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.

 

DiSummit 2019 in a nutshell and why it’s a place to be on June 26th!

Interview by Tatiana Donets with Philippe Van Impe

On June 26th the AI4Belgium & Data Science Community will hold their 5th annual Summit. You can expect a day packed with innovative ideas and discussions, lots of networking opportunities and perhaps most importantly a chance to have fun with professionals from a wide array of backgrounds. .

This is already the fifth time you organise the DiSummit. Why did you decide to dedicate this year edition to the theme of « Being human in the age of AI »?

Philippe Van Impe: Last year we developed the theme of « AI demystification », showing that in Belgium we have been active in the AI domain for over twenty years and lived through two AI winters already.

The year before we were focussing on « Data4good initiatives » (or how we can use data to build a better world).

Taking into account what was going on at European level (for example the work of Natalie Smuha coordinating a European agreement called Draft Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI), as well as different local initiatives such as #AI4Belgium, it was natural that the human side of AI would get a podium this year.

In my opinion it is a good, positive theme that will promote AI and explain that it is not a “dangerous” thing.

What will be the main topics covered during this edition?

Philippe Van Impe: We will mostly focus on how to drive ethical AI into business and corporate world. We will also host the AI-awards – showing that today Belgium has a lot of start-ups using AI as a main differentiator to their product.

On top of this we’ll keep the formula that worked well last year:

  1. Big networking event of the entire #AI4belgium and Datascience community.
  2. Thirty one-hour workshops and master classes.
  3. More than forty inspiring presentations.

Speaking of ethics: lately we heard a lot about a biased AI raising a question of gender and racial discrimination. In your opinion how can the AI contribute to promote gender or equality for example?

Philippe Van Impe: The first conference we organised five years ago turned out to have 85% of male speakers. In 2016 we have already counterbalanced this by focussing on women in AI.

Having a gender-balanced agenda is just normal and is something that we want to achieve, even if the ladies are a little bit less proactive in proposing pitches. It is our task as a community to motivate them to share their ideas. This will automatically lead to a more balanced agenda where other topics are being put forward.

To answer your question it is clear that AI could include additional test to make sure that obvious bias is taken out of the equation. I have seen different start-ups promoting the fact that they are an ethical AI company.

Can you name some of your keynote speakers?

Philippe Van Impe: This year we have forty-five outstanding speakers. Here are some of them:

  • Luc Julia – worked on Siri and is currently driving innovation at Samsung.
  • Stephen Brobst – advised Obama on Bigdata issues and is now CTO of Teradata.
  • Caroline Pauwels & Yvon Englert –working hard to promote bilingual education in Brussels
  • Lorelien Hoet will explain us the basics of Ethical AI.

Europe is considered to be way behind USA and China in terms of AI race. How do you see a possible contribution of Brussels and Europe to AI development?

Philippe Van Impe: I believe we are well positioned in terms of our education system. Certainly in Belgium quantitative sciences are amongst the best taught subjects.

The fact that we are in the middle of the Ethical AI discussion will help us a lot: already today we see this topic presented to the students in the different data science courses.

We cannot compete in the R&D area. Certainly US, with its universities and companies, such as Google, Amazon, Apple, are far ahead – most of the AI innovations will come from there.

China, on the other hand, is stronger in using technology in practical cases. They are better in rolling out the technology. I believe that it is where we can make a difference as well.

Our country is a complex country with different rules and languages, so if you develop a solution here it will automatically include all the possible alternatives needed to deploy in any other country.

In your opinion may this event be of interest for general public outside Data science and AI community and why?

Philippe Van Impe: Yes, of course. Everyone uses AI today, so it is good for people to understand its limitations. During the event we will demonstrate many different applications where AI is used.

And finally can you give us your three main reasons to attend DiSummit 2019?

Philippe Van Impe: Because it is the annual event of the AI4Belgium and datascience community.
There are many reasons why you should come to DiSummit 2019 but if I have to choose, here are my main three:

  1. To inspire your team with real live business cases.
  2. To learn new techniques and develop new ideas in the workshops.
  3. To meet opinion leaders and be part of the AI4Belgium network.

Anything else you would like to add ?

