City of Antwerp © Sigrid Spinnox
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Antwerp is attracting more and more start-ups. Dealroom’s report reflects an upward evolution in that the ecosystem is in full swing. Since 2017, an increase of 127 percent has been recorded and the counter stands at 718 start-ups, with a current value of 2.5 billion. This makes Antwerp one of the largest start-up hubs in Belgium. What makes this city so interesting for start-ups? We let three speak from the fashion sector.

Antwerp has the largest number of start-ups in Belgium. The many investments in Antwerp start-ups translate into growth figures. An extensive ecosystem for start-ups and many investments ensures strong figures and a top position in rankings. Antwerp start-ups already raised a total of 161 million euros, a tripling of capital withdrawals compared to 2017. Several large capital rounds from Venly, Rombit, and Nobi provided these great numbers. “It’s great to be an alderman of a city where such figures are presented,” said Erica Caluwaerts, Antwerp alderman for economy, industry, and innovation. “We encourage that entrepreneurial climate very much as a city, with all kinds of projects, calls for innovation, and support for start-ups. But it’s the drive of the entrepreneurs and their employees that makes Antwerp an economic success story.”

New innovation cluster

As many as 33 percent of the Flemish so-called impact start-ups, companies committed to sustainable development goals, are based in Antwerp. In total, there are some 18 sustainable start-ups in Antwerp, with a total value of 170 million euros. A large proportion of those sustainable start-ups focus on energy issues, followed by health, food, and finally real estate. Health, the city of Antwerp’s new innovation cluster, has raised the most funds since 2017 with a total of 106 million euros. This can be linked to pandemic control through Vaccinopolis, which Antwerp is pushing hard for, and the Bluehealth Innovation Center.

Innovative business city

As an innovative business city with international ambitions, Antwerp focuses primarily on innovation in the digital, circular, and health economy. For each of these three innovation clusters, the city has built an ecosystem of hubs (including The Beacon, BlueChem, and BlueHealth Innovation Center), companies, knowledge institutions, and governments that are being further developed. That ecosystem, as the figures also show, is on a steep rise compared to other cities. Due to the thorough and qualitative support, the city offers to its entrepreneurs, its popularity continues to rise.

Rise within international rankings

Antwerp is clearly on the rise within international rankings. In this year’s prestigious ‘European Cities and Regions of the Future 2023/24’ rankings by fDi Intelligence, Antwerp scored a top 10 place in 6 of the 7 categories. The City of Scheldt can once again count itself among Europe’s top entrepreneurial and innovative cities in 2023. In the ‘human capital & lifestyle’ category, too, the city immediately makes it into the top 10, thanks to Antwerp’s high level of education and talent. According to Arcadis, Global Sustainability Index, Antwerp ranks a fine 27th for its commitment to sustainability, ahead of Singapore, Geneva, and Barcelona. In terms of sustainable fashion, Antwerp is even 2nd in Europe, according to a study by Reebok.

Reactions from start-ups

A lot of start-ups see great opportunities in Antwerp. Pursuit Femmes, for example, is an Antwerp start-up in the fashion sector that started up in the middle of the corona crisis. The company makes tailored clothing for women. Joy Van Der Heijden, Marketing Director at Pursuit Femmes, sees many advantages in Antwerp as a start-up city. “Antwerp is into innovation and innovative ideas and supports them incredibly hard,” says case manager Joy Van Der Heijden. “There are also a lot of initiatives from the University of Antwerp to support young start-ups. We followed a course at the Chamber of Commerce on fashion. We learned more about the business plan, customer acquisition, and pricing. It was interesting to do that with like-minded entrepreneurs. At the bank KBC, they also coached us.”


© Polygonal BV

Antwerp-based start-up Polygonal has developed the technology “Shape Optimization” using a digital library of digitized sewing patterns. This digital library contains sewing patterns, whether contemporary, ethnic, or historical, that you can obtain on your own measurements. “Antwerp is a city known worldwide for fashion,” said Polygonal’s business manager Samira Lafkioui. “It was the ideal location to start our project. Antwerp has opportunities in terms of universities, fashion academies, product development, and research. There are many companies and institutions within the sector of fashion that can provide a boost for organizations. Antwerp is a springboard for new technology. Antwerp has a lot to offer young startups. We have an interesting life in the port. There are many interesting businesses open to innovation. The job of the city of Antwerp is to bring everything together. There are many opportunities in Antwerp. A match can arise between many worlds which in turn brings new projects.”

Circular fashion

Finally, Okret is committed to circular fashion: within the fashion sector, they act as a one-stop shop to switch to the circular economy. The start-up offers knowledge, software solutions, and operational support allowing fashion companies to organize the resale of unsold inventory and second-hand items under their own name. In doing so, they get real-life data to learn how to optimize their future design and production processes. The young company sees many advantages in a city like Antwerp. “Antwerp is betting more and more on growth as a fashion city,” says case manager Sara Kovic, “and what we are doing is definitely interesting for the city’s international image. There are numerous networks and agencies that strengthen start-ups. We notice that the city is also actively seeking connections with mature companies.”