Ghent-based AM-TEAM breaks new ground in sustainable water cycles

Ghent-based start-up AM-TEAM received the Water Innovation Europe Award 2021 doing groundbreaking work on sustainable water cycles.

As a Ghent University spin-off, the Ghent start-up AM-TEAM received the prestigious Water Innovation Europe Award in June 2021. With their computer simulations for optimising production and purification processes, AM-TEAM plays an important role for water, pharma and biotech companies all over the world. The City of Ghent had an inspiring conversation with Wim Audenaert, CEO and co-founder of the successful company.

We challenge the status quo in process engineering for optimal use of resources.

Wim Audenaert, AM-TEAM

How did AM-TEAM start and what is the mission of the start-up?

The Ghent University spin-off AM-TEAM was the initiative of 4 like-minded colleagues who noticed the same gap in the market. Alongside the exciting business opportunity, we were also aiming to have a significant, lasting impact on the process industries such as water, pharma, food and biotech. We have big growth ambitions. AM-TEAM is a group of complementary people who tackle major challenges together. We challenge the status quo in process engineering for optimal use of resources. It is our mission to achieve global impact in all process industries and in doing so to establish a sustainable vision for the (bio)process industry.

Our mission was awarded the Water Innovation Europe Award. AM-TEAM received this prize for the computer model AMOZONE, which we use to predict how pharmaceutical residues can be removed from wastewater. Renowned experts suggested it was impossible. That’s exactly what drives us to make a project successful. Achieving the seemingly impossible.

But AM-TEAM also has other great ambitions. On a societal level, our goal is to achieve a bigger impact with several hundred employees by 2030. On a social level, we want to offer our talent an environment where they are happy and find meaning, passion and purpose. We’re a company with a heart.

What does Ghent-based AM-TEAM do exactly?

AM-TEAM improves production and purification processes and stimulates faster innovation of the process industries. To do this we work with computer simulations to create very realistic replications of real-life situations. Based on our expertise in mathematical process modelling and our knowledge of the processes, we offer unique computer models worldwide. Our digital version of real installations offers the flexibility to see how we can improve existing installations, make future installations smaller and save costs and energy.

Why did you choose Ghent as the location for your innovative start-up?

Our team thrives on great international talent. These people have the motivation to make Ghent their new habitat. There is a vibrant international ecosystem where people easily connect with each other. The excellent international reputation of Ghent University plays an important role in the attractiveness of the city. Our story is set in Ghent and this is an advantage that makes it sellable to the rest of the world. Ghent is the most beautiful and at the same time most genuine city in Belgium.

With the ‘starterscontract’ of 5,000 euros, a subsidy aimed at companies just starting out, the City of Ghent gives young companies a valuable boost. The City of Ghent is passionate about entrepreneurs, and you can feel it. As a new entrepreneur you invest blood, sweat and tears into your mission to change the world. There is no better place to do that than in an environment that shares the same values. Ghent is where I found that.

What importance does AM-TEAM place on talent and expertise in its recruitment policy?

The war on talent is a fact. Everything revolves around talent. In the past, companies selected their talent; nowadays applicants choose the company they want to work for. Part of that process is assessing all aspects of a company. Not focusing on impact, sustainability and corporate culture is not an option if you want to attract talent. With this kind of company culture it is also easier to retain talent effectively so you can build up the necessary expertise and embed it in your company. This combination opens the door to growth. And growth is what AM-TEAM needs to achieve its mission.

Was it always AM-TEAM’s goal to work internationally? And is that easily achievable from Ghent?

AM-TEAM wants to contribute to a better world. This kind of mission can only be played out internationally. At AM-TEAM we work digitally, which gives us the opportunity to operate remotely. For example, we recently completed a project in New Zealand for an optimal drinking water production process in Auckland. We never met that customer in person and were therefore never present on site. Our way of working means that this is perfectly possible.

On the other hand, Ghent is a charming place to receive international clients. The city, gastronomy and history offer the full package for a successful meeting with customers and prospects. For example, Dutch customers love the Belgian beers and admire the city’s medieval towers. This beautiful backdrop makes it an ideal location to plant the seed of valuable customer loyalty.

As a Ghent entrepreneur, have you noticed that the City of Ghent aims its policy at spearheads like biotech, cleantech, digitech and healthtech?

Absolutely. Ghent cannot be beaten in the way it combines its passion for people, the environment and a modern society with entrepreneurship. AM-TEAM recently moved to the brand-new CAPTURE building on Tech Lane Ghent. We’re currently the only ones there, but I predict a biotech and cleantech hub that will put Ghent even more firmly on the world map.

The future of capitalism, I believe, is about improving the world, with entrepreneurship as leverage. Sciencepreneurship combines extensive academic expertise with entrepreneurial spirit to develop disruptive visions. Ghent University plays an important role in this. The City of Ghent is holding all the cards to be able to create an international testing ground for cities of the future.

AM-TEAM is focusing on water reuse for a sustainable future. Are other companies also turning to sustainability? And what do you think can be even better in the future?

Water reuse will indeed be a hot topic for the next ten years. I expect that even more companies in and around Ghent will start working on this. For example, I personally follow BOSAQ closely. I take my hat off to this level of complex, high-stakes entrepreneurship. Their goal is to make water reuse internationally mainstream and extend their impact to developing countries.

Then there is the Nieuwe Dokken (New Docks) project with local energy generation and water reuse. Local projects like these accelerate the global sustainability mindset. I believe Ghent is the place to be in terms of water reuse and sustainable water cycles. But in my humble opinion, Ghent can be even more disruptive. For example with a demo project where wastewater is converted into drinking water on a larger scale. The United States already made a start on this years ago, but in Europe it would be groundbreaking.

We believe that converting wastewater into drinking water is the holy grail. What do you think is missing to build on this in Belgium and Europe in the coming years?

As is so often the case, such innovations are best created during a crisis, such as in Southern California. The challenge is not of a technological nature. It is perfectly possible to safely convert wastewater into water of even better quality than drinking water. The real challenges are political and psychological in nature. I have the impression that in a democracy, the leaders follow the people and not reverse. It is therefore key to enthuse the population with technology and to use demonstrations to get people excited about what we as humans can achieve. An inspired population creates the support for large-scale development. My question is which city will lead the way in this. Ghent has everything it needs to make it happen: knowledge, politics, vision, a sustainability culture and top entrepreneurs.

Ghent is a city with a future. On so many levels.

Wim Audenaert, AM-TEAM

Why would foreign investors be interested in the Ghent economy and Ghent tech companies?

Ghent is a city with a future. And Ghent has the ambition to be one of the most progressive cities. In the future, important companies will be joining us on Tech Lane Ghent. These kinds of developments indicate that the economic activity of tech scale-ups, start-ups and cleantech is becoming extremely important. Ghent is well on its way to becoming one of the most important cities in Belgium and Europe. For investors, this is a unique opportunity.

What is your top tip for anyone wanting to start a business in Ghent?

Find a location that aligns with your company values. Ghent has lots of great places for new businesses, such as Dok Noord and Tech Lane Ghent. As an entrepreneur, from the very start it is important to align the location of your company with the company culture. Also use the power of the city to welcome customers. A city like Ghent helps create a strong image for any company.