✔ world-leading conference on clusters

✔ 10+ inspirational cluster tours

workshops, roundtables & panel discussions

✔ 55+ international speakers, incl. Richard Baldwin (professor of international economics)

8-10 October 2019


Sharing equals smart innovation. Flanders, Belgium’s northern region, has practically trademarked this fundamental idea. The basic principle is that innovative companies that work in similar themes benefit greatly from being close to one another, sharing knowledge and talent, and exchanging novel ideas in informal contexts. To make this so-called ‘coffee break effect’ possible, companies unite in clusters.

These clusters, in turn, attract valuable support services. Think of venture capital from investors, advice from legal specialists as well as knowledge and expertise from talented employees, universities, research centers and more. All these elements are key to making companies’ innovative efforts successful.

But open innovation comes with a high price tag and involves risks. To lower the threshold, Flanders decided to set up a cluster policy in 2016. Through Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), the government of Flanders supports clusters with a range of operating resources. In addition, the business world is also bringing its own financial resources to the table: the government finances 50% of the cluster budget, while the participating companies take care of the other half.

The ultimate goal? By uniting in clusters, Flanders-based companies of all sizes can strengthen their competitiveness as well as their international strength in the long term. In this way, clusters form an integral part of every economic growth story.


The fact that Flanders’ cluster policy is bearing fruit and helping companies become more innovative hasn’t gone unnoticed abroad. TCI Network – the worldwide network of experts in the field of competitiveness, innovation and clusters – chose Flanders as the location for the 22nd edition of its annual conference. The world’s largest cluster event will take place from Tuesday 8 to Thursday 10 October in the heart of Antwerp, but will also pass through many other cities and municipalities in Flanders.

In addition to an opening speech by the Flanders’ minister-president, various international heavyweights will also take the floor, such as Richard Baldwin (Graduate Institute Geneva), Ulla Engellmann (European Commission), Christian Ketels (Boston Consulting Group Henderson Institute) and Denis Kovalevic (Technospark). Robin De Cock and Omar Mohout (Antwerp Management School), Koenraad Debackere (KU Leuven), Silvie Lenaerts (Antwerp University), Elvira Haezendonck (VUB) and Wim De Waele (The Beacon) will also be speaking.

As the main theme for the three-day conference, TCI Network chose to draw attention to the changing role of clusters in a continuously changing environment.

The conference mainly takes place in Antwerp, but a lot will also be happening in Beringen, Ghent, Leuven, Mechelen, Melle, Ostend and Zaventem. The aim? To bring together foreign and Flanders-based players in cluster development and innovation during inspiring cluster tours in each of Flanders’ five provinces, but also during panel discussions and matchmaking sessions. In addition to the opportunity to network with cluster organizations, companies, governments, potential investors and academics from all over the world, TCI 2019 also offers attendees a rich program, viewable at

TCI2019 Banner (high def).png


  1. Cluster organisation: how can we take the development, life cycle, guidance and government support of cluster organizations to higher levels?

  2. Clusters and regional development: what is the relationship between clusters on one hand and innovation, internationalization and start-up and scale-up development on the other? What opportunities exist to align clusters with new business models such as the social, circular and sharing economies?

  3. Cluster partnerships: how can clusters from different regions cooperate more closely and work towards the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

  4. Internationalization: what can we learn from and about clusters that have a global focus, multinational members and macro-regional perspectives?


  • When? 8-10 October 2019

  • Where? Flanders Meeting & Convention Center Antwerp (FMCCA)

  • What? Clustertours, workshops, panel discussions, matchmaking sessions …

  • Target audience? Companies, cluster organizations, governments, academic institutes …

  • Want to participate as a journalist? Contact us for a press program made to measure (see contact details below)



At the initiative of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), Flanders became a member of TCI Network in 2018. Just a year later, the region is already hosting the annual conference of this international community – partly thanks to the support of Visit Flanders. It’s no coincidence that Antwerp was chosen as the main location for this conference. In recent years, the ‘city of the Scheldt’ has grown into a world-class congress city on a human scale, where strong, international and innovative clusters are rooted.

