Biogazelle is playing a huge role in the shared battle against the coronavirus. In record time, the Ghent biotech company has developed a test for detecting infections.
Since 2007, Biogazelle has offered support to the pharmaceutical and medical industries. The company develops revolutionary techniques for tasks such as detecting new illnesses, multiplying tiny amounts of genetic material to create analysable samples.
“In just 10 days, we have come up with an extremely sensitive coronavirus detection test,” says CEO Mieke Van Acker. “Our speed and flexibility have amazed the big pharma companies. We started with 2,000 tests a day, and that number has already shot up. But we are still a long way from our limit.”
To drive capacity even further, Biogazelle has invested in a robot. “Very soon this will automate certain manual operations,” the CEO explains. “Inactivation of the virus is currently done manually. By automating this step in the process, we will significantly increase efficiency.”
Biogazelle is part of a coronavirus consortium established by minister Philippe De Backer that also includes three large pharma companies and a university. “We are joining forces to further increase the testing capacity in our country,” says Mieke Van Acker. “Such a collaboration is unprecedented.”
Every link is crucial
According to Van Acker, every link in the chain is equally important. “We ourselves are supported by Ghent University, UZ Gent and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology. We have help from volunteers, and industry colleagues have also offered test apparatus.
But the financial support from BNP Paribas Fortis is as valuable as the scientific aspect.” This financial support consists of a credit line and leasing agreement. Biogazelle will also make use of BNP Paribas Fortis Factor, a series of solutions aimed at optimising work capital and the resulting financial needs.
#StrongerTogether: wearable tech guarantees distance between workers
The Antwerp technology company Rombit has developed a safety bracelet for workers in ports and industrial settings. This guarantees social distancing, and also allows for contact tracing in the event of coronavirus infections.
Since 2012, Rombit has developed digital applications for maritime businesses, port terminals, the industry and building sites. Its software and hardware solutions aim to make operational activities more efficient, safe and dynamic. For the purposes of social distancing, the company has now launched a smart bracelet: the Romware Covid Radius.
“This wearable tech guarantees 1.5m distancing,” explains CEO John Baekelmans. “If two employees get too close to each other, it sets off an alert. Thanks to contact tracing, a prevention advisor or confidential counsellor can check which colleagues an infected worker has come into contact with. Their privacy is 100% guaranteed. That is unique.”
The Romware Covid Radius is a variation on the existing Romware ONE: a bracelet that brings together 20 safety functions, including access control, an incident tracking system and an alarm for approaching vehicles. In just two weeks, Rombit optimised a derivative solution that facilitates safe working during the coronavirus outbreak.
“An extensive test of the Romware Covid Radius is being carried out in the Port of Antwerp,” says Mr Baekelmans. “Roll-out to other businesses will follow and they will integrate our safety bracelet into their new way of working. There is already huge interest at home and abroad. We are talking with some major players in the industrial sector.”
In response to the great interest in the Romware Covid Radius, Rombit has already markedly increased its production in Taiwan. Mr Baekelmans also expects a growing need for short-term financing. “Close cooperation with your lender is essential,” he says. “In BNP Paribas Fortis, we have a good partner.”
“Rombit is part of the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation hub,” says relationship manager Conchita Vercauteren. “With the hub, the bank supports innovative start-ups and scale-ups that are contributing to a better society. The fact that Rombit wants to distribute its coronavirus solution so widely and at as low a cost as possible clearly testifies to social responsibility.”
#StrongerTogether: BeWell Innovations screens for coronavirus infections
The Antwerp scale-up BeWell Innovations has developed an app that screens the risk of coronavirus infections. The company has also launched a platform that monitors patients with mild symptoms at home and sends their details to the hospital treating them.
Using a questionnaire, the Covid@Home app assesses symptoms that could indicate coronavirus infection. Based on the answers, it estimates the risk of infection and advises the user on whether they should contact their GP. BeWell Innovations does this using an algorithm it developed with the expertise of UZ Gent. The app is also overseen by the government.
The young company has also placed self-test kiosks in hospitals. “They combine a questionnaire with measurements of temperature, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and weight,” explains CEO Alain Mampuya. “This is how an initial triage takes place, leaving doctors and nursing staff to concentrate on the people who are actually infected.”
The Covid@Home platform has a monitoring system that allows patients with mild coronavirus symptoms to recover at home in a controlled way. “They have to complete a questionnaire every day and register vital parameters such as temperature, blood pressure and oxygen saturation,” says Mampuya. “These details are automatically sent to the hospital.”
