‘ITF is the pinnacle of technology’

Antwerp will become the global capital of digital technology for two days in May. The Imec Technology Forum Belgium (ITF) is the international conference on nano- and digital technology. Organiser, imec, is bringing a score of international visitors and must-see speakers to Antwerp.

John Baekelmans (Vice president of imec): ‘Over two days, we are showing our global partners what is happening in the digital world. We show them the results of our research (imec is a research centre focused on nano- and digital technology – Ed.) and put them in contact with each other. The atmosphere is very open, everyone learns from each other and discovers what is happening in the world of cutting-edge technology. We have a large demonstration floor with fifty technological demonstrations. Our partners can meet the right people here. Many of them even stay in Antwerp and Belgium all week just to meet people. ITF is the pinnacle of technology.’ 

The drawing power of Antwerp

‘We are proud that ITF is taking place in Antwerp; it’s the second time. Antwerp has the infrastructure and the appeal for organising an event like ITF. There is so much economic activity here, the choice speaks for itself. We organise ITF in San Francisco, Tokyo and Taipei too, but ITF Antwerp is our biggest event worldwide. Partners from all around the world come together here. And of course, Antwerp is a very beautiful city for organising something like ITF. You don’t find a location like FMCCA (Flanders Meeting & Convention Centre Antwerp) every day. With the Antwerp Zoo and the Koningin Elisabethzaal concert hall, we have the choice location for this event, including a dinner for two thousand people.’

Great potential

‘Antwerp is becoming more and more of a player in the field of digital technology. There is an unbelievable amount happening here. That’s why we pitched our tents for longer in Antwerp and are building the City of Things together. The goal is to make the city smarter. But you also have the Capital of Things, of which we are the co-founder (and that will make Antwerp into an eco-system for the Internet of Things (IoT) – Ed.). Plus, there’s The Beacon, the hub for IoT where we, together with the University of Antwerp, have become the first residents. We have noticed, in the city and the people living here, there’s a great willingness to make Antwerp better and keep it liveable. Antwerp also has great potential in the field of digital innovation. I regularly hear that other cities are jealous of it.’

Digital technology is based on creativity

Health and the smart city

‘The hot topics in the field of digital technology are based in health, the IoT and smart cities. As such, we are developing a chip that can track down cancer in blood within fifteen minutes. And, together with a few international universities, we are working on chip technology for tracking down and solving Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. The smart city is a different domain. Through anonymous camera images and artificial intelligence software, we analyse traffic streams in the city. We can direct them with an eye on better mobility and air quality.’

The fastest, not the biggest

‘Digital technology is based on ideas, on creativity. In this world, it comes down to speed. This is why you don’t have to be a big company. With today’s technology, a one-man-business can beat a giant. And as a research institute, we always need to think two steps ahead. If we aren’t any faster than the industry, our work is meaningless. Because we are faster, companies can be fast too.’


In 2018, Antwerp had twice as many start-ups and scale-ups than in 2012. This is a remarkable finding: in 2018, these innovative companies raised up to four times more capital for their business growth than six years earlier. With this, the city of Antwerp demonstrates a clear ambition: within six years, the city wants to occupy a place in the European top 10 scale-up cities.
On 14 and 15 May international experts and entrepreneurs are coming together at FutureSummits in Antwerp to discuss the future of Artificial Intelligence. FutureSummits is a technology event organised by the leading research and innovation centre imec. “Artificial Intelligence will make our way of working and living more efficient for entrepreneurs, residents and cities”, explains John Baekelmans, Vice President of imec. It’s no coincidence that FutureSummits is taking place in Antwerp. imec believes Antwerp has a pioneering role to play in AI as the smart city of Flanders.
Antwerp is a booming hub for digital innovation. The city was invited at SXSW (South by Southwest), a prestigious conference about music, film and technology in March 2019 to present the role of Antwerp as startup city.