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.”
Export Lion Award still going strong after 20 years
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) will be presenting its Export Lion Award for the 20th time on 29 September. As well as recognising strong export results, FIT also wants to use these success stories to inspire other companies to cross borders themselves. This is something that BNP Paribas Fortis, as a sponsor of this event, 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 the 20th edition of the Export Lion Award.
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."
How can companies prepare for this?
"By learning in advance as much as they can about the rules that apply to their new foreign market. Companies can turn to domestic institutions, such as FIT's foreign branches or their banker, to help them with this. They will help new exporters find their way around the very complex international world. I also recommend hiring a local agent or representative. This can help to resolve any bottlenecks that can't be resolved easily from home. 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."
How do companies that would like to start exporting learn about a new market? What advice can you give them?
"You learn about new markets simply by visiting as many foreign counterparties as possible. Don't bite off more than you can chew – take it one step at a time. I always say to new exporters: exports are great, but getting paid is even better. The risk of non-payment is still underestimated too often, even by companies that already have extensive international experience. We always recommend customers map out the worst-case scenarios in advance and incorporate the necessary mitigations. Prevention is better than cure!"
How can exporters better protect themselves against unforeseen circumstances?
"The COVID-19 pandemic showed how important diversification is, both in terms of supply or production of goods and in the choice of export countries. Economically, it may seem more advantageous to manufacture or import from a country far away with cheap labour, but always make sure you've got a back-up plan."
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."
Find out who will be crowned winners of Lion Export Award 2021 during the livestream on 29 September at 6pm. Register in advance at www.leeuwvandeexport.be or visit the website on the day itself.
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 2021
Optimise your working capital with factoring
How can you keep your working capital healthy while incorporating the requisite financial flexibility? Factoring helps you to finance your cash requirements in a proper, timely and suitable way.
Securing liquidity is the key to financing your working capital requirements and keeping your business running smoothly at all times. That's exactly what factoring offers.It is a structural solution for optimising working capital. In the video below (in Dutch) in less than half an hour you will gain a clear picture of what factoring has to offer.
If you prefer to watch the video in French, click here.
Factoring: a tailored structural solution
In exchange for transferring your invoices to an external factoring company, you can count on fast, flexible financing, monitor the collection of your invoices, and protect yourself against potential bankruptcy among your customers. Each factoring solution is tailored to fit the needs of your business. This includes companies operating at international level. In Belgium, one in six companies currently outsource their invoices to an external factoring company. The same trend is evident in other European countries.
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.
Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation
Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.
Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.
Reconciling ecology and economy
The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
1,000 sustainable solutions
Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.
The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.
Expertise from our bank
To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.
One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.”
Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”
Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition
“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.
At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.
The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.
The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”
Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
- Robovision: “Within five years artificial intelligence will have become omnipresent”
- Export Lion Award still going strong after 20 years
- Optimise your working capital with factoring
- Will you be Entrepreneur of the Year 2021?
- Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation