Make the most of international opportunities thanks to Trade4U

A dynamic company needs to be constantly attentive to new market opportunities, especially overseas. In this sense, public procurement or international calls for tender represent potential too often untapped by Belgian companies. To this end, the Trade4U app can prove very useful!

Make the most of untapped opportunities

A huge number of public authorities, both in Belgium and overseas, call on companies for the provision of services, the supply of products, etc. In 2016 alone, the UN (with one of the largest public procurement programmes) launched calls for tender for over 17,000 million dollars (split approximately between the provision of services and the supply of products). A volume which is steadily growing - although Belgium is one of the top suppliers as regards UN contracts (mainly with UNICEF, thanks to the pharmaceutical sector which accounts for over 85%), Belgian companies, in particular SMEs, are still not making the most of this financial godsend.

The importance of being successful first time round

For a company, whatever its size, these public procurement contracts, in particular international contracts, can offer several advantages. Logically, this means new contracts and therefore obtaining revenues. But being successful first time round overseas also constitutes a unique opportunity to "make a mark" in a specific geographic region. This access is crucial in order to guarantee new openings in the long term...

Let's take an example: a Belgian start-up which is successful in a call for tender to provide its innovative technology to an important work site in Dubai is undeniably opening new doors for itself in the Middle East. A virtual circle which can also be applied within the company, because by making this leap, the SME is developing in-house skills in order to respond to specifications. Expertise which will turn into a comparative advantage.

Limited access and administrative workload

And this is often where the problem actually lies: the complexity of public procurement. Particularly when it involves responding to a call for tenders in Brazil or China. If SMEs are still not taking much interest in these market opportunities, it is because there are objective reasons. The significant administrative workload involved in putting a tender together, the lack of human and financial resources internally, contracts with scopes which are too large for the size of the company, not to mention the obstacles associated with the international dimension (language barrier, lack of knowledge of the local reality), but also the lack of visibility of these proposals and so on. In fact, information is key!

Efforts and solutions: Trade4U

Public authorities, particularly in Belgium but also internationally through regional development banks, are endeavouring to make these public calls (for bidders) more accessible to SMEs. Simplification of procedures, shortening of deadlines, division of contracts into smaller lots, etc. In Belgium, both regional export agencies* as well as the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency are working on raising the awareness of Belgian companies and providing them with information. And with this objective in mind, the Trade4U platform was created.

Soon to celebrate its second anniversary, this mobile app (available on smartphone and tablet) centralises business opportunities - several hundreds of websites are sifted through -, international projects and calls for tender all over the world. The functionalities offered to its subscribers (subscription costs EUR 150 per year) include the option of carrying out targeted searches (by country, sector, product, service, etc.), expressing interest in a contract, setting up a consortium (to respond to large-scale contracts), receiving alerts and reminders of deadlines for filing applications, assessing the success of calls for tender (number of clicks) and receiving "public procurement" procedure guides along with foreign trade news and statistics. 

For more information about Trade4U, click on this link or watch this demo!

* The three regional actors in the foreign trade sector are:

  • Walloon Export and Foreign Investment Agency (AWEX)
  • Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT)
  • in Brussels, the agency BIE (Brussels Invest & Export) merged (on 1 January 2018) with the Brussels Agency for Business (, forming a new agency (the name of which is to be released imminently)

The young Belgian Cohabs renovates town houses and turns them into well-equipped, comfortable and stylish cohousing projects. The social and environmental aspects are also important in their story.

"The real estate market has been very tight for a few years. Finding a house or flat in the city is not easy. The economic situation is not ideal for new housing projects, but demand for housing remains high”, explains Youri Dauber, CEO of Cohabs. “The challenge? To curb parcellation and concreting by densifying cities. We also need to make buildings more energy efficient and, last but not least, find solutions to loneliness, which many people suffer from across generations.”

Cohabs has 2.500 rooms, spread adcross 150 buildings in Brussels, Paris, New York, Madrid and Luxembourg. The rent includes all costs such as internet and a Netflix subscription, as well as a cleaning service and the use of the gym, a cinema room, the garden and a coworking space. To make living together easier and avoid any frustrations, Cohabs supplies a number of basic products in all houses, such as toilet paper, washing-up liquid, olive oil and salt and pepper. The Cohabs residents of a city keep in touch through an app and can meet each other at a party held every month.

