First AHA! awards pay tribute to innovative researchers

Antwerp is the knowledge region par excellence, a fact highlighted once again during the first Antwerp Innovation Night organised by Antwerp.SRL, the network platform of UAntwerp and Voka Antwerp-Waasland on Monday 16 December 2019. The first AHA! awards were presented to vaccination specialist Pierre Van Damme and Internet of Things expert Steven Latré in the new provincial government building.

It is clear that the Antwerp region excels in both entrepreneurship and innovation. Groundbreaking research conducted at the University of Antwerp and the colleges of the Antwerp University Association (Artesis Plantijn, Karel de Grote and the Antwerp Maritime Academy) is finding its way to the market more often, and more easily. "An increased focus on valorisation is one of the most important strategic objectives of our university," explains Prof. Silvia Lenaerts, Vice-Rector for Valorisation and Development at UAntwerp.

The Antwerp.SRL initiative sees the university working closely with Voka – the Chamber of Commerce for the Antwerp-Waasland area. Together, they organised the very first edition of Antwerp Innovation Night on Monday evening, centred around the AHA! awards ceremony. "As the largest entrepreneurial organisation, we want to use these awards to express our appreciation for the magnificent research being carried out in Antwerp. After all, such research is the basis for future entrepreneurship," says Luc Luwel, CEO of Voka Antwerp-Waasland.

Baron Paul Stoffels (Vice Chair of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson) gave the keynote speech before a sold-out auditorium of 350 attendees. Two awards were presented: the 'Promising' award for an up-and-coming researcher, and the 'Achieved' award for a well-established researcher.

Innovation pioneer

The 'Promising' award went to Prof. Steven Latré (UAntwerp). "Newly emerging domains require pioneers who can think and act in multidisciplinary, international settings," was the jury’s justification of its decision. "Domains such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things need bridge builders. With his innovation hub, The Beacon, the prize winner has had a major influence on people, on the city and on society. He is the innovation pioneer of the future."

"I am tremendously honoured to receive this award," Latré said. "When I started here six years ago, I noticed that Antwerp has what it takes to play a pioneering role in the field of AI and IoT, in co-creation with companies. With the port and industry as economic drivers and the city centre as a platform for smart cities, Antwerp is a genuine ecosystem. I am extremely pleased that we've been able to make great strides forward with initiatives such as The Beacon. This sign of recognition is the icing on the cake for me."

Exceptional achievements

Prof. Pierre Van Damme (UAntwerp) received the award in the 'Achieved' category. "Van Damme has built up an exceptional track record and is an authority in the field of infectious diseases," said the jury. His research into polio provides solutions to a global problem that often affects the most vulnerable people in society. The social impact of his work has not escaped the notice of philanthropic organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation."

"This award is a wonderful acknowledgement of the work carried out by myself and my team, studying new polio vaccines and testing them on volunteers in the container village of Poliopolis," said Van Damme in his acceptance speech. "Antwerp is the perfect region to carry out such innovative research. With the port, industry, the Tropical Institute, a broad network of hospitals and the university, everything is in place to turn Antwerp into a ‘vaccine research valley’. We have earned our stripes nationally and internationally with polio vaccine research. This should form the basis for even more innovative research into vaccines and infectious diseases."  

Promising Technologies

The first edition of Antwerp Innovation Night came to a close with a networking reception, where entrepreneurs and researchers had the opportunity to get to know each other. Seventeen promising technologies were presented, each of them developed at higher education institutions in the Antwerp region.

About the AHA! award

The University of Antwerp and the Antwerp university colleges support researchers in their effort to translate their research and expertise to societal impact.

Therefore, supporting and stimulating valorisation is one of our main strategic goals. For the first time, we presented an award to entrepreneurial researchers or teams with a high valorisation potential: the AHA! award.

With this award we wanted to value the daily efforts that innovation oriented researchers make to transform their ideas to an innovative product, process or organisation for industry and/or society.

There were two categories of AHA! Award: