A Dream of a Political World: The Silicon Valley of the North Sea

Underwater data company GEOxyz is the second company to have building plans in Ostend Science Park. Political scientist Carl DeVos wants to develop this place into the flywheel of the blue economy.

Patrick Rings, CEO of West Flemish, data specialist GEOxyz, puts symbolic objects on Earth. It’s the end of April, and a small group of face masks and some mandatory speeches celebrate the next company’s arrival at Ostend Science Park (OSP) in Ostend. GEOxyz is building a new innovation center here by 2023, which will employ 20 to 40 people. A new step in Reyntjes’ growth ambition, which GEOxyz has developed since 1998 from a surveyor company into a global player in offshore measurement services, whose turnover now stands at 40 million euros. The Matexi Van de Vyvere family is part of the capital.

North Sea as a new colony

What do you see when you look at the North Sea? One of the most innovative parts of our economy? The first world in marine research? Probably not. However, the blue economy is an unknown force in Flanders. Our eleventh province, where there is a lot of experimentation and where solutions to climate, energy and raw materials problems can be found.

They watched the file at De Tijd throughout May.

Thursday: Robots invade the North Sea

Simply put, what GEOxyz does is map the sea floor. This is done from 24 of our own ships, using sonar technology, advanced GPS and underwater robots. This data is used to monitor shipping routes and construction of wind farms and submarine cables.

To intervene in the event of a disaster: GEOxyz’s expertise was used to retrieve the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Italian coast and locate the crashed plane of Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala near Guernsey. Recently, the company helped recover the shipment of MSC Zoe, one of the world’s largest cargo ships, which lost 270 containers off the Dutch coast at the start of this year.

GEOxyz’s striking red ships sail back and forth in the Belgian North Sea, but the Reyntjes view goes much further. We work with our own fleet from Scandinavia to Ireland and North Africa, and in other parts of the world we go with our clients. We look to the future in the United States.

To realize these ambitions, an innovation center in Ostend is needed. “We want to improve our technology further,” he says. And this can be done faster by collaborating here with other scientists and companies.

Rapids

It’s exactly the kind of interaction that Ostend Science Park CEO Carl DeVos aims for. DeVos, known to the general public as a political scientist, was appointed by the University of Ghent as the ambassador for West Flanders at the end of 2016, in order to put the university more clearly on the map in the province. One of the most important projects is the development of a new science park for the blue economy in Ostend.

“When I accepted the ambassadorial position in 2016, they said, ‘If you do that, you have to stop any other work,’” says DeVos. I am still a Wetstraat Analyst and write columns, and I also teach one subject at university, Introduction to Political Science. But I gave up on all of my other academic work. Too bad, but that was the deal. This is incredibly cool.


It sounds a bit arrogant, but the intent is really to build Blue Valley here. A science park that promotes our blue economy.

Carl DeVos

Political scientist and CEO at Ostend Science Park

OSP plans are ambitious. “It sounds a bit arrogant, but the intention is really to build Blue Valley here,” says DeVos. “A science park that promotes our blue economy.”

The idea to do more about everything that happens at sea has been around for some time in Ostend. We set up an incubator here years ago, BlueBridge. Quite isolated here, many pots don’t break it like this. So it was a bumpy track, but lately everything has gained momentum.

In 2019, it would have been possible to get their hands on where BlueBridge actually stands. It was bought by Ghent University (50%) with the Port of Ostend (25%) and POM West Flanders (25%) from the Flemish government. The first furnishings business started at the beginning of this year.

Golf lesson

The site is now a large construction site. At the entrance: the concrete structure of a new branch of Ypres e-BO, the first company to have decided to settle in OSP and will soon employ 120 people. E-Bo, which was founded in 2000 by businessman Christophe Dahini and now with a turnover of 20 million euros, will expand its overseas activities here. The IT company specializes in gathering real-time data at sea – such as information about shipping, weather and all data from sensors on wind turbines – in order to remotely monitor wind farms. This is more maintenance-efficient than steer boats constantly back and forth.

Behind the e-BO is a projectile for the Naval Research Center, with a wave tank and towing tank to test innovations in shipping. “You should see this as a big, shallow swimming pool,” DeVos explains. They allowed 8-meter ship models to sail back and forth, with resistance, amplification, or currents. Everything is loaded in computer models with sensors. This should help design better boats and improve propulsion systems, you name it. It really is about a unique testing infrastructure. They even corrected the slight curvature of the earth during construction.

Listen to the sound of the North Sea

Slovenian artist Robertina Sibjanic has been traveling the world since 2016 to record underwater sounds. It maps the impact of increased shipping and other human activities at sea. Hear a soundtrack to the North Sea at the Venetiaanse Gaanderijen in Ostend.

Aquatocene can be visited for free from May 8 to 31 during weekends, public holidays and bridge days, in between
12 noon and 6 pm at Venetiaanse Gaanderijen in Ostend.

The North Sea is teeming. Fitting everything in that limited space takes mystery and creativity. Read on us Interactive article How does that work?

The research center is not on OSP land, as it is owned by the Flemish region. “But it is part of the ecosystem,” says DeVos. ‘The science component here is very important. The companies that come to OSP should develop their research and development processes here, in cooperation with knowledge institutions. Together with the University of Ghent, we are already a strong player in marine and marine research and will build laboratories here with more than 1.4 million euros.

Zwinard

“It’s a step-by-step plan,” says DeVos. With the successful technology park Zwijnaarde as a great example. Now that they have entered the first two companies, they are developing. “We are aiming for a good mix of diverse sectors and companies from home and abroad,” says DeVos, who had to miss the first stitch of GEOxyz’s pathway due to the quarantine.

This should lead to cross pollination. In the ideal scenario, our PhD students could take courses in the companies located here, the CEO would give a guest lecture, and the engineers would work with the laboratories. things like that. ‘

The blue economy – think shipping, but also wind power, coastal protection, aquaculture and fisheries – today already represents 5.2 percent of Flemish GDP (gross domestic product), 13.47 billion euros of value added and 154,000 jobs in Flanders. DeVos thinks this is only the beginning.


Everyone feels that we are at a historic moment: the realization that we need to do more at sea is growing.

Carl DeVos

CEO Van Ostend Science Park

Everyone feels that we are going through a historical stage. There is a growing realization that we need to do more at sea. We have come a long way in Belgium. The Navy is busy with technology, and we have scientific institutes all over the world. Companies are investing in the blue economy, with big names like DEME, Jan De Nul and Colruyt, but also lots of small and medium businesses. The Blue Cluster, the Flemish government’s innovation group, has its office in OSP. But we need to bring that together more. If we get it right, then we’ll create leverage.

Look at the windmills. Now that it’s built, it’s all about getting it to function optimally. Companies like e-BO and GEOxyz play a role. But I’ve also heard talk of ships that will act as a kind of floating city, or artificial islands that will be built right next to wind farms. These are future models that we can use here to develop, and we can use them internationally. An awful lot happens. Of course, not everything will work, but that is part of it.

“We are working on a 20-year strategy,” says DeVos. By then, a few thousand people will have to work here. This looks long, but if you look at Zwijnaarde, it is way too short. So you could say it’s a work of life, yeah. I would then be 71 years old.

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