Not just young professionals

"When we started out in 2016, we had a target group of 25-35-year-olds in mind. But we immediately received a lot of applications from people over 50,” says Dauber. "My own parents, who are 75, pushed me to open up the concept to their generation too. We realised that cohousing is not just for young professionals. There are also people in very different stages of life who are going through a kind of transitional period. This is often accompanied by loneliness, as in the case of a divorce or someone who has lost their partner. We also think about what we can offer families. They need larger communal spaces and well-defined conditions. Like any young and innovative company, we’re evolving as we go along. We learn by trial and error.”

Solidarity and social coexistence

The young managing director is regularly amazed by the social adventure that coliving can be. "We had a 45-year-old Syrian refugee who saw something in cohousing. We thought living with a group of twenty-somethings would never work out. But we were wrong. The relationships built there proved so rich that we’re now working with the French NGO Singa. In the meantime, we offer solidarity rooms in some forty of our houses.”

Design, upcycling and an app

The young company is firmly committed to design. To that end, it works with Lionel Jadot, the Belgian pioneer in upcycling. His approach fits perfectly with Cohabs’ environmental philosophy, which itself also uses recycled materials for renovations. Solar panels and rainwater recovery are also part of this story. "Achieving an EPC score of B or C is our goal. This is exceptionally good for old buildings,” Dauber adds. "We are carbon neutral and a member of 1% for the Planet.”

Ready to push boundaries together

Cohabs was able to count on the support of BNP Paribas Fortis for investments and the purchase of new buildings. “They’ve been part of our story since our third property. Back then, we were just a small company, but we were asking for significant sums of several tens of millions of euros. But they supported us and granted us loans, which allowed us to grow abroad as well. It’s really a collaboration. They put their trust in us and believe in the potential of our concept."

Cohabs is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.


“In forty of our cohousing houses, we offer solidarity rooms for people who want to reintegrate into society.”

“My 75-year-old parents pushed me to open up the concept to their generation as well.”

The Brussels-based scale-up Optimy brings together corporate volunteering, donations, patronage and sponsorship activities all on one platform. On it, their impact on society is concretely measurable.

"Originally, I didn't think of myself as a social entrepreneur, even though I was involved in sponsorship. At the request of our customers, my partners and I have developed an entire provision of services that has become the most comprehensive platform on the market," says Kenneth Bérard, CEO of Optimy.

One of these customers was the BNP Paribas Fortis Foundation, which wanted to make a greater social difference and also give these actions more visibility. "It's a must for companies to contribute to society. This generates added value for the company and fuels a positive spiral. But that social impact has to be measurable. How many children have been helped? How many trees have been planted? What effect does this have on employee satisfaction, image and turnover? Our model offers all of this. This means that companies don't have to purchase new modules every time they want to add additional activities. I think that’s our great success factor. We are the market leader in Europe in our sector and the only company operating in both Europe and North America."

Personal support

"Many companies are full of good intentions. They want to have a positive impact on society, but they often lack a good method to do this efficiently," the entrepreneur notes. "They tend to see all their efforts in isolation. The Optimy platform offers a solution for this. It's easy to put together and it's service-oriented. We adapt to the processes of each business unit and company. It doesn't work the other way around," assures Bérard. "Our customers are not looking for technology; they're looking for guidance. We invest in personalisation, and it's paying off, as a customer satisfaction survey shows."

Structuring actions

The first piece of advice that Optimy always gives companies is: don't shred your efforts, they should form a whole. "We recommend that companies structure their actions using our tool. The corporate social responsibility policy must be in line with the company’s values, DNA and broader strategy. And of course, the actions must be transparent and well executed."

The right partner

From the beginning, the connection Optimy had with BNP Paribas Fortis was decisive for the company’s growth. "The fact that the bank follows us has increased our credibility with our partners, investors, customers and also internally. Now it's setting up a factoring service for us to further support our growth."

Optimy's growth was initially supported by cash flow, which is unusual for a technology company. Financing came into play beginning in 2019. That's when a Canadian fund specialising in software as a service (SaaS) companies and affiliated with the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) became a shareholder.

Multicultural enrichment

As with increasingly more companies, one of Optimy’s biggest challenges is recruiting new talent. “We've been able to convert that challenge into an asset,” concludes Bérard. "We attract talent from abroad. Sixty people from twenty nationalities work in our Brussels branch. This multiculturalism is a huge enrichment and has helped us break through internationally."

“The corporate social responsibility policy must be in line with your company’s values, DNA and broader strategy”.



