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KU Leuven: European Capital of Innovation

30 November 2020

Rector Luc Sels, KU Leuven

“Stagnation is the worst thing that can happen to you as a scientist”. This is how Emmanuelle Charpentier reacted when she, together with Jennifer Doudna, received the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa at KU Leuven in 2016. Both scientists received this academic tribute for their fundamental contribution to the understanding of the bacterial immune system. Groundbreaking work that culminated in the identification of the CRISPR-Cas9 system and the development of a new methodology, now used in scientific research worldwide. This autumn Charpentier and Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The quote came to my mind when the city of Leuven was elected “European Capital of Innovation” earlier this year. Stagnation is also detrimental for a town or a regional ecosystem. That is why the city of Leuven is spearheading change and creating a sustainable, greener and more resilient community. It aims to become one of Europe’s Labs of the Future through a mission-oriented model that facilitates collaborative innovation. In the words of Mohamed Ridouani, mayor of Leuven: “We are writing the powerful story of the ‘us’. Together, we tackle the biggest challenges. In our approach to climate change, community life, well-being, health care, high quality education and culture, we are innovative, pioneering and we work together. We care for each other and leave no one behind. That’s just part of our DNA, that’s the way we are.”

The European Commission now has confirmed the town’s and university’s joint achievement by announcing the city of Leuven as the European Capital of Innovation 2020. The award recognizes Leuven’s excellent innovation concepts as well as its governance models that create a framework that brings ideas to life. KU Leuven is very proud of its city. Such recognition doesn’t come overnight, but requires an integral strategy of persistent choices. Choices in favour of citizens’ participation and city resilience. Indeed, all together #WeareLeuven. That shared conviction that universities play a central role in the development of cities, with cities functioning as a catalyst for the development of universities made KU Leuven and the City of Leuven jointly sign the Poitiers Declaration in 2017, under the auspices of the Coimbra Group.

Innovation has been at the core of Leuven’s ecosystem for over 50 years. In the wake of the May 68 events, KU Leuven resolutely chose the jump forward into a research-intensive approach for all its activities. Within this visionary effort, it set up one of the first European technology transfer offices as a separate entity within the university structure. KU Leuven Research & Development (LRD) supports industrial and commercial applications of university research, leading to numerous contracts between research groups and the private sector, spin-offs and the acquisition of large investments and diversified venture capital. History proved this to be the right choice. In 2019, for the fourth consecutive year, KU Leuven was number 1 in Europe in the Reuters Ranking of the World’s Most Innovative Universities because of its strategy to advance science, invent new technologies and power new markets and industries.

Leuven is the most innovative city of Europe. With the most innovative university in Europe. Makes a beautiful couple.