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.”
Ingrid Daerden of Aedifica is the new ‘Trends CFO of the Year’
With this award, which was presented on 20 October for the tenth year in a row, Trends and BNP Paribas Fortis are highlighting the achievements of a Belgian CFO.
Ingrid Daerden of Aedifica won the award this year, succeeding Nicolas De Clercq of Kinepolis. She owes this to a miracle 2020 in which, despite corona, Aedifica raised more than 700 million euro and got a Bel-20 listing.
In addition, the Walloon biotech group Univercells received the award for ‘Deal of the Year 2021’. Univercells raised 120 million euro from a number of prestigious investors and is preparing an IPO.
Ingrid Daerden’s great track record at Aedifica
The jury named Ingrid Daerden ‘CFO of the Year’ because of her contribution to the strategic development and financing of Aedifica’s growth. Since she joined Aedifica as CFO three years ago, the healthcare real estate specialist has enjoyed remarkable growth. During that time, the 47-year-old commercial engineer paved the way for seamless financing and built her finance team into a solid foundation for Aedifica’s growth. In 2020, the healthcare real estate company became a fixture on the Bel-20, raising over 700 million euro in capital. In June this year, it raised another 286 million euro, and in September Aedifica issued a 500-million-euro bond. In times of COVID-19 this all went smoothly. The jury also saw the integration of sustainability and ESG criteria in the financial policy.
Ingrid Daerden won over four other outstanding candidates: Charles Jacques of Masthercell, Jean-Pierre Mellen of Recticel, Nadia Messaaoui of Technord and Geert Peeters of Greenyard.
Univercells wins the 'Deal of the Year 2021'
For the third time, Trends also awarded a prize for the ‘Deal of the Year’. All mergers or acquisitions and capital operations (initial public offering, capital increase, private placement, etc.) in which a Belgian company was involved in 2020 qualify for this award. Univercells received the award. The Walloon biotech group managed to persuade KKR, an American investment company, and funds linked to the foundations of Bill and Melinda Gates and Georges Soros, to enter into its capital. This complex operation earned Univercells the ‘Deal of the Year 2021’ award.
Since 2012, BNP Paribas Fortis and Roularta have been highlighting the exceptional qualities of CFOs in Top 500 companies in Belgium. The jury’s choice is primarily determined by the strategic vision and leadership shown.
Deliverect, Odoo and Abriso-Jiffy win the Private Equity Awards 2021
On 13 October, our bank and the Belgian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association put the spotlight on these companies, as they achieved remarkable growth thanks to private equity.
A number of fast-growing Belgian companies were once again honoured at this year’s Private Equity Awards. This event highlights the role that venture capital investors play in the growth of both start-up, fast-growing and mature companies. Raf Moons, Head of Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis, represented our bank in the jury.
The jury had the difficult task of choosing one winner from three nominated companies for each of the three categories – Venture, Growth and Buy-out.
- The ‘Venture company of the year 2021’ category focuses on young companies developing and marketing an innovative product or service with the support of a venture capital investor.
- The ‘Growth company of the year 2021’ category is for companies that expanded their business significantly through organic growth or an acquisition policy. They brought a financial partner on board without the latter aiming for control.
- The ‘Buy-out company of the year 2021’ category focuses on the transmission and growth of companies achieved by management and a private equity investor with a controlling stake.
- Venture company of the year: Deliverect
This fast-growing SaaS company connects delivery platforms with food companies around the world. To help companies manage their delivery and pick-up operations more efficiently, Deliverect integrates food ordering platforms into the cash register system, eliminating the need to re-enter orders and the costly errors that come with them. Deliverect was founded in 2018 and is headquartered in Ghent. It employs more than 200 people.
Deliverect emerged as the winner because the company has achieved enormous growth in the short term. The company is active in 38 countries and, therefore, certainly has the opportunity to become a global player within its sector. The delivery and takeout solution developed by Deliverect is crucial to the restaurant industry and became very relevant during the pandemic.
Other nominees in this category were AgomAb Therapeutics and Imcyse.
- Growth company of the year: Odoo
Odoo is a suite of open source business apps that cater to all business needs: CRM, e-commerce, accounting, inventory, point of sale, project management, etc. Odoo has more than 7 million users, located in more than 120 countries. The company has over 1,700 employees, was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in Grand-Rosière (Walloon Brabant).
For the jury, the resilience shown by the company in recent years was one of the decisive factors in selecting Odoo as the winner. A deciding factor was also the quality of its products, which are not only very modern but also very user-friendly. Finally, the company, firmly anchored in Belgium, has a large international reach with its presence all over the world.
UgenTec and Univercells were also nominated in this category.
- Buy-out company of the year: Abriso-Jiffy
Abriso-Jiffy has evolved from a local 'bubble & foam' manufacturer to a leading European group specialising in sustainable protection and insulation materials for the packaging and construction sector. The group was founded in 1985, is based in Anzegem and employs approximately 1,500 people across 15 production sites in 11 European countries.
This company was chosen by the jury because of its track record. First of all we are talking about a successful turnaround, followed by the entry of Bencis Capital, the acquisition of Jiffy and finally the very attractive exit. This journey was accomplished by a broad-based team. In addition, ESG criteria are deeply embedded in the company’s business model, making Abriso-Jiffy a true ambassador for the Private Equity Awards.
In addition to Abriso-Jiffy, Corialis and Circet Benelux were also nominated.
Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking and Member of the Executive Board of BNP Paribas Fortis:
"As co-founder of the Private Equity Awards, we have organised this event now for the fourth time. On the one hand, to highlight successful Belgian growth companies and, on the other hand, to show how private equity can help companies. Not only innovative scale-ups, but also companies that wish to make the transition to a more sustainable business model through extra investment, have a natural need for capital. This type of investment often only pays off in the longer term. That is why, as a bank, we believe it is important to assist companies with this through our private equity offering. In this way, we can make a positive contribution to the Belgian economy and to society. We are actually freeing up additional resources for this and intend to double our private equity portfolio to EUR 1 billion by 2025."
Read the full file on Private Equity in Trends-Tendances:
- Full portrait of the winners in Trends/Tendances (Dutch/French)
- Interview with R. Moons, Head Private Equity BNPP Fortis and P. Demaerel, Secretary General at BVA (Dutch/French)
- Interview with B. Peeters and Q. Masure from Tiberghien (Dutch/French)
- Interview with M. Thumas and J. Van Assche from Eight Advisory (Dutch/French)
- Interview with M. Herlant and S. Spitaels, Associaties EY Strategy and Transactions (Dutch/French)
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
Which Belgian companies will win the Private Equity Awards 2021?
On 13 October, together with the Belgian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (BVA), we will present awards to three companies supported by private equity or venture capital. Discover the candidates.
This fourth edition once again recognises successful Belgian companies that used private equity or venture capital to finance their growth. BNP Paribas Fortis is also supporting the Private Equity Awards for the fourth time as a member of the BVA. The bank will both host the event and serve on the jury.
Raf Moons, Head of Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis and juror: "We believe it is important to reward the growth companies in question and also highlight private equity's usefulness as a financing solution. Private equity is an excellent tool to boost the economy. For 40 years now, we have used it to offer companies opportunities at all stages of their life cycle. Besides this, BNP Paribas Fortis also supports companies that aim to use additional investments to increase their sustainability. This type of investment will only show financial returns in the longer term, which is why we wish to support them through our private equity offerings. In this way we can make a positive contribution to the Belgian economy and to society. We are actually freeing up additional resources for this and intend to double our private equity portfolio to EUR 1 billion in the next five years."
Pierre Demaerel, BVA Secretary General: "In the past few years the global private equity market has grown considerably. In Belgium, 1,400 deals amounting to over EUR 10 billion altogether were concluded in the past six years. And this trend is increasing. It involves EUR 1.5 to 2 billion annually. However, we have noticed there is a wider audience that is still insufficiently familiar with the possibilities offered by this form of financing. That is why for the fourth time, the BVA is proud to be highlighting, together with partner BNP Paribas Fortis, several Belgian companies that have exhibited remarkable growth thanks to the support of private equity or venture capital investors."
Who will follow in the footsteps of iStar Medical, Cegeka and Destiny?
The jury has nominated nine companies. There are three nominees each for the categories 'Venture Company of the Year', 'Growth Company of the Year' and 'Buy-out Company of the Year'. The jury will announce which companies they feel have achieved the steepest growth trajectory in each category on 13 October. We are pleased to introduce the nominees:
- The ‘Venture Company of the Year 2021’ category focuses on young companies developing and marketing an innovative product or service with the support of a venture capital investor.
- AgomAb Financials is a Ghent-based biotech player that develops drugs to repair damaged human tissue.
- Deliverect, also a company based in Ghent, creates software that allows restaurants to manage their online orders and integrate these into their existing cash register system.
- Imcyse is a Liege-based biopharmaceutical company that pioneers the development of a new class of immune technologies for the treatment of serious auto-immune diseases.
- The category ‘Growth Company of the Year 2021’ is for companies that expanded their business significantly through organic growth or an acquisition policy. They brought financial partners on board without the latter desiring control.
- Odoo from Ramillies in Wallonia develops open-source management software for SMEs. With over 10,000 fully integrated apps, the company offers solutions for the full automation of business processes.
- UgenTec from Hasselt develops pioneering lab software for the automation of DNA analyses, making it possible to detect respiratory infections, STIs and various types of cancer much faster.
- Charleroi-based Univercells develops technologies for the production of low-cost and large-scale vaccines. This company has won the confidence of many (inter)national investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- The category ‘Buy-out Company of the Year 2021’ focuses on the transmission and growth of companies achieved by management and a private equity investor with a controlling stake.
- Anzegem-based Abrios-Jiffy is a leading manufacturer specialising in the extrusion of sustainable, innovative, protective and insulating materials for the packaging and construction industry.
- Corialis in Lokeren designs and manufactures high-quality, technologically advanced aluminium systems for in-wall (windows, doors, sliding elements, roofing systems, curtain walling), indoor (partition walls, walls, fire protection doors) and outdoor (balustrades, greenhouses) applications.
- Esas from Wilrijk, which will be renamed Circet Benelux in future, is a service provider for the installation, maintenance and management of smart devices in sectors such as telecom and energy. The company also handles the construction and maintenance of coax, optical fibre and mobile networks for large telecom companies.
- Robovision: “Within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent”
- Ingrid Daerden of Aedifica is the new ‘Trends CFO of the Year’
- Deliverect, Odoo and Abriso-Jiffy win the Private Equity Awards 2021
- Belgian gaming industry gets a big push
- Which Belgian companies will win the Private Equity Awards 2021?