Who is in with a chance of winning a Leeuw van de Export Award in 2022?

On Wednesday 14 September, FIT will present its 21st Leeuw van de Export Award: the highest award for Flemish companies achieving outstanding export results. Will Belkorn, Twipe Mobile Solutions, XenomatiX, Bogaerts Greenhouse Logistics, Kipco-Damaco or Lambo Laboratoria win?

Every year, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) awards a Leeuw van de Export Award to two companies that have recorded notable achievements in the field of exports in the past year. We briefly introduce the six nominees below. Be inspired by their foreign expansion stories. On 14 September, the top exporters will be celebrated at the Brabanthal in Leuven.

Nominees in the 'Companies with up to 49 employees' category:

Belkorn from Diest
Healthy and tasty, high-quality ingredients that are good for people and the planet. Belkorn has been making this sustainable vision a reality since 1985, when it launched the first organic baby biscuit in Europe, well before the current trend for organic food. In 2010, a British brand chose Belkorn to bake its biscuits, causing the company to ramp up its export plans. Russia and Australia soon followed suit, and today Belkorn has a presence in 30 countries. More than 95% of the company's turnover is derived from exports.

CEO Jos Corthouts: "Thanks to continuous investments in innovation and a state-of-the-art production centre, we have seen rapid growth over the past five years. In the future, we hope to boost our presence in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and gain a foothold in the German market."

Twipe Mobile Solutions from Heverlee
Heverlee-based Twipe Mobile Solutions assists 80 influential newspaper titles, helping them to increase their reader numbers and revenue with a user-friendly digital newspaper, insights into reading behaviour, and personalised news feeds. After a first mobile news app and the first exclusive digital newspaper in France, they launched JAMES in the UK, a digital butler that compiles automated, personalised reading lists for subscribers. Twipe Mobile Solutions serves newspapers in 13 countries, accounting for 92% of turnover.

CEO Danny Lein: "In the coming years, we want to develop a tech scale-up that plays in the Champions League of news media technologies, while remaining true to our Flemish roots. With intelligent innovation, a lot of hard work and team spirit, you can grow and build an international reputation."

XenomatiX from Leuven
XenomatiX develops innovative laser systems for self-driving cars. The Leuven-based company provides an answer to the automotive industry’s demand for more compact, reliable and affordable sensors. Despite its small-scale production, XenomatiX has a very local presence in major automotive countries such as Germany, the US, China, Japan and South Korea, to explain and demonstrate its technology on the ground. The company wants to make a difference worldwide with its promising technology.

CEO Filip Geuens: "We want to make an economically relevant contribution to society through our technology and the resulting employment."

Nominees in the 'Companies with 50 or more employees' category

Bogaerts Greenhouse Logistics from Hoogstraten
Bogaerts Greenhouse Logistics is the largest player in the automation of greenhouse gardening. The company develops machines, appliances and other logistical aids for spraying, harvesting and sorting in modern greenhouses. The sophisticated systems, which are produced in Hoogstraten, are now used in more than 40 countries.

CEO Joris Bogaerts: "In Europe, we're gradually hitting the ceiling in terms of terminal automation. But there are lots of large-scale projects in the pipeline in Eastern Europe, Russia and China. And the African continent still offers a lot of potential." We want to be ranked among the global top 3."

Kipco-Damaco from Oostrozebeke

The chicken in your favourite deep-frying snack or boiled sausage is probably produced at Kipco-Damaco. In recent years, the poultry slaughterhouse in West Flanders has developed into a global producer and distributor of chicken separator meat for further processing. After a first foreign sales office in Singapore, the company established 4 production sites and 11 branches in countries such as Brazil, India, the Philippines and Vietnam. This development offers significant added value thanks to local market knowledge and short lines of communication with the meat technologists at Kipco-Damaco. Exports account for 83% of the company's turnover, of which a significant proportion is bound for the EU.

Co-owner and commercial & marketing director Iris Vandaele: "We believe in taking a chance, jumping on every opportunity for expansion. We valorise chicken separator meat, but also extract proteins from feathers for animal feed, for example. We were circular long before this was a hot topic."

