Article

19.08.2022

No challenge is too big for Skyhaus

Every day, determined men and women are pushing back boundaries and helping to build a sustainable and digital economy. Like Matthias Feys, Chief Technology Officer of Skyhaus, who wants to use artificial intelligence to solve the most challenging issues.

Chief Technology Officer Matthias Feys has been an integral part of Skyhaus since CEO Nicolas Deruytter founded it in 2013. Machine learning, data analysis, artificial intelligence... in less than ten years, the Ghent tech specialist has grown from a six-person start-up into an international player with nearly a hundred employees in six countries.

High-level automation

“Specifically, we identify that certain very complex or repetitive tasks can be performed by machines. This makes them more efficient,” says Matthias Feys. “Think of scans in a hospital. Right now, these are often analysed by doctors, but you can also have scan analysis carried out automatically. The computer itself looks for anomalies at an early stage. Or take the production of pills: the quality must be carefully inspected. This can be done perfectly by a machine.”

Only the greatest challenges

Smart technologies are taking an increasingly prominent place in our society. And yet while there is more than enough work for the many technical start-ups, there is also a lot of competition. “We differentiate ourselves by focusing on the most challenging projects,” says Matthias. “We invest our time and resources on issues for which there is not yet a ready-made solution.”

Efficient knowledge sharing

Skyhaus has grown into an international company. Yet despite this, everyone keeps in close touch with each other. “We work with both multidisciplinary and expert teams. Successes and experiences are shared among them. In this way, knowledge, new developments and opportunities are easily exchanged across national borders.”

International partner

For financial management, Skyhaus works with BNP Paribas Fortis. “It’s nice to have a partner you can always turn to for advice and practical help,” says Matthias. “In the beginning, we mainly had standard questions, but as we grew and started operating abroad, our needs changed. We received appropriate advice and the bank introduced us to the local offices abroad. In time, we will be able to turn to the experts at Global Trade Solutions, who offer worldwide support in the area of cash flow.”

Entrepreneurial success stories

At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are proud to work with passionate and inspiring entrepreneurs such as Matthias Feys. Because building the entrepreneurship of tomorrow together, that too is Positive Banking.

A subscription to build customer loyalty, reinvent yourself in times of crisis and buy better: Emna Everard saw that as exactly the right way to launch and maintain her Brussels-based start-up.

Born into a family of dietitians, Emna Everard knows what it means to eat healthily. "At the age of 12, I was already deciphering packaging labels. My dream was to open a supermarket one day where you could shop with your eyes closed", she recalls.

And because Everard has entrepreneurship in her bones, that’s exactly what she did. In 2016, just before the end of her university studies, she launched the “healthiest online supermarket on the market”: Kazidomi. Her standards are high, both in terms of composition and taste. Kazidomi selects products carefully, enabling its customers to buy healthy, mainly organic, plant-based products with complete confidence.

The loyalty programme

Six months after its launch, Kazidomi’s growth is accelerating thanks to the launch of its loyalty programme. A 59 euro subscription offering 20–50% discounts on all food, cosmetics or care products available online. Profitability and savings guaranteed.

This was followed by a first fundraising of €50,000 in 2017. Kazidomi is growing, expanding the size of its stock and developing its marketing. Everard hired her first two employees. Sales grew rapidly and literally exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Consumers suddenly had time to think about their health and well-being and were doing most of their shopping online," she adds.

How did you reinvent yourself?

The post-crisis period was a turning point. "Kazidomi had to reinvent itself. We wanted to have financial stability and avoid any dependence on external resources," continues Everard. Together with her teams, she looked at their cost structure, operational efficiency and marketing. After these reflections, the aim was no longer growth at any price, but the company's long-term viability and financial health, thanks to an intelligent reorganisation.

Two acquisitions would subsequently enable Kazidomi to boost its growth, creating significant synergies: "Smart Fooding" in August 2022 and "Bébé au Naturel" a few months later, a business specialising in healthy products for babies and their parents. "With Bébé au Naturel, we doubled the volume of orders sent out," adds Everard. "This has allowed us to get a better rate from our carriers and reduce costs."

A responsive and attentive bank

As the Brussels start-up’s bank, BNP Paribas Fortis granted it three loans for its launch, between 2016 and 2019. This support came naturally, with Kazidomi’s commitments in terms of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives perfectly aligned with the bank’s strategy. "We joined the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation Hub programme and our relationship manager – who knew the start-up environment extremely well – was immediately enthusiastic and very attentive. He believed in our project, followed it closely, advised us to participate in a series of events to meet other players whose background and profile would be of interest for us," explains the Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.

But the support didn't stop there. "In December 2022, it was thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis, among other things, that we were able to acquire “Bébé au Naturel”. Start-ups like Kazidomi need a high level of responsiveness from their bank. When there is a company to buy, or another opportunity, things have to move fast. Analysis of the file, provision of funds: BNP Paribas Fortis has always been responsive and enthusiastic and has supported us in 99% of our requests," says the CEO enthusiastically.

Eight years since launching, Kazidomi today has 4,000 products that it delivers across Europe. The Belgian start-up makes 90% of its sales on its website and 10% via external resellers, such as Delhaize.

Kazidomi has also launched its own brand “Kazidomi”, which has 200 products on offer. By working directly with producers, we can offer the best possible quality products at the best price.

https://www.kazidomi.com/en

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

Cosucra is investing in the decarbonisation of its production processes. Their focus is on using plant-based protein from chicory and peas for a healthy and less polluting diet.

Belgium’s Hainaut-based Cosucra has been operating since 1852. The company is quite small with 365 employees, but its activities have evolved over time. From the 1980s onwards, sugar beet processing gave way to chicory and yellow peas. Also, sugar was replaced by inulin and pea protein.

"Many families lack the time to put a fresh meal on the table every day. With our products, the industry can offer them easy, quick and nutritious meals," says Eric Bosly, CEO of Cosucra. "Nutritionists stress the importance of fibre and plant proteins for health, and such a diet has a positive impact on our carbon footprint."

New investors

To take their decarbonisation a step further, in 2023, the company launched a seven-year investment plan worth EUR 150 million. “We are keenly aware of the climate crisis, so we wanted to make this transition fast,” says Bosly. “That's why we brought three investors on board who share our values and are willing to commit in the longer term.”

Long-term relationship

Cosucra and BNP Paribas Fortis have a long-standing partnership. "The bank has supported us in expanding to Denmark and the United States. It's of great value to have the same contact person for setting up the financial structure of subsidiaries, opening accounts abroad, etc. We also meet regularly, which means we can count on the expertise of teams specialised in the food industry. Their macro vision complements that of our local account managers who know our business well."

Same market conditions

Cosucra’s efforts will result in a 55% reduction in CO2 emissions within three years. Yet, decarbonisation is just one of Bosly’s bold ambitions. "We are pushing for the same market conditions as animal proteins. Why, for example, is 20 per cent VAT levied on pea-based milk while for cow’s milk, this figure is under 6 per cent? Plant-based products are also more expensive because you can't achieve economies of scale due to the lower quantities required. If you consider all the “negative external effects” of animal products on human health and the environment, our sector deserves support until we reach a certain scale."

Change of mindset

The entrepreneur also laments how the retail sector uses meat as a decoy product, lowering its margins to offer consumers an attractive price. "In times of inflation, that price difference is all the more detrimental to us. This is why a change of mindset is essential. Nutritionists say that a weekly serving of just 200 to 250 grammes of meat is enough to get the nutritional benefits with no negative impact. But at the moment, most Belgians consume 200 grammes of meat per day."

Bosly also cites competition from imported agricultural products as an obstacle.

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

"The European Green Deal aims to reduce inputs by half, leading to the ban of many herbicides, among other things. Farmers should be supported in this transition. And a company like Cosucra, which buys chicory and peas within a 200-kilometre radius, is not on an equal footing with strong Chinese competition."

Since 1796, Brepols has been producing diaries that allow you to better plan your time. The team is fully committed to people, the planet and prosperity.

"From Turnhout to a branch in Paris, our 110 employees create tools that help our customers manage their time better. And that benefits their work-life balance," says Finance Director Philippe Pissens. "Quality, craftsmanship and creativity are at the heart of our products. Brepols’ diaries, calendars and notebooks are not disposable products - they easily last a year. We also make business leather goods under the Maverick brand and and we have launched a brand-new collection of high-quality notebooks under the brand name "de KEMPEN". In addition, we distribute the famous Moleskine notebooks. Finally, there are our bookbinding activities," he says. Brepols’ main markets are the Benelux and France.

Financially on track

Since starting out in 1796, Brepols has seen many trends and developments come and go. The last few years have been marked by growth. This is thanks to the Financial Director, who came on board in 2000. With turnover of EUR 17.4 million in 2021, EUR 19.6 million in 2022 and EUR 20.8 million last year, the company is clearly on the right financial track. "These figures are not just a result of price increases. We are a strong company with a solvency of 70 per cent, which means that we only finance 30 per cent with external funds," he explains.

More than planting trees

"Since 2009, we have only used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-labelled paper. For every tree cut down, a new one replaces it. But there's always room for improvement. In 2022, we launched a project group comprising staff across the company. We call it P3, because we focus on people, the planet and prosperity."

The project group analysed the company’s strengths and weaknesses, with the employers’ organisation Voka acting as a sounding board. “We certainly didn't want to make the mistake of greenwashing,” says Pissens. Specifically, Brepols developed 18 action points, which means it already covers nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to a charter, there is a code of conduct that suppliers must sign and respect. Other initiatives include focusing on local production, limiting residual waste, reducing energy consumption and developing a HR policy that takes diversity and inclusion into account. “The aim of this project group is to create internal and external support and communicate clearly with all our stakeholders.”

