Interview: BlueChem to become Antwerp's incubator for sustainable chemistry

Antwerp has the second largest cluster of chemical companies in the world, so it is only logical that this is where the first incubator for sustainable chemistry will open its doors in 2020. BlueChem will be an ecosystem where new chemical companies can find a network, support and equipped labs. Some fifteen small organisations that have outgrown the start-up phase will come into contact with each other and with major players in the sector. This cross-fertilisation gives them every opportunity to grow and exchange knowledge.

Blue Gate Antwerp as a breeding ground for sustainable chemistry

Frank Beckx is the Chairman of BlueChem and Managing Director of essenscia vlaanderen, the chemistry and life sciences sector federation. “With BlueChem, we are concentrating on young companies working on sustainable chemistry: turning waste back into valuable raw materials, looking for renewable chemicals or developing solutions for the climate problem. By providing the right framework, BlueChem wants these promising innovations to grow until they are ready for the market.”

“The incubator is an ecosystem in which young chemical companies are given opportunities to grow”

BlueChem is coming to Blue Gate, formerly the Petroleum Zuid site. “A prime location,” explains Leentje Croes, Manager of BlueChem, who takes care of the day-to-day management of the incubator. “Antwerp is very well known for its chemical cluster, so there is already a great deal of know-how. But we also want to put Antwerp on the map as an innovator in the chemical sector. BlueChem will thus also collaborate with large companies, universities and other high-potential starters. It will become an ecosystem in which cross-fertilisation is possible, and exchange is a matter of course.”

Infrastructure and guidance

There will be room for some fifteen companies at BlueChem. They can rent offices and labs there. Frank Beckx: “Those labs are very well equipped. We have three that can be used immediately and twelve other labs that companies can set up according to their wishes. These are real chemistry labs, unlike the laboratories in biotech incubators, for example.”

“BlueChem is more than a lab or an office. It is a place to network, exchange expertise and develop.”

Leentje Croes: “At BlueChem we want to offer more than just an office or a lab. It happens too often these days that a promising young company stops because it does not have enough financial resources or because it cannot successfully apply the product of its research. Thanks to the collaboration with the partners, we can also support them in this. For example, the City of Antwerp offers the companies at BlueChem financial support for equipping their laboratory. Deloitte, Laga, BNP Paribas Fortis and the Port of Antwerp are our other partners. They provide services and advice if one of the companies requests it. And Catalisti, the spearhead cluster for innovation in chemistry and plastics, will have a permanent office at BlueChem. They will provide access to a broader network. All these contacts ensure that companies can find each other and exchange knowledge.”

Such a state-of-the-art incubator costs a lot of money. Fortunately, BlueChem has the support of the EU through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). BlueChem has received €3.4 million from this fund. Flanders is also giving over €860,000 in support via the Hermes Fund, and the City of Antwerp, VITO and POM are also investing in BlueChem. The City of Antwerp has a fund to support companies as well.

Leentje Croes is currently holding initial discussions with interested companies. If you think you might be eligible for a place at BlueChem, please contact Leentje Croes on 0472 88 97 76 or by email at: [email protected].