It was one of the largest international business missions to Aggieland.
More than 60 people from three countries representing more than 30 companies, universities and organizations were part of the visit to explore research and business opportunities across the Texas A&M University System and the Brazos Valley. The mission began October 23, 2019, and ran through the week.
The trip was organized by Texas A&M Technology Commercialization (TTC), the Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation (BVEDC), the Open Worldwide Innovation Network (OWIN) and Belgium’s Walloon Export and Foreign Investment Agency (AWEX).
“We are pleased to warmly welcome the delegates to the Brazos Valley and Texas along with the Governor’s Office, Brazos County and the Cities of Bryan and College Station,” said Matt Prochaska, BVEDC President/CEO. “Our goal for this week’s mission is for visiting companies to bring Foreign Direct Investment and job creation through the innovation they represent.”
During their trip, delegates spoke with local researchers and company reps in meetings set up by organizers. Each company, university and organization was connected with people who could help them discover the possibilities the Brazos Valley has to offer them individually. Some were in Texas for the first time. Others had been here previously and were continuing their pursuit of prospects. And some were set to finalize collaborative agreements.
Wednesday morning during the welcome ceremony for the mission delegates, one such agreement was signed connecting Belgian companies NeuroPath (represented by CEO Benoit Tas) and Multitel (represented by Research Project Manager Anne-Sophie Bridoux) to Texas A&M University.
The agreement applies to projects led by Peter Nghiem, DVM, PhD of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and Rahul Srinivasan, MBBS, PhD, of the College of Medicine. Nghiem was on hand to sign the agreement. It will help improve understanding of motor dysfunction and allow the creation of a monitoring system to measure movement using cameras and computer algorithms without requiring wearable trackers. Eventually, the researchers hope to create a simple way to measure changes in motor control in diseases like Parkinson’s or muscular dystrophy.
Another agreement was made between the governor of the Belgian province of Luxembourg, the Texas A&M Forest Service and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Luxembourg has seen an increase in fires in recent years. Experts from the A&M System entities will work with officials in Belgium to develop improved training and techniques to better prevent and extinguish fires.
Volition, a life sciences company centered in Belgium developing blood tests to diagnose cancers and other diseases, signed agreements to collaborate on veterinary diagnostic products with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Volition will explore whether its work can be translated to treat animals.
Missions began in the late 2000s, the result of a friendship forged in 2005 when AWEX’s Philippe Lachappelle first visited Texas A&M and recognized opportunities between the Wallonia region of Belgium and the Brazos Valley.
Among those taking part in this mission were a couple of dignitaries: Governor Olivier Schmitz from the Belgian Province of Luxembourg, and Queensland Trade and Investment Commissioner-North America Viki Forrest with Trade and Investment Queensland (Australia).
The size of this mission was approximately the same as December 2016 mission from Belgium to Texas A&M led by Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid.
A number of companies remained in the Brazos Valley after the formal mission dates to take part in additional business and cultural activities, including attending a Texas A&M football game.
Coming into this latest mission, the relationship has resulted in 23 memorandums of understanding, 13 sponsored research agreements and six license agreements. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority made a $200 million commitment in a joint partnership on the Texas A&M Center of Innovation in Advanced Development following the engagement of GlaxoSmithKline with the project, a result of the Belgium-Brazos Valley relationship.
It also led to the creation of the “Texas Aggies Go To War” exhibit, which debuted in Bastogne, Belgium in December 2014 for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. It is set to be displayed at the planned Military Heritage Center in College Station.
The Wallonia region of Belgium also set up the 2 million Euro Sofinex investment fund for supporting commercialization through spinouts with Texas A&M University. It is accessible to Belgian companies licensing technologies from A&M, setting up a U.S. subsidiary and receiving investments from U.S. sources.
Spinouts from the Sofinex Fund include the U.S. arm of Lisam Systems, a provider of environment, health and safety compliance management software solutions and services. The President and CEO is Andrew Nelson, who has also been the mayor of Bryan, Texas since 2016.
The BVEDC created the International Gateway program in 2010 due to the success of the local relationship with Belgium. It helps businesses rapidly enter the U.S. marketplace and offers proximity for connecting with Texas A&M. A winner of the International Economic Development Council’s award for Responding to Globalization in 2011, the Gateway has resulted in the founding of 16 companies in the U.S. with a foreign direct investment (completed and in process) of more than $200 million. There are nearly 40 active prospects for the Gateway currently.
In 2013, the Belgian-Texan friendship also led to the creation of OWIN, a membership association of universities, technology transfer offices and trade agencies encouraging a global culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. OWIN fosters win-win opportunities and helps companies grow faster in its member markets. TTC, AWEX, Chinese-based Coway and Australia’s Queensland Government are the executive members, with the BVEDC as an associate member.