distance shipping will initially depend on heavy fuel oil, possibly with carbon capture and storage. Hydrogen has potential, but its density, storage and handling raise questions. Wind, solar and nuclear power are also in the mix.

But the real problem at the moment is that while the number of ships that can run on cleaner fuels is increasing, these fuels are not yet sufficiently available internationally. In other words, supply is much lower than demand.

5 – Banks play a key role

Banks have a key role to play in financing the energy transition. In 2019, eleven financial institutions – mostly European, including the BNP Paribas Group – launched the Poseidon Principles to support the transition to low-carbon shipping. This global framework makes it possible to measure and disclose the carbon intensity of bank loans in the maritime sector. There are now 24 signatories, including Japanese financial institutions. And that’s good news.

Want to know more?

Presentations, videos and photos from the 25 May event are available on this page.

Article

20.12.2021

Building a sustainable chemical industry together

As a bank, we promote sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Together with BlueChem, the first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Europe, we are taking some important steps in the chemical industry.

In December 2021, BNP Paribas Fortis extended its exclusive partnership with BlueChem for a further three years. A logical step after the successful cooperation over the past years.

BlueChem is the first independent incubator in Europe to focus specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. It provides legal, administrative and financial support to promising Belgian and international start-ups and ambitious growth companies. BlueChem recently invested in a brand-new building on the Blue Gate site, the new climate-neutral business park in Antwerp. The incubator provides start-ups, SMEs, large companies, research centres and knowledge institutions with fully-equipped and freely-configurable labs, individual offices and flexible workplaces. Tenants include a company that splits CO2 molecules into useful chemicals, a company that develops protein sources for meat substitutes, and a company that extracts chemicals from polluted industrial waste water.

Didier Beauvois, Head of BNP Paribas Fortis Corporate Banking: “We are very proud to be a partner of BlueChem, which, like our bank, feels very strongly about sustainable development and open innovation, which is why we chose to immediately extend our partnership with BlueChem by a further three years. Our aim with these kinds of initiatives is to help companies and industries meet the conditions set out in the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s initiative to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050.”

Sustainable partnership

As a leading bank in Belgium, we believe in taking our responsibility and contributing to the sustainable development of our society, now and in the future. A promise we can continue to deliver thanks to our partnership with BlueChem.

Our primary role within this unique partnership is to share our expertise. The bank has a centre of expertise, the Sustainable Business Competence Centre, which closely monitors innovative, sustainable developments, using this knowledge to support companies in their sustainability transition. We also have a wealth of experience, through our Innovation Hubs, in fine-tuning business plans for start-ups that want to evolve into scale-ups. Making our network available is a second crucial role. We connect with potential clients and investors and identify synergies between start-ups and large companies. Contacts that also offer added value for our Corporate Banking clients.

Barbara Veranneman, Chairman BlueChem NV and Director International Affairs essenscia: “BlueChem partly owes its success to strong strategic partnerships, such as with BNP Paribas Fortis, among others. Our sustainable chemistry incubator is thus able to provide the right facilities in the right place, in addition to specialised, custom services. This access to high-level expertise is definitely an asset, offering start-ups and scale-ups optimal support so they can focus on their core business: bringing sustainable innovations to market."

Why the chemical industry?

The chemical industry is a major contributor to our country’s economy. Antwerp is home to Europe’s largest and the world’s second-largest integrated chemical cluster. We can have a major impact by providing optimal support to start-ups and scale-ups throughout Flanders in terms of innovation and sustainability.

We don't always realise that developments in the chemicals industry impact every aspect of our daily lives: virtually every technological product contains plastics, smartphones are jam-packed with chemical elements, the biodegradable packaging of the products on supermarket shelves, research into new batteries, recycling that involves a great deal of development, etc.

A good example is Triple Helix, an innovative growth company that was one of the first to move to BlueChem and which received support from the bank from the outset. The company is preparing the construction of its ‘SurePure’ recycling plant for polyurethane foam and PET shells, which will be converted into new raw materials, for new applications. Polyurethane is used in mattresses, car seats, insulation panels, etc. But this is just the first step. True to the motto ‘Molecules as a service’, Triple Helix is already planning similar initiatives with glass, stone and wood . Considering waste as a resource creates a huge growth market.

Steven Peleman, Managing Partner Triple Helix Group: “What makes BNP Paribas Fortis such a valuable partner is that it can bring the right parties to the table, essentially becoming a lever on the pathway to a more sustainable industry. It’s not just the financial aspect. The bank also looks for strategic partners, helps us to strengthen our credibility, and brings in potential investors. A bank that looks beyond purely financial considerations can create tremendous added value for us.”

Sustainability and innovation in the chemical Industry

Innovation in chemistry is the key to overcoming our planet's sustainability challenges. The chemicals industry develops crucial innovations and products to successfully address climate change, even though it is not traditionally considered a 'greener’ industry. There are several opportunities: better recycling techniques to extract sustainable metals from waste, biodegradable plastics, the replacement of certain substances in existing materials, or the greening of a chemical production process. Moreover, innovation is not an easy feat in the chemical industry. It takes a lot of time, guts and money to scale up from a lab setting to industrial-scale production.

European Green deal

All these efforts to increase sustainability are part of an EU-wide initiative. The European Green Deal is a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. It proposes to achieve this by drastically reducing CO2 emissions and by immediately absorbing or offsetting any remaining carbon emissions in Europe by 2050, for example by planting forests or with new technology. This would make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world. An ambition that we, as a bank, are more than happy to lend our support! And what about you as a company?

Would you like to know more about how we promote sustainability and open innovation or do you require support for your transition to a more sustainable business model? Discuss this with your relationship manager or the experts of our Sustainable Business Competence Centre.

Read the full press release here

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