Brussels loves AI

Why Brussels is the best place to open a European HQ for tech companies.

A recent report from EY shows that 2018 was an absolute record year for attracting foreign direct investments (FDI). A total of 278 foreign investment projects were initiated, representing a 29% increase on the previous year and creating an all-time high number of jobs (7,363). With this increase, Belgium is going against the European trend. More than 1500 international companies’ HQ are now already established in Brussels. The capital of Europe has everything a company needs: an open economy, business incentives and services, a strong infrastructure, and a talent pool of multilingual, highly skilled professionals in all sectors. Being the world’s 2nd most cosmopolitan city and located at the crossroads of Western European cultures, this is actually not very surprising.

Belgium has also essential assets regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI). 
It has a tradition of world-class AI researchers, some of whom were at the cradle of artificial intelligence. Additionally, Belgium ranks 9th in the “Digital Economy and Society Index” within the EU with a society that largely embraces AI as a novel and promising technology rather than a threat.

The Brussels Region had a pioneering role in AI since long before it became a buzzword, hosting, for instance, the first academic laboratory dedicated to AI in Europe at the University of Brussels. The most active research groups are The IRIDIA laboratoryThe AI Experience Centre  and The Machine learning Group

Hugues Bersini

Prof Dr Hugues Bersini, founder of the AI lab of the ULB

 

Ingrid Daubechies

Prof Dr Ingrid Daubechies, The most cited Belgian mathematician, recognized for her study of the mathematical methods that enhance image-compression technology

 

Belgian employees are among the leaders in the use of artificial intelligence in the workplace. 54% of employees are already confronted with artificial intelligence at work or expect this to happen in the next two years. The Belgians are also predominantly positive about the use of AI at work. More than six in ten say that AI has a positive effect on their productivity. 

The Brussels Region also supports companies in their AI endeavours, both from innovation, technical, finance and a business point of view.

  1. Innoviris, the Brussels Region funding body, has been providing significant support to AI-related research and innovation, steadily ramping up its support programs in this field, with a dedicated budget of € 20M over the past 2 years. In particular, an AI call (“Team Up”) aimed at fostering collaboration between academia and industry was launched in 2017. This program reflects the Brussels Region approach to AI development, which emphasises collaborative research and open innovation.
  2. For the technical aspects, one can mention the leading role of Sirris Brussels, through its Elucidata laboratory, and of the Icity.Brussels technology hub, both co-funded by the Brussels Region and ERDF
  3. The finance.brussels group SRIB/GIMB aims at providing financial support for the creation, reorganisation or expansion of private companies located in the region. In addition to investment, they support entrepreneurs in all phases of their company’s development. BRUSTART provides financial solutions to young innovative companies that are in the launching or starting-up phase. It supports technological innovation through the seed-capital fund, which is directed towards spin-offs.
  4. As for the business aspects, the Region Brussels Capital launched in 2017 the Nexttech.brussels plan coordinated by hub.brussels and gathers main entities involved in AI in the Region. Moreover, hub.brussels and its cluster software.brussels provide tailor-made support and advice.

 

One other important aspect of the Brussels is their support for the Tech communities. The Region expects to continue building on the success of the Data Science Community, made of AI experts and practitioners. This community counts several thousand members and organizes more than a hundred events per year and one European Data Innovation Summit.
The region has co-financed a dedicated tech and starter Hub called DigitYser where communities can gather to boost their digital skills and raise awareness on AI and data literacy. 

DigitYser also is the regional driver of AI4Belgium the community-led approach to enable Belgian people and organisations to capture the opportunities of AI while facilitating the ongoing transition responsibly. AI 4 Belgium has the ambition to position Belgium in the European AI landscape. We are currently assisting the newly elected government to define their AI strategy based on the European recommendations.

The Brussels’ AI strategy is based on 6 pillars

  • Data literacy and AI training for all
  • Support R&D and promote innovation
  • Setting up a responsible data strategy and promote open data
  • Promote the use of AI in the private industries & SME’s
  • Promote the use of AI in the public sector
  • Position Brussels as the driving AI city of Europe 

More skills development is made possible with the development of new training programs, namely with the Microsoft AI School, the Big Data Bxl and AI Black Belt initiative.

3 tech hubs are promoting AI actively:

  • Becentral – The digital campus of Brussels
  • Betacowork – Coworking and Community for freelancers & entrepreneurs.
  • DigitYser – The home of the AI & datascience community in Brussels

Brussels and Antwerp are in the top 15 hubs of artificial intelligence talent in Europe, according to a new report from the international venture capital firm Atomico. That is one of the conclusions in ‘The State of European Tech‘, a new report from venture firm Atomico and the Finnish tech conference Slush published in 2016. Atomico and Slush use LinkedIn data as a source for their conclusions. To be more precise: cities with the highest amount of LinkedIn members with AI skills.

Our main argument is that Brussels is also a very pleasant place to live and a family-friendly environment blessed with a welcoming heart. A business city teeming with opportunities, but also a relaxing home, ideal for enjoying life’s sweeter side. Lying at the crossroads of Western Europe’s cultures while being home to so many citizens from all over the world definitely makes Brussels a human-sized global city where local culture and cosmopolitanism get along perfectly.

So in summary here are the top 7 reasons to put Brussels in your shortlist:

  1. Located in the centre of Europe, 
  2. Low cost of living and high quality of life,
  3. Available AI talent at an acceptable price 
  4. Top universities and innovation programs, 
  5. Practical Regional & Federal support, 
  6. Very active AI communities and expert groups
  7. Tech & starters’ hubs to host and support your new venture  

Looking at this it is not surprising that Brussels has become the best place to open a European HQ for a tech company.

 

About the author: 

Philippe Van Impe is the driver of the AI & data science community of Belgium, the founder of DigitYser – the tech & starters’ hub of Brussels and a business coach for companies who wants to start their European HQ in Brussels.

 

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