Thanks to this digital tracking, patients and doctors can be assured of close monitoring. The information is translated into specific alarm signals: based on these, medical staff can decide to hospitalise the patient at any time. The platform also makes remote consultations possible via videoconferencing.
Support from the bank
BeWell Innovations is part of the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation hub. “This is a community of promising start-ups and scale-ups,” explains relationship manager Conchita Vercauteren. “As a bank, we approach them differently to traditional businesses: we focus on the future and not on the past. We want to contribute to useful innovations for our society.”
“BNP Paribas Fortis has played a crucial role in our growth,” says Mampuya. “The financing of a start-up or scale-up is not without risks, and the bank has always stuck its neck out for us. As a result, BeWell Innovations has been able to do its own thing, without being dependent on an investment group.”
Greater flexibility and lower costs thanks to mobility budget
Solving traffic congestion problems will require a broad range of solutions The mobility budget is one of these.
Is there a solution to traffic congestion? Constructing more roads is not the answer, because they will become congested as well before long. How about imposing a toll on freight transport? While this is supposed to reduce the number of lorries on the road, their place will probably be taken by passenger cars. Not only that, but a toll may make delivery vans even more popular than they already are. By 2030, the number of kilometres spent on the road by these vehicles will rise by 43%. The Planning Office estimates that the rise in duty on diesel will do little to combat congestion.
Many experts consider company cars to be one of the main culprits. They believe that the treatment of company cars is far too generous in Belgium. Both the OECD and the European Commission have criticised the tax benefits associated with company cars in our country. "Half the cars on Belgian roads are company cars", people sometimes claim. This is simply not true. The CVO (Corporate Vehicle Observatory) requested the registration figures for the Belgian vehicle fleet from FEBIAC (Belgian Federation of the Car and Two-wheeler Industries):
- Belgium has some 700,000 light commercial vehicles and 930,000 other vehicles (buses, lorries, motorcycles, etc.).
- However, passenger cars actually account for the lion's share of vehicles on the road, at 5.6 million. Of these, 4.48 million belong to private individuals and just 1.12 million to companies and self-employed professionals. It is clear, then, that the latter are not the only culprits when it comes to creating congestion. Abolishing tax benefits for company cars alone will not resolve the issue altogether.
A change of mentality
There is no miracle cure. The solution is like a jigsaw – it has multiple pieces. A change of mentality is required above all else. Perhaps you would like to encourage your employees to choose the most efficient, least polluting and reasonably priced mode of transport for every journey. A mobility budget would make this a possibility in the future. The experts at Arval Belgium, one of the major players in the lease market, are preparing a suitable approach. Els Costers (Sales Director at Arval Belgium):
"The concept is simple. Instead of giving employees a car, parking space, rail pass or rental bike, they receive a mobility budget. This budget enables the employer to set an agreed amount to be spent by the employee on a range of transport options: company car, public transport, bicycle, pool car, etc. The employer specifies the budget size and the means of transport available. The employer and employee also discuss the types of commute that the mobility budget is intended for: commuting to work and professional travel only or private use as well."
The mobility budget has many advantages for employers:
- You are seen as an attractive employer, because you encourage a flexible working environment and you offer your employees freedom of choice and flexible mobility solutions.
- You meet your CSR targets (corporate social responsibility) by stimulating public transport usage and by reducing the number of cars deployed, kilometres travelled and litres of fuel used.
- You lower your TCM (total cost of mobility), because you have more control over your lease vehicles, increasingly pay for use rather than ownership, and reduce administrative burden.
In turn, your employees have more freedom and flexibility when organising their travel. Last but not least, it also benefits the environment. The then Flemish Mobility Minister Hilde Crevits commissioned the Mobility budget works pilot project in 2012. The project showed that employees with a mobility budget decide more often not to use a car in favour of a different mode of transport. Car usage for journeys between home and work fell by 37% among the five companies that tested this system.
The mobility budget is evidently a fantastic system. So why is it not yet being utilised all over the country? Well, proponents of the system are waiting for a new law to resolve a series of legal stumbling blocks, especially with regard to taxation and social security. The bill has already been drawn up. Els Costers:
"Today, it is impossible for an employer to make all modes of transport available to employees. The legal rules are different for professional, commuter-based and private travel, and they also change depending on the means of transport. This makes the administrative side of things highly complex and time-consuming. The mobility budget intersects all of these rules. The new law needs to resolve this. Once it is passed, things can move quickly."