Fluid organisation

"Honesty and transparency towards our employees are top priority," Pissens continues. "We have intensive consultations with them, both formal and informal. We deliberately opt for a fluid organisational model, between the hierarchy and the self-managing teams, and there has been a high level of participation. This is crucial as a quarter of our employees will be retiring in the next three years. In this context, we also purchased cobots, which makes the work less physically demanding for our staff."

Clear communication

Pissens emphasises the importance of clear communication to all stakeholders, including its financial partners, such as BNP Paribas Fortis. "The bank has become key to our business operations. We provide our relationship manager with detailed figures and keep her up to date with our sustainable ambitions. Our contacts at BNP Paribas Fortis not only provide us with information about financial products; they also give us tips, such as measuring our energy consumption and the possibilities for subsidies to install solar panels, for example. We have an effective two-way communication. Our collaboration has grown into a real partnership. In our business, paying attention to Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) aspects is the benchmark in every consultation," Pissens concludes.

Quote

"The bank has become a key figure in our business operations”
Philippe Pissens, Finance Director Brepols

Brepols is ready to change the world. Discover even more great stories from entrepreneurs.

Article

06.05.2024

Ecosteryl decontaminates medical waste

Thanks to its low-pollution solutions and the arrival of new investors, the Mons-based company has every intention of continuing to grow. Discover more about this inspiring success story.

Eradicate the environmental and health problems associated with medical waste on a global scale: Ecosteryl's ambitions match the technical expertise of this Mons-based company. Founded in 1947, its core business was equipment and machinery for the mining industry. Around twenty years ago, it completely reinvented itself by specialising in the treatment of (potentially) infectious waste from the healthcare sector.

A global player with high-profile clients

Today, Ecosteryl is a globally recognised player in its sector, exporting 100% of its production to more than 65 countries. Its customers? Hospitals, of course, but also organisations in the waste recycling sector and international institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as cities and states. The company employs around forty people and has an annual turnover of over €20 million.

Medical waste, a critical public health issue

Syringes, dressings, masks, sharp instruments... 15% of medical waste is considered hazardous and therefore requires special treatment. Given that a single hospital bed produces between 0.5 and 3 kg of this waste every day, it's easy to imagine the scale of the problem. The infectious, toxic and sometimes even radioactive risks associated with hazardous medical waste are far from minimal: among other things, it can trigger or accelerate a pandemic, and even give rise to new diseases. Decontamination and recycling of this waste, the only solution to eliminate this health risk, is therefore a global public health issue.

An environmentally responsible process

Direct incineration or autoclaving: these are the two methods used by Ecosteryl's competitors to decontaminate hazardous medical waste. The problem is that these processes are far from being environmentally neutral. Incineration causes significant CO2 emissions and harmful emissions, such as dioxins, and is also energy intensive. And autoclaving requires large amounts of water and energy, again with significant environmental consequences.

It is in this area of the environmental footprint that Ecosteryl has made a difference, thanks to a technological breakthrough developed in collaboration with the University of Paris. The decontamination and recycling process uses microwave and dry heat technology to disinfect hazardous waste. The decontaminated waste is then shredded to reduce its volume, after which it can be processed in the same way as non-hazardous waste. Or better still, it can sorted and recycled.

This process requires very little electricity to operate, and its environmental performance compared to incineration and autoclaving is incomparable in terms of emissions and water consumption.

Too much plastic in medical waste: recycling instead of prevention

Single-use plastic products, equipment and utensils are a fact of life in hospitals. In many cases, this single use is justified, for example for syringes. The problem arises when this waste is directly incinerated. But thanks to pre-treatment, decontaminated and dried waste can be given a second life.

Until now, there has been no machine for this final stage. Ecosteryl's latest development, R-Steryl, fills this gap. It is a unique sorting centre. Placed after the decontamination machines, it can sort decontaminated waste and recycle up to 80% of it. The major players in waste collection and treatment know that recycling is and will be a real challenge in the coming years. Ecosteryl is also positioning itself as a key player in this field, and is investing in a number of analyses to this end.

Private equity to accelerate development

Despite its size in the medical waste decontamination sector, Ecosteryl has no intention of slowing down. The company intends to continue and accelerate its international growth, and welcomes new investors: BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity,  Wallonie Entreprendre and IMBC, an investment company focused on the Mons, Borinage and Centre regions. Philippe Dufrasne, Chairman of Ecosteryl, comments:  “With these new shareholders, we have found the right partners to help us stay ahead of the game and achieve our long-term goals, particularly in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) performance.”

A priority to invest in the transition of companies

BNP Paribas Fortis is also enthusiastic about this new project.

“We are particularly proud to support this company, which has developed a unique expertise in the production of cutting-edge equipment specialised in the environmental field. Over the years, Ecosteryl has succeeded in expanding worldwide in a niche market at the intersection of environmental and health issues. This investment is fully in line with our ambition to invest €1 billion in venture capital by 2025, focusing on funds and companies that respect environmental, social and governance criteria,” explains Raf Moons, Head of Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis. 

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