In addition to the 2nd-largest chemical cluster in the world, Antwerp is home to three relatively new and fast-growing clusters (see below).

In this way, Antwerp’s three new clusters come together seamlessly to form a strong pillar for the city’s economic growth.

1. IOT & AI

With Antwerp University and strategic research center imec as key partners, the innovation hub The Beacon is a growing community of some 40 companies that co-develop innovative solutions and applications for smart cities, smart ports and smart industry. To this end, imec also offers its living lab, where it is collaborating with the city to create a ‘smart zone’: a testing ground for digital developments in Antwerp’s Sint-Andries quarter.

Besides Antwerp University and imec, also other partners sucs as the techfederation Agoria, the Port of Antwerp and stad Antwerpen, maintain active network connections.


Antwerp is also renowned in the fields of product development and design thinking, both major drivers of innovation. The sector is characterized by strong cross-pollination between creative entrepreneurs, digital innovators and the circular economy.

The community Antwerp.PowerdbyCreatives consists of more than 2.000 professionals. The Antwerp University is developing a new concept bringing together pre-incubation, incubation and education.


Through BlueChem, sustainable chemistry is also an important spearhead in Antwerp. In the spring of 2020, this incubator will open its doors at Blue Gate Antwerp, the first eco-efficient, water-related business park in Belgium that focuses 100% on the circular economy. Antwerp’s direct connection to a leading chemical cluster is an asset that no other European city can boast. What’s more, BlueChem will have Blue_App as a neighbor, a pre-incubator for sustainable chemistry launched by Antwerp University.


Following in the footsteps of cities such as Auckland, Barcelona, Bogota, Delhi, Cape Town, Lyon and Toronto, Antwerp will host the annual TCI conference from 8 to 10 October 2019. With Flanders as its setting, TCI can count on the support of two of the region’s government agencies: Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). Together, they have created a wellfilled program to inspire both local and international players and connect them with each other. At the same time, both organizations seek to position Flanders’ strong innovations and clusters globally.


On Tuesday 8 October, TCI participants can choose from more than ten cluster tours. The various cluster organizations will take them on a journey through their activities, fields of expertise and innovative projects. This will give participants to chance to discover more about top sectors such as sustainable chemistry, healthcare, smart cities, agriculture and food, air freight, sports, sustainable materials, energy, the blue economy and the creative industry.

A detailed description of each cluster tour is available at (under the tab ‘Tours’)

After the cluster tours, participants return to Antwerp for the official opening ceremony at the Flanders Meeting & Convention Center Antwerp (FMCCA).



Following an opening speech by Flanders’ minister-president, various speakers will take the floor during presentations, interactive workshops and panel discussions on 9 and 10 October.

For the TCI conference, numerous experts from around the globe will be traveling to Antwerp, including international heavyweights such as Richard Baldwin (Graduate Institute Geneva), Ulla Engelmann (European Commission), Christian Ketels (Boston Consulting Group Henderson Institute) and Denis Kovalevic (Technospark).

In addition, several Flanders’ specialists will be sharing their knowledge and expertise on open innovation and clusters. Robin De Cock and Omar Mohout (Antwerp Management School), Koenraad Debackere (KU Leuven), Silvia Lenaerts (Antwerp University), Elvira Haezendonck (VUB) and Wim De Waele (The Beacon) will be present, among other speakers.

More information on the conference speakers can be found at (under the tab ‘Speakers’)


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One of the most talked-about speakers at TCI 2019 is the American Richard Baldwin, professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. As a former economic advisor in the White House and a lecturer at universities such as MIT, Oxford and Columbia, Baldwin has become a global reference in international economics and globalization.

During his TCI 2019 talk, as he did in his books ‘The Great Convergence’ (2016) and ‘The Globotics Upheaval: Globalisation, Robotics and the Future of Work’ (2019), Baldwin will be zooming in on the relationship between international trade on one hand and innovation and digitalization on the other.


Flanders has two types of clusters: spearhead clusters and innovative business networks. Learn the basics of these organizations from three key figures in Flanders’ cluster policy: Philippe Muyters, Flanders’ minister of Work, Economy, Innovation and Sport; Claire Tillekaerts, CEO of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT); and Mark Andries, general administrator of Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).

1. Why the distinction between spearhead clusters and innovative business networks?

Philippe Muyters: “For a number of strategic domains, Flanders aims to maintain and strengthen its leading position in the long run. The spearhead clusters were created for this purpose. Each develops a vision for at least 10 years. Together with companies, research centers and academic institutions, they are working on groundbreaking and sustainable innovations in Flanders’ top sectors of chemistry, food, logistics, the blue economy, energy and sustainable materials.

However, less strategic sectors also benefit from innovative collaborations. This is where Flanders’ innovative business networks come into the picture. They focus on a period of 3 years and are created entirely at the initiative of companies. Several companies – often even competitors – join forces to tackle a specific innovation project. Currently, there are more than 20 innovative business networks for various sectors and domains, including financial technology, smart cities, healthcare, cycling, gaming and even aerospace.”

2. How are Flanders’ clusters financed?

Mark Andries: “To lower the threshold for open innovation, spearhead clusters receive up to EUR 500,000 in operating funds from the government of Flanders. But the business world itself is also investing. Through Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the government of Flanders finances 50% of the necessary budget, while the participating companies provide the other half. In addition, EUR 95 million is made available each year for separate research and innovation projects that are carried out via the clusters.”

3. Do Flanders’ clusters also collaborate with one another as well as with international counterparts?

Claire Tillekaerts: “Absolutely, there is even a specific budget for projects in which clusters join forces across their own borders. Moreover, regular consultation between the clusters is an official objective for all cluster organizations. It is also important to attract foreign players who can increase innovation in Flanders’ clusters. In addition, we must encourage the clusters to look beyond national borders and offer solutions abroad. The foreign network of Flanders Investment & Trade plays an essential role in this. Our technology counselors, for example, map out similar clusters abroad and bring them into contact with Flanders-based clusters.”

More info on Flanders’ innovative business networks and spearhead clusters can be found at:


energy sector

sustainable materials

logistics and distribution

Blauwe Cluster
economic activities related to the sea

sustainable chemistry

Flanders’ FOOD
food industry


Flanders is the European number 1
for innovative collaborations between the private, public and academic sectors: the essence of Flanders’ cluster policy.
(Source: European Innovation Scoreboard)

Annual contribution of Flanders’ government:
Cluster support: EUR 6 million
(next to Eur 6 million contribution of companies)
Project support: EUR €98 million in 2019

Flanders has 2 types of clusters in which private companies, public research centers and academic institutes join forces.
6 spearhead clusters < > 20 innovative business networks

2,7% of Flanders’ GDP is spent on research and development, placing Flanders among the top European regions for R&D.
(Source: European Commission)

6/10 of Belgian patent requests are filed in Flanders?
(Source: EWI Vlaanderen)


Would you like to participate in a cluster tour as a journalist, or attend one or more sessions during TCI 2019? Do you wish to interview one of the experts or speakers? Contact us for a press program that fits your needs.

Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO)

Karolien Goosens, teamverantw. communicatie
M. +32 486 68 50 39

Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT)

Tine Van Valckenborgh, woordvoerder
M. +32 499 24 60 93

About TCI Network

As a global network, TCI Network unites organizations and professionals with expertise in cluster policy and (international) competitiveness. Since 1998, these experts meet once a year to share their knowledge and experience in an open, flexible and practical context. In 2019, Antwerp will provide the ideal backdrop for this conference.

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