Philippe Van Impe: Yes I would like to thank all our partners over the past years we are still working with the same partners but their number has increase at each event. Special thanks to:

  • all communities & meetups groups that are contributing each year to the success of this event
  • the speakers and trainers who are going to share their experience with all of us
  • the structural partners icity.brussels, hub.brussels, digityser.org, AI4Belgium and Accenture.
  • The numerous partners who are always supporting our activities

 

About diSummit:

On June 26th the AI4Belgium & Data Science Community will hold their 5th annual Summit. You can expect a day packed with innovative ideas and discussions, lots of networking opportunities and perhaps most importantly a chance to have fun with professionals from a wide array of backgrounds.

Like last year our event will take place at the ULB in Brussels in building K. On the main stage we will have 45 esteemed speakers who will seek to inspire you and 6 other parallel tracks. We have also prepared 12 master classes on topics as diverse and critical as ethics, recruiting and architecture as well as 12 workshops for the more hands-on people .

Furthermore, the Job fair will be bigger and better than ever before! There will be a space for the regional AI-initiatives and like last year a partner village will be on the ground floor.

In addition to this, this year we are adding the AI Awards to reward the most interesting AI-projects and the most promising AI-startup.

more info: disummit.org – Facebook – Twitter  – Linkedin – Instagram – Youtube

Datascience meetup on Legaltech

 

We had in total 175 people registered for S05E03 meetup of the #datascience community of Brussels. 3 legaltech companies demonstrated how they are using datascience to offer better legal services.

Our speakers explained that the data in the legal industry is mainly words and explained us their approach to process vast amounts of unstructured data through Natural Language Processing techniques (NLP).

The event was held in the clubhouse of the AI & Datascience community at DigitYser on February 7th, 2019. Like always it started with a happy hour at 18:00. All presentations were recorded by Ricardo head of the technical team of DigitYser and made available on our different channels. YoutubeTwitter – Facebook.

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Presentation 1 started at 19:00:

How Reacfin proposed to use NLP and deeplearning to check conformity of legal and contractual documents in the re-assurance business.

Reacfin explained us a use case in the re-insurance business. They used NLP to automate the review of huge contracts. Aurélien Couloumy, head of data science, led us through their step by step approach to tackle this issue using Spacy.

Screenshot 2019-02-09 at 15.07.03

Presentation 2 started at 19:25:

How Jetpack.AI won the #hackBXLaw in November 2018.

The winners of the hackathon on debt recovery, Jetpack.ai, explained their problem solving approach that led them to win the contest and develop their tool: Magpie.

Dodo Chochitaichvili and Gautier Krings explained us how lawyers and data scientists worked together using an agile methodology & KISS principles  where the first iteration was the production of a skateboard.

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Presentation 3 started at 19:50:

Darts-IP explained how AI combined with high quality data is revolutionising Intellectual Property practices.@

The managing director of Darts-ip, Evrard Van Zuylen, and the data scientist, Vignesh Baskaran, aka Vicky  introduced the technology they develop to create a comprehensive database on patents around the globe. They explained the data science process management that lead to their competitive advantage. ”

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#DISUMMIT2019

We are please to announce that the call for speakers is out

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Your Invitation for the #datascience Jobfairs on 15/11 and 20/12 + HIVHACK + First Anniversary Celebration

Dear community member,

Here is your personal invitation for 4 data related events and also some information about the JobFair that you could share with your recruitment team.

About the JobFair:

The data science community is organising 2 jobfairs in order to present our datascience bootcampers that will be available in a few weeks.

more info: di-academy.com/job-fair/

dates: November 15th & December 20th (followed by the first anniversary celebration)


How to register:

  • If you want to test out what the community has to offer we invite you for free, please use this link to register to the next jobfair on Thursday 15th November.
  • If you are already a partner and you want to use your 50% voucher, please use this link .

 

About the HIVHACK :

We are happy to invite you to our yearly data4good hackathon that will be held at DigitYser.

more info: hivhack.org

date: November 23 & 24th


How to participate:

You can register as a team or register individually. We have prepared different use cases to allow you to jump onto an existing idea or you can develop your own idea.

We are also looking for additional technical coaches and some jury members, so if you have some time to spare for a good cause on saturday please call me.


How to register:

Registration for individuals are Free.

If you want to register your team up to 5 people using your company name you can also.

If you are already a partner and you want to use your 50% voucher, please use this link

 

About our first year anniversary celebration:

You are kindly invited to join us to celebrate the first anniversary of DigitYser.

more info: celebrate year1

date: December 20th 18:30

Registration is Free

 

Kind regards,

Philippe Van Impe