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New business park in Wallonia to attract Chinese innovation to Europe

Dec 16, 2016
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China's first business incubator in Europe in Louvain-la-Neuve aims to help companies in both countries to expand into each other's markets

How do you lure more Chinese innovation to Europe? Build an ‘intelligence valley’ where hightech companies can set up shop, work side-by-side with industry peers and researchers and develop their technology for the European market. That’s the vision behind the future China-Belgium Technology Center (CBTC) business incubator in Louvain-la-Neuve, set to be ready in 2018.

Building work was due to start in October, several years after Wallonia’s Export-Investment Agency AWEX and the Walloon Science Parks Association opened the China Welcome Office in Mons and a Belgian Welcome Office in Wuhan, to help companies expand into each other’s markets.

The CBTC will do the same on a much grander scale for some 200 companies active in fields such as green technology, electronic commerce, and the Internet of Things network connecting objects like home and car electronics and remote health monitoring systems to the internet. Half of the companies will be Chinese, the other half from Europe.

Chinese investors will provide €200 million in funding for the project via the United Investment Group. Investors are the Hubei United Development Investment Group and JuXing International Technology, a consortium of the Wuhan Eastlake International Business Incubator (Whibi) and Wuhan Technology Investment. “We’re all confident that the CBTC is the best opportunity for Chinese companies to explore the European market in a great environment and find new business opportunities,” said Zhang MinRong, general manager of UIG Europe.

On the Belgian side, AWEX played a key role in getting government support for China’s first business incubator on European soil. “As the first Chinese technological showcase of its kind in Europe, the CBTC will tighten the bonds between European companies – particularly in Wallonia – and Chinese companies,” CEO Pascale Delcomminette said in June.

After several years of planning, the project is moving ahead quickly. Building work will start later this year, four months after construction began on a public road that will traverse the entire CBTC site. It will be strategically located inside the Louvain-la-Neuve Science Park with access via the E411 highway on one side and the national N4 road on the other. Architecture firms from both countries are collaborating on the design and planning: from the Belgian side, Brussels’ Bureau Architecture Engineering Verhaegen.

Fostering partnerships

Most importantly, proximity to the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) will allow companies to work with the academic community – and with each other – to test their technologies and get them ready for the market. With that goal in sight, Wuhan University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology, also in Wuhan province, are already collaborating with UCL on research.

The ultimate aim of the CBTC is to foster commercial and technology partnerships between Chinese and European companies. Philippe Barras, managing director of the Louvain-la-Neuve Science Park, said the location was chosen for three main reasons: proximity to Brussels, UCL’s status as a world-class university, and the fact that there is already an existing science park with some 4,000 researchers active in new technologies, life sciences and ICT. The CBTC will also complement a small community of Chinese students studying in Brussels and Louvain-la-Neuve and will work closely with the China Welcome Office in Mons.

Besides helping Chinese companies gain a foothold in Europe, the CBTC aims to open doors for start-ups from Wallonia and Europe in China, a market that has huge commercial potential but is tough for newcomers to crack on their own.

Within the incubator, firms will have access to offices, laboratories and a service centre with rooms for seminars and dining. There will also be a 160-room hotel for Chinese visitors here on short assignments as well as the public. Companies that choose to set up in the incubators will also get business support and advice, including paperwork and finding housing.

Of the 1,600 jobs expected to be created, about 60% will go to Belgians and the rest to Chinese, all providing a boost to the local economy. “The arrival of foreign companies brings a whole new international dimension to the region,” said Paul Magnette, minister-president of the Walloon region, in June. “That will generate sustainable employment opportunities.”

The facts

What? The China-Belgium Technology Center (CBTC) business incubator
Where? An 8.3-hectare site at Louvain-la-Neuve Science Park near the N4 Who? UIG-Europe. Investors are Hubai United Development Investment (90% shareholder) and JuXing International Technology (10% shareholder), an investment consortium of the Wuhan Eastlake International Business Incubator (Whibi) and Wuhan Technology Investment When? Completion scheduled for 2018.

The figures

€200 million - total investment amount.
97,000 square metres - area of business incubators + hotel
200 - number of companies expected (50/50 Chinese/European)
1,600 Jobs to be created (60% Belgian, 40% Chinese)

This article first appeared in WAB (Wallonia and Brussels) magazine

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