Making innovation happen at Innova Flanders
Innova Flanders is coming to ICC Ghent on 15, 16, and 17 June.
Innova Flanders, the international conference that aims to inspire businesses with technology and innovation, is landing in Europe for the very first time and has chosen the ICC in Ghent as its temporary base of operations.
On 15, 16 and 17 June, you will have the ideal opportunity to identify the opportunities for strategic growth not only within your company but also to accelerate that growth. Innova Flanders is not just a congress, it is a path where you take big steps through inspiration, innovation and education.
We spoke with Don Keleman from Ghent, who is the Executive Director for IXL Center Belgium, organising the event for Global Innovation Management Institute (GIMInstitute).
For those who have never heard of Innova Flanders, what can people expect?
We really want to show how to bring about innovation. We do not want to organise a fair that shows you which latest technologies to buy. No, the idea is to show companies, organisations and even governments how they can work on innovation from the core. From the core, they can then spread this knowledge throughout the organisation. Moreover, it is not a sector-specific conference. We invite speakers with expertise in different industries.
We will combine inspiration sessions with detailed break-outs. These break-out sessions are linked to innovation management, open innovation, ecosystem innovation and social innovation.
The idea is to show companies, organisations, and even governments how they can work on innovation from the core.
We link these – quite specific – sessions to the training course on the last day. On this final day, we offer the participants the chance to complete an innovation track, for which they can eventually receive an Innovation Professional Certificate. This makes the last day the most impactful day. The training will be given by Hitendra Patel, CEO of IXL. In the past, he was responsible for the innovation departments at Motorola, Artur D. Little, and also the Monitor Group. Let’s just say that he is considered to be the guru of innovation. In our opinion, this training program is a great added value to the conference!
For those participants who are already certified, we offer company visits. For these visits, we focus on larger companies, more for inspiration.
This makes the last day the most impactful day. The training will be given by Hitendra Patel, CEO of IXL.
You are not a novice: there have already been several Innova conferences in other countries. How do you plan to expand this international concept?
After our Innova Boston in the US, this year we are organising the fourth edition of Innova Latams in Carthagena, Colombia. We are also considering organising Innova Dubai and Innova South East Asia in 2023.
Our goal? To create an international group of innovation conferences that will take place annually. This will enable an exchange between speakers, partners, and companies. We want to hold an annual Innova conference on every continent, in the same city.
We have plenty of experience, thanks to the organisation of The Best of The Best Conferences at Arthur D. Little, a consultancy founded at MIT. Those conferences also focused on innovation and can be seen as the precursor to this fair.
It is the first year that there is an Innova Flanders. Why did you choose Ghent as the host city?
Well, it was a happy coincidence. We were looking for a European foothold and this coincided with the City of Ghent’s communication to become the next capital of technology in Europe. Moreover, Ghent is very centrally located and is home to a number of companies that are very prominent within their niche. After further discussions, it turned out that it could actually be a perfect interaction: there is local attention for international players in innovation and international attention for this great city. Meanwhile, more and more ecosystems are getting involved in the organisation and we hope to welcome a representative from each.
We were looking for a European foothold and this coincided with the City of Ghent’s communication to become the next capital of technology in Europe. Moreover, Ghent is very centrally located and is home to a number of companies that are very prominent within their niche.
How can Ghent grow within its role as technology capital of Europe? Where do you see room for improvement?
Especially the coordination between all of these local ecosystems is crucial. That will allow a steady growth and I am convinced that is where most of the opportunities lie. Ultimately, we already have the knowledge and the talent, if we look at pure development and capacities regarding the sectors in which the Ghent region already has a strong reputation on an international level. Most people just don’t realise that yet. I think for most people artificial intelligence, innovations in healthcare, and so on are still far removed from their day-to-day reality. We, Ghentians, should not be so modest. We are all afflicted by a sort of natural timidity when there is no need for that. We should be bragging about our achievements, such as the recent news of our own unicorn in Ghent, Deliverect. We can definitely improve on that. In the US, for example, everyone knows how innovative the Netherlands are, whereas Belgium is very quickly forgotten. They only know about our beers and chocolates (laughs).
It definitely won’t hurt to make people more aware of our pioneering role in these fields of expertise and also to further connect the tech clusters. Therefore, we hope that Innova Flanders will bring together various people from different fields. People often ask me “Why combine Cleantech with Healthtech AND Digitech AND Biotech?”. Ultimately, these technology clusters can learn a lot from each other. With combined strength, they might be able to accelerate existing projects.
The City of Ghent can certainly facilitate this knowledge sharing. Someone who is working on a project within biotech, for instance, may be familiar with a project within Healthtech and bring these different actors together. Another example is facilitate meetings with the heads of the various clusters, to meet on a monthly basis, so that everyone is up to speed with the developments within the various clusters at a high-level level. The impetus for this is the Ghent Economic Board.
We, Ghentians, should not be so modest. We are all afflicted by a sort of natural timidity, when there is no need for that. We should be bragging about our achievements!
What are the ambitions for Innova Flanders over the next years?
We want to create a measurable impact that does not subside after one conference. We definitely want to expand and strengthen the network we are building. The goal is to become one of the - if not thé - biggest conference(s) in the field of innovation on a European level. Over the next years, we would like to attract even more reputable speakers and international talent to Innova Flanders. Eventually, we would also like to hold a conference in which we offer the general track that we are currently doing alongside, for example, a Healthtech-track. However, for a first edition, post-Corona, this was a bit too ambitious.
In time, we want to include all important stakeholders in the programme for each cluster, with attention to diversity: small start-ups, but also educational institutions, governments, and larger companies within the region. Our international example is Maker Fair in Rome. It is phenomenal that they have managed to grow from a few thousand to 250.000 attendees in 10 years’ time.
Finally, what is your best tip for anyone who wants to start a business in Ghent?
Firstly, I would look at the local organisations that can help me. I would specifically focus on my potential target audience and the approach by the current players in that market. For example, if you want to work in digital – there is a huge digital cluster in Ghent, by the way - look at the companies that are active within this technology and try to contact them.
After that, I would focus on the many advantages Ghent has to offer. Via the website of Ondernemen in Gent, you will find all kinds of things for a starting entrepreneur, such as the Starters Contract. There is also the possibility of working together with the City of Ghent as a start-up, via the Stadsleverancier. And there are many events in the region where you can find inspiration, such as Innova Flanders and The Big Score.
The most important thing, however, is to dare to take the leap and be persistent. Trust that your perseverance will be rewarded. Do not be afraid to ask for help or to be supported! As soon as you are part of a network or can expand your network yourself, you are launched.
And last but not least, do not forget to focus on innovation within your company! How can we as a company and as employees make the difference and how can we make sure we are ready for that? As a starter, I would particularly focus on the buzzword 'longevity'. The ageing of the population is a trending topic. There are even reputable authorities saying that the children born today will live to be 120 to 125 years old in a healthy way! The impact on any industry will be huge. Nicola Palmarini from NICA will give an interesting presentation on this subject at our conference, which I am very much looking forward to.
The most important thing, however, is to dare to take the leap and be persistent. Trust that your perseverance will be rewarded.