The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Sander Van Den Dries

Sander Van Den Dries

Co-founder, Comate (1986)

Can you describe what you do?

My partner Wouter Foulon and I run Comate together, where we manage a multi-disciplinary team of 25 who all excel in the processes of engineering and designing novel products and machinery. Our overriding aim is to cooperate with clients in order to develop a unique product together, one that is more innovative and more advanced than anything currently available on the market. Many people aren’t even aware of our existence, whilst others have difficulties understanding what we do. You could think of us as a hybrid team of creatives and technicians who spend their days inventing new stuff. By doing so, we help others crystalise their dreams, and which ultimately impacts the wellbeing of society at large.

How do you perceive Leuven? In your view, what kind of city is it?

For a long time, Leuven was the only city I knew. As a child, I lived about a half-hour drive outside of Leuven. Indeed, no matter what the event, we’d always head over to Leuven. One of its greatest assets is its vibrant student community, which I only discovered myself at the age of 18. Over 60,000 students are enrolled at the University and it’s now been ranked by Reuters for the second year in a row as the most innovative European university. I hope everybody has the chance to experience Leuven the way I did during five years of being a student here. The vibe, the parties, the people I met, the friends I made for life – all arguably the main reason I still live in Leuven to this day.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Its long-standing history, University and numerous bars. Three places that strongly deserve a visit: Grote Markt, the University Hall and Oude Markt. And for good luck, Ladeuzeplein – if you’re lucky, you just might be able to witness the Beiaardcantus: 4,000 over-enthusiastic students drinking and singing at the top of their lungs whilst a carillonneur plays majestically at the top of the impressive Library Tower. Now that’s Leuven.

New technologies are constantly born in Leuven, and we help to transform these into market-ready products.

How has the City contributed to making you who you are today?

As mentioned already, Leuven had a great impact on me as a student. But Leuven also proved vital for Comate. We develop the most innovative and high-tech devices, while our customers and partners expect us to stay on top of new and up-and-coming technologies. And in order to do so, you need to stay close to the source. New technologies are constantly born in Leuven, and we help to transform these into market-ready products. This can be a medical device that improves the quality of life for Parkinson patients, or a packaging machine which is nominated for environmental achievement of the year. I like to think of Comate as a cross-over between technology, creativity and a relentless focus on the market. I love my job. I love the Comate team. And I love doing this job in Leuven, a major technology and innovation hub.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I enjoy combining work life with the personal – and Leuven allows me to do exactly that. However, one downside is that companies like Comate are often forced to move out of the city. And I believe that if you connect the University and its students with high-tech companies like Comate, you could nurture an unstoppable climate for growth and well-being.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I’d first tell them to come by train and walk from the train station to the centre along Bondgenotenlaan, a perfectly