Leuven named European Capital of Innovation

25 September 2020

Leuven can now call itself the European Capital of Innovation. The European Commission bestows this prestigious award on the city that best exploits innovation to improve the quality of life of those who live there. In addition to the title itself, Leuven will also receive €1 million. “Our innovation model goes beyond technological progress. Together with residents, organisations, businesses and knowledge institutions we are working every day towards a better future – for Leuven and far beyond. This type of in-depth cooperation is now being acknowledged and rewarded by Europe. By constantly reconnecting the many diverse forces in our city, the solutions of tomorrow first take shape here. Our mission is to lead the way towards a sustainable and prosperous future with and for everyone,” says Mayor Mohamed Ridouani proudly.

Leuven is the sixth European and so far the only Belgian city allowed to use the title of European Capital of Innovation, beating cities such as Vienna, Valencia and Milan in the finals and joining a select club that already includes Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Athens and Nantes.

See what makes Leuven special:

Mayor Mohamed Ridouani received the award on Thursday in a virtual ceremony held during the European Research & Innovation Days. The iCapital jury unanimously chose Leuven as the European Capital of Innovation. The European Commission praised Leuven’s approach to establishing inspiring governance models in which residents, businesses, organisations and knowledge institutions are committed to shaping the future.

Innovation = mission + collaboration + creativity

Mohamed Ridouani, Mayor of the City of Leuven: “This is a recognition for everyone who is committed to our city. The iCapital award is a symbol of hope for a better shared future, especially in these challenging times. Our mission is to lead the way towards a just, sustainable and prosperous future. ‘Innovate for the better and for all’ is our motto.”

Even during the coronavirus crisis, Leuven has pioneered powerful collaborations that have had an immediate and tangible impact. For example, a few days after the outbreak of the crisis, the city was the first to launch the Leuven Helpt platform, an initiative designed to bring together people needing help with volunteers offering help. More than 300 other cities and municipalities in Belgium and other countries adopted the platform in the weeks that followed.

Meanwhile, the world-renowned Rega Institute is at the forefront of the global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, as it has already successfully done for Zika and polio.

Unique collaboration model

The city of Leuven, together with Leuven 2030 and Leuven MindGate, submitted an application to the European Commission for the European Capital of Innovation award. In Leuven 2030, more than 600 authorities, knowledge institutions, businesses, organisations and residents are working together to make the city climate neutral.

Katrien Rycken, Director of Leuven 2030: “Leuven is clear in its strategy: structurally and scientifically substantiated, city-wide collaboration based on a shared mission to achieve an accelerated, socially just climate transition, thus opting for the best possible future. Together we drew up a unique and widely supported roadmap with all major partners in the city. This scientifically based and quantified plan focuses on the choices we have to make as a society and paves the way for a climate-neutral Leuven. Leuven 2030’s unique and structural collaboration model accelerates the transition to an attractive, resilient and sustainable Leuven.”

“The Leuven collaboration model turbocharges innovation in the city,” adds Johan Merlevede, Director of Leuven MindGate. “Our top institutions such as KU Leuven and UC Leuven-Limburg, UZ Leuven, imec, Materialise and many others have scored very high on international rankings for years, but they cannot solve the social challenges facing us on their own. This has to be done through the combined imagination and creativity of our residents, businesses and knowledge institutions.”

Leuven is an urban laboratory for the future

Mayor Ridouani wants to strengthen the Leuven model as much as possible and aims to establish a City Transformation Academy to serve as an urban laboratory for the future.

“Leuven is a future laboratory for Europe. The solutions for the future happen here first and are tested here. We are a city of students, researchers, entrepreneurs and residents spanning 163 different nationalities. By constantly reconnecting these diverse forces in Leuven, the solutions of tomorrow take shape here. Our model of radical cooperation and engaged leadership can be a blueprint for other European cities,” concludes Ridouani.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer