BontexGeo is a manufacturer of geotextiles. In the European market there’s very little growth potential but there are lots of opportunities elsewhere in the world. Where exactly, though? And how can you explore those opportunities to a maximum? That’s where our Trade Development service comes in.
BontexGeo is an international manufacturer of geotextiles, with headquarters in the East Flanders town of Zele and production facilities in Belgium and Hungary. Geotextiles are materials which, among other uses, are laid underneath motorways and railway tracks in order to stabilise the construction and extend its lifetime. The company is market leader in Europe and is looking to achieve further growth. However, the market in Belgium and the wider Europe is now fairly flat and no extra growth would seem to be there for the picking. So they’ll have to look elsewhere…but where exactly?
Relieving the client company of certain tasks
Our Trade Development department knows exactly how to go about things. As far as we know, no other bank in Belgium offers this type of service. The Trade Development network helps corporate clients to develop their business in new markets into which they would like to expand, relieving the client of the task of pursuing leads and contacts on the spot.
In some cases, at a client’s request, the Bank actually works through its worldwide network to seek out promising markets for the client. In such cases, our Trade Development experts take a close look at the client firm, examine its business model from top to bottom, make a worldwide search for relevant opportunities and then discuss those opportunities with the client, applying all their experience and expertise.
Under normal circumstances this service is of real benefit to the client. However, when a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic makes it difficult – or even impossible – to travel abroad, it then becomes absolutely crucial.
“BontexGeo is a perfect example,” says BNP Paribas Fortis Trade Development Manager Rob Van Veen, explaining: “On 27 April, barely a week after the initial strategic Webex session with the client, Tom De Winter, our Relationship Manager for BontexGeo, brought me in on the discussions. The company was having temporary problems with some aspects of its international search because of the lockdown, in addition to which there were potential extra opportunities in markets further afield. It was of course obvious that if they were going to achieve expansion abroad we needed to go looking for major infrastructure projects, which meant that some new areas outside Europe soon came into consideration.”
Local partners are crucial
“Unfortunately it wasn’t feasible to travel, due to the coronavirus crisis, and in such a moment as that our way of doing things is of vital importance. We work with local ‘partners’ – external consultants who know the local culture, the economic situation and the industry there. They’re under contract to us and they’ll analyse the market and help our clients to find, for instance, distributors or agents. In this way we make it easier for the client to go in search of targeted growth,” Rob Van Veen tells us, adding: “BontexGeo was in fact pleasantly surprised that we were able to provide this service.”
“Moreover, our local partners regularly go and see the end-customer over there,” Rob points out. He knows from experience that “in some countries that’s essential if you want to make sure that the business runs smoothly. Those consultants also take care to ensure that our Belgian clients only do business with sound, reliable partners – which is a great relief to them.” With all of this, the Bank’s Trade Development department services are of enormous value to companies looking to expand abroad.
Oiling the machinery
BontexGeo is now working through the Bank’s consultant partners in two prospective markets in order to take proactive steps to prepare the ground there. All in all, this is a long process. “If you obtain your first order within 9 to 12 months that’s a success,” explains Rob. “In this particular case we got the news on 8 July that the first new contacts had been successful. That’s very positive.”
It’s positive for BontexGeo and for BNP Paribas as well. “The BNP Paribas Group’s worldwide network is of course extremely useful for growth-oriented corporate clients, and the reverse is equally true,” Rob is quick to point out. “By assisting Belgian clients with their ventures abroad, the Trade Development department regularly wins over new clients and new business for other Group divisions in those countries. Very often we help to oil the machinery.”
Belgian gaming industry gets a big push
BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity, together with Howest and Cronos, recently founded ForsVC, the first venture capital fund to focus exclusively on the Belgian gaming industry.
The gaming industry is booming all over the world. A lot of Belgian talent works on the development of computer and video games. In recent years, there has been a true explosion of creative video game start-ups in Belgium. But still, a lot of highly skilled creative people too often go abroad.
From brain drain to brain gain
As a venture capital fund for the Belgian video game industry, ForsVC wants to combat this brain drain. In the coming years, it will invest 10 to 15 million euros in gaming. Each of the three parties is bringing its specific experience and expertise. The Kortrijk college Howest as a reputable training institute. The Cronos group as a seasoned entrepreneur and investor in technology companies, including gaming studios. And the bank as a financial expert in Private Equity.
By making capital and expertise available to promising game companies, the existing ecosystem is enriched and made a lot more attractive. Belgian companies can professionalise themselves, develop high-quality games and pay competitive salaries.
Mireille Kielemoes, managing director fund investments Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis: “ForsVC is what we call a “university-linked” fund. This is a specific envelope within our Private Equity portfolio which, among other things, invests in university spin-offs or innovative companies whose IP (intellectual property) has a link to universities or knowledge institutions. Through these funds, we support innovation, creativity, job creation and entrepreneurship in Belgium in promising areas. For ForsVC, we’ll also be working via a participation in the game companies, but individual games are also eligible for project funding through revenue-based lending.”Press coverage dated 14/10
Leeuw van de export anniversary edition presents three awards
Competition was very strong during the 20th edition of the Leeuw van de Export Awards. Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) rewarded three rather than two companies for their strong export results this year. Congratulations to Molecubes, Sylva and Locinox!
This edition of Leeuw van de Export was once again streamed live and was also special not least as it was the 20th anniversary of the award. For the first time, two companies took home the prestigious award in the category of companies with up to 49 employees: Molecubes and Sylva. Locinox won the award in the category of companies with more than 50 employees.
Molecubes' scanners off to a flying start
Molecubes is based in Ghent and develops and builds compact scanners for molecular imaging. Molecubes is a Ghent University spin-off and got off to a flying start in 2015. The company immediately attracted a lot of attention abroad. Molecubes scanners are currently being used in 14 countries already. The Ghent-based company also supplies renowned academic institutions and companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries all over the world. And international demand is still high. “The Middle East is still wide open to us”, co-founder Ewout Vansteenkiste says. "Together with our partners, we look at how we can further differentiate our product range and explore many other areas of application. This award is a wonderful recognition of our young team and partners."
Sylva family business sends plants around the world
Plant grower Sylva also received a Lion award. The Lievegem-based company has an impressive family tree that goes back seven generations. Its internationalisation strategy took shape when the current generation took over the company's management in 2003. Today, the company ships 25 million plants yearly to 40 different countries, including several distant markets. "Our strong focus on technological innovation puts an end to the traditional reputation of horticulture and ornamentals”, general manager Tim Van Hulle says. “Winning this award is an incredible boost for us and for the entire Flemish horticulture and ornamental sector.”
Locinox builds gates in all corners of the world
Locinox develops and manufactures mechanical, electromechanical and access control products and components for fences and gates. In such a specific industry, the Waregem family business felt that internationalisation was obvious from the outset. Today, they are the European market leader and 90% of its turnover comes from exports. North America is also an important market. Locinox's complex, state-of-the-art components require continuous innovation. Every innovation also must pass a sustainability test.
Locinox experiences significant growth of 10 to 15% annually. There was no dip due to the coronavirus. The company grew by 35% in the first half of this year. In order to sustain this pace, Locinox intends to double its workforce over the next decade. A new 40,000 m2 plant is in the pipeline to achieve this. “Our ambition is to make sure every quality gate worldwide has at least one Locinox component”, CEO Mik Emmerechts says. “We are proud and pleased that this award gives us the opportunity to show who we are and what we have to offer potential employees.”
A partner who supports your international ambitions
BNP Paribas Fortis sponsored the Leeuw van de Export Awards for the second time. Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking: "We are very proud of the three winners. Exporting companies are a driving force behind the economy. All the nominees showed a great international track record. They all prove that our knowledge, innovation and craftsmanship can conquer the world. Our bank is committed to helping companies with their export plans from the first steps to expanding into new markets."
Are you inspired by the winners of these three Lion Awards? We offer you the peace of mind you need, with a wide range of solutions to optimise, secure and finance your import and export activities.
Source: Wereldwijs 2021
Will you be Entrepreneur of the Year 2021?
Will you succeed Stow and I-care as the Entrepreneur of the Year for 2021? Why shouldn't you? Apply before mid-May and your company may just win this prestigious award.
A dazzling event honoring the very best companies
This annual award ceremony is an EY initiative in collaboration with De Tijd and BNP Paribas Fortis. Last year the event had to be celebrated online. The advantage was that the general public was able to live stream the event and watch Prime Minister Alexander De Croo present the Onderneming van het Jaar® award to Stow and Entreprise de l'Année® award to I-care. Jan Jambon presented the Flemish government's Scale-up of the Year award to Robovision and David Clarinval the French version tot Proxyclick. The new winners will be announced on 6 and 7 December, 2021.
