Pierre De Strycker (POM Antwerpen) : “Logistics is the third pillar of the Niel Science Park”
Log!Ville is a landmark building at the entrance to the science park in Niel. This campus, developed and managed by POM Antwerpen, is home to innovative and research-driven companies operating in the health and environmental sectors. The arrival of Log!Ville has added a third sector: logistics. Pierre De Strycker, Chief Executive of POM Antwerpen, tells us more about this motivating and inspiring working environment.
“In 2006,” explains De Strycker, “The functions of the Regional Development Agency were transferred to the Flemish provinces, which each created a provincial development agency (POM) to exercise those functions. POM Antwerpen, for example, is charged with implementing the socioeconomic policies of the Province of Antwerp. This includes creating space for business activities and supporting priority sectors. In the Niel Science Park, we are concentrating on health, the environment and now also logistics. The POM provides innovative companies – from start-ups to mature companies – with buildings where they can continue to develop. We can provide them with premises at every phase of their development.”
“Providing the right infrastructure is important to stimulate companies,” De Strycker says. “But we need to be more ambitious. We’re aiming to create a community at the park, where entrepreneurs can get to know each other. We want to encourage interaction between start-ups, more mature companies and researchers, so they can share their knowledge.”
De Strycker explains that the park is a campus combining a range of functions. “Currently, there are five buildings. One is an incubator where around twenty start-ups are based. They receive support – HR advice, for example – and share infrastructure: a reception desk, meeting rooms, an auditorium, a coffee shop/lunch room, etc. That building has an area of 2,250 m2.” Another building is Archimedes, the oldest in the park, which houses scale-ups. This business development building is 3,500 m2 in area and contains both office space and labs. The next building, Hippocrates, is home to a number of labs. These include Anicells, a spin-off of the University of Antwerp, which has a production facility for cell therapies. The fourth building houses eTheRNA, another company working on gene and cell therapy. Among other things, it’s developing a Covid vaccine.
Biotech training centre
“The fifth building will be opening shortly,” says De Strycker. “As well as a brasserie, event rooms, labs and office space, it will be home to ViTalent, the first specialist training centre for pharma and biotech in Flanders. It’s a collaboration between Essenscia, a number of social partners, VDAB (the Flemish Employment and Vocational Training Agency) and five big pharmaceutical companies. It will be equipped with a technical training room, labs and classrooms. Students, job seekers and employees in the life sciences sector will be able to take customised training or refresher courses.”
The campus concept is about encouraging ecosystems. “These networks bring together companies and academics from specific sectors or segments. For example, five years ago eu.reca – the European Respiratory Cluster Antwerp – was launched, with a focus on the lungs and respiratory diseases. It has 800 members: academics, doctors and companies. The network is managed from the science park, but its scope is much broader. Since 2019, the science park has also been home to at.las, a network supporting the development of cell and gene therapies. It now has 160 members.”
Environment and logistics
The health sector is currently the most prominent in the science park, complemented by companies focusing on air quality and water management. In total, the park is home to around 30 companies with 600 staff. The new third pillar is logistics.
“The arrival of Log!Ville in Niel means expanding the objectives of the science park,” says De Strycker. The function of the POM is to support the various priority clusters that are important to the province. That includes logistics. POM Antwerpen built the Log!Ville building at the request of VIL. It’s not just a demonstration centre where companies can see and test technologies: it’s a place for networking. It’s actually almost a campus on its own.”
“The interaction between the centre and the networks generates momentum,” says De Strycker. “And because Log!Ville is here, we hope to attract start-ups, scale-ups and growth companies to the park. The science park is 13 hectares in area. There’s still plenty of room for this new third sector to expand its presence.”