Ready for the mobility budget? Here are a few simple rules to take on board.
To implement a mobility budget, an analysis needs to be made of travel habits and the way in which the organisation functions. This analysis enables you to see which combinations are desirable, feasible and profitable.
Involve social partners when introducing a mobility budget.
The following combinations are now feasible from a tax perspective:
company car and tax-free company bicycle
company car and bicycle allowance
company car and public transport
a smaller or electric car for daily usage with a larger family car for holiday periods. In this case, the benefit in kind must be calculated according to usage.
Focus on maximum flexibility. A package such as Arval Select makes it possible for drivers of lease cars, for example, to use different vehicles depending upon their varying mobility needs.
Vehicle lease companies are also taking on the role of mobility consultants
Vehicle lease company such as Arval Belgium are evolving from pure suppliers into mobility consultants with a broad range of solutions.
What does Arval Belgium, one of the major players in the lease market, still have up its sleeve when it comes to benefiting from the new perspective on mobility? Els Costers, Sales Director:
"We are developing a mobility platform under the name Arval Mobility Link. The platform has three modules. One of these modules is the mobility budget. When this mobility budget's legal framework and uniform tax treatment have been fine-tuned, organisations will need a clear summary of the different methods of transport, prices and journeys.
The second of these is the dynamic lease budget. It is a tool aimed specifically at lease car drivers. Currently, you agree with your lease car drivers on a specific number of kilometres that they are permitted to drive each year, for example 30,000 kilometres. This maximum amount is the same for everyone. If an employee exceeds this limit, they may have to pay for the additional kilometres. If another employee is below this limit, for example 10,000 kilometres, that is unfortunate for them because the salary deduction is calculated on the basis of 30,000 kilometres per year, not on 10,000."
The dynamic lease budget works more fairly. This method is used to calculate the number of kilometres permitted to be travelled per year per employee or group of employees. This figure is calculated based on commuting distance. This means that employees who commute from Limburg to Brussels are no worse off than a colleague who travels from Vilvoorde. An employee who drives fewer kilometres records this in a savings fund, and they can then convert this amount saved into a bonus or different form of incentive. You can impose a levy on employees who spend more time on the road, e.g. 5 cents per kilometre. Employees who car pool receive another bonus. The same applies to drivers who fill up their tank at a cheap petrol station or who adopt an economical driving style.
Els Costers: "We provide the tool and help employers devise an arrangement tailored to their specific requirements. The exact arrangement depends on the targets set by the organisation: managing costs, travelling fewer kilometres, consuming less fuel, reducing CO2 emissions, encouraging employees to take part in a car pool or use other means of transport, etc."
Arval Mobility Link will be rolled out this year. That can happen quite quickly. This is what you need: an arrangement in line with your organisation's targets, a platform on which everything is registered, a black box in the lease car and... an honest employee. After all, the employee has to assign the kilometres travelled to the appropriate category on their laptop or smartphone: commute, professional, or private.
"The black box that we plan to employ for the Arval Mobility Link platform is already in use for the Arval Active Link telematics solution", Els Costers explains. "The device registers the journeys taken by the driver, the speed at which they drive, brake and accelerate, fuel consumption and so on. This can help to make employees aware of their driving behaviour and to encourage them to drive economically, defensively and safely."
Many companies have a relatively limited lease fleet. Nevertheless, they do reimburse travel expenses. The first module under the Arval Mobility Link, the travel allowance module, is designed specifically for employees without a lease car or mobility budget. This tool enables employees' travel expenses to be correctly recorded and reimbursed, explains Katrien Jacobs (business team manager at Arval Belgium):
"In many companies today, reclaiming travel expenses requires a lot of paperwork: employees bring their rail tickets, parking tickets and petrol station chits to the office, where they are then placed in a folder or, in a best-case scenario, entered in a spreadsheet. It can then take months for the requisite amount to be transferred to your employees' accounts. It is not particularly convenient. This tool allows employees to declare their travel expenses online. Furthermore, a link to the organisation's HR platform makes it much easier to reimburse these expenses."
- #StrongerTogether: Biogazelle plays part in fight against coronavirus
- #StrongerTogether: wearable tech guarantees distance between workers
- #StrongerTogether: BeWell Innovations screens for coronavirus infections
- Greater flexibility and lower costs thanks to mobility budget
- Vehicle lease companies are also taking on the role of mobility consultants