Big picture and little picture
The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting businesses this year. The new Entrepreneur of the Year and Scale-up of the Year will have undoubtedly shown excellent growth, innovation and governance as well as a sound approach to the pandemic. Bill Schley's book The Unstoppables calls this the big picture and the little picture. Successful entrepreneurs always keep a close eye on their core business and the financial side of things as well as on the little picture. This is the right emotional mechanism for properly dealing with obstacles, failure and risks.
From an entrepreneurial viewpoint
Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking at BNP Paribas Fortis, is proud that his company has been a partner of this event right from the start. “Alongside the current pandemic, two major challenges that businesses have to address in 2021 are new technologies and sustainability. Companies that want to remain relevant need to be flexible and creative and must keep reinventing themselves. Our mission is to guide them through this transformation process in the best way possible, because those entrepreneurs are the driving force behind the Belgian economy. Therefore, we like to put these innovators in the spotlight every year and is why we encourage Belgian companies to apply."
Why take part?
Winning the Entrepreneur of the Year award or Scale-up of the Year award offers your company many benefits. These awards have a strong national and international reputation that will help you to strengthen your company's brand awareness. The awards ceremony attracts a great deal of media interest in the winners and finalists, and offers excellent networking opportunities. A place in the finals is also a great way to boost employee motivation at your company.
So don't wait any longer: apply for the Onderneming van het Jaar® 2021 award, Entreprise de l’Année award or Scale-up of the Year award via the Dutch EY website or the French EY website before mid-May. All information on the criteria, selection procedure and registration process are available there. The finalists will be selected in June.
Robovision: “Within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent”
Robovision has emerged as the best-known AI player in the Benelux countries. However, this young firm has an even more extensive vision. “Healthcare, agriculture, the environment… within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent,” foresees CEO Jonathan Berte. BNP Paribas Fortis is an important partner in their growth.
Jonathan Berte, who trained as a civil engineer, smiles as he thinks back to the pioneering years at Robovision. “In fact, when I was a kid I had a really analytical mindset. In the scouts and at school I used to keep note of absolutely everything. It was really important for me to collect information. I was a kind of ‘infoholic’. But just gathering information gets you nowhere. That also goes for information that’s just stored on hard disks. The added value comes from using that information efficiently.”
How exactly do you do that at Robovision?
“Technology is evolving at lightning speed. These days just about everybody has a smartphone in their trouser pocket. Apart from anything else, these devices create a great deal of information, so we need to keep up on the algorithmic front and artificial intelligence helps us with that. That’s how we can provide governments, institutions and companies large and small with a platform for automated decision-making on the basis of visual data. In addition we constantly ask ourselves how we can democratise artificial intelligence. So in a way we’re like the Airbnb of artificial intelligence.”
What might that visual data be for example?
“In May, in collaboration with the University of Antwerp and security firm Securitas, we set up a smart camera in a shopping street in order to measure to what extent people were complying with social distancing requirements. This is important information for the decision makers in this country. Of course we don’t have to look through the images ourselves. We get them analysed using a specific type of artificial intelligence – self-teaching algorithms or what are known as neural networks. They’re designed somewhat along the lines of our own brains, though not nearly as complex.”
Which brings us to the fashionable expression ‘deep learning’. Are machines eventually going to make themselves smarter than us humans?
“Oh, that’s already underway at this very moment – in radiology, among other fields, plus also in games. Remember the legendary Go match between South Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol and a computer, which was beautifully represented in the 2017 documentary film AlphaGo? We’re also focusing on deep learning, because neural networks are very efficient at dealing with visual data. However, it will be some time yet before AI can equal a human being in intuition for instance.”
You’ve now evolved from a startup to a scaleup. Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
“The society of tomorrow will be one in which everything will be properly measured and dealt with. For instance, we’re also working in the field of horticulture, where AI can be applied in quality control – to spot fruit with an abnormal shape or colour, say. Lots of agricultural and horticultural businesses have got into difficulties over the last few months because pickers from Eastern Europe weren’t able to enter this country. Those businesses will very probably be investing in AI and automation over the next few years. In these kinds of fields, the coronavirus has taken us to a digital society almost overnight.”
What sort of partners do you need in order to succeed in your aims?
“During our growth from startup to scaleup, BNP Paribas Fortis has always been an important partner. You have really taken a lot of trouble to understand our story. Of course you do need to grasp our plans from a banking standpoint in order to be able to assess the risks. But quite apart from that, I have the feeling that you’re particularly good when it comes to supporting the whole tech and startup scene.”