Lambo Laboratoria from Wijnegem

Family-owned company Lambo Laboratoria develops high-quality gelatin capsules for the pharmaceutical and food supplement industry. Instead of mass production, they produce capsules that are tailored to their customers on demand. Their choice to operate in a niche market has been driving their international growth for 15 years, with sales to 30 countries today. Currently, exports account for 78% of the company's turnover, with the majority bound for our neighbouring countries, Italy and Poland. The company thinks there is still plenty of growth potential, both geographically and in specific market segments, and is currently looking for partners in Germany and Italy. Far-flung markets also beckon.

Managing Director Uwe Leonard: "We purposefully capitalise on our Flemish roots. It is striking how we are often appreciated more abroad than in our own country. 'Made in Belgium' is a quality label around the world."

Find out on 14 September who are the 2 winners of the 2022 Leeuw van de Export Award. Register beforehand at

Are you ready for your first international adventure or do you want to further expand your international activities? 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 magazine 2022



Leeuw van de Export 2022 Awards recognise strong export results

On 14 September 2022, Flanders Investment Trade (FIT) will be recognising companies that posted strong international performances by presenting them with its Leeuw van de Export Award. FIT also wants to inspire other companies to cross the border themselves. This is something that BNP Paribas Fortis, as the main sponsor, fully supports.

What do exporters need to look for to conquer the international market? We asked Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, and a jury member for this edition of the Leeuw van de Export Awards 2022.

What can would-be exporters expect at the beginning of their export adventure?

"Exporting is an important step forward in a company's evolution. But suddenly operators come into contact with a completely different and usually unknown environment. Import market regulations are often different, as are tax and legal regulations. When making international payments, there are exchange risks. And then there are the specific documents and products required for foreign trade. There are lots of new things to consider."

So, good prior knowledge is crucial?

"Absolutely. However, it's hardly surprising that many entrepreneurs are now going abroad without all the knowledge they need beforehand. The international financing landscape is changing at a rapid pace. If, as a company, you want to have a clear view of all these changes, then you need to constantly keep up with them."

How can companies prepare for this?

"By learning as much as they can about the rules that apply to their new foreign destination in advance. New exporters can use local authorities, such as FIT’s foreign branches, or their banker to guide them through the complex international world. At BNP Paribas Fortis, we have our Trade Development department that can help with this. Rob Van Veen offers companies guidance as they take their first steps in a new international market. This kind of external support may be expensive, but it's an investment that will save money in the long term. We also support more experienced companies in the smooth running of their import and export flows. Our experts have years of experience with export, and the BNP Paribas Group has teams all over the world."

How can exporters protect themselves against unforeseen circumstances?

"The world is a big place, which means that anything can happen along the way. In order to ensure that the goods reach the end customer without being damaged, we recommend that our customers build in the necessary guarantees. A local agent or representative can help to resolve any bottlenecks that can't be resolved easily from home. We also always recommend starting from a worst-case scenario. That way, you’ll be better equipped to deal with unforeseen circumstances."

The situation in Ukraine and Russia is a perfect illustration of this

"Indeed. Until a few months ago, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and then suddenly there was a trade embargo. The result: today, the import and export of goods is blocked, and companies are no longer getting their money. In such a case, it's better for you as an exporter to be well-covered. Of course, you can never be completely sure of what the future will bring. Above all, we want to prevent clients from setting out on a blind adventure."

Which development would represent a significant added value for international trade?

"We need digitally-secured platforms for international trade transactions that all interested parties can use to securely view and exchange documents in digital format. This not only shortens the lead time of international transactions, but would also be a huge step forwards in terms of sustainability. Trade finance is difficult and cumbersome: it involves exchanging tonnes of data, a lot of which is still on paper, unfortunately. But I'm confident that we're gradually moving in the right direction. Many large international banks, including the BNP Paribas Group, are currently working on this."

Finally, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are exporting for the first time?

"First-time exporters are advised to work with a letter of credit or documentary credit. Such a document - in combination with a confirmation by our bank - guarantees that the exporter will get their money. Because exporting is nice, but receiving your money afterwards is even nicer. Recently, we've also begun offering Transaction Banking, a new service that combines different expertise: from trade finance to supply chain and cash management. Suppose a company exports to Indonesia, for instance. There, the goods are first processed and then resold. Until then, the Indonesian buyer requests a postponement of payment. Transaction Banking allows our clients to offer a deferred payment for up to 12 months, without impacting their own balance sheet."

On 14 September 2022, find out who are the winners of the Leeuw van de Export Awards 2022 at the award ceremony in the Brabanthal in Leuven. Register beforehand at

Are you ready for your first international adventure or do you want to expand your international activities? 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 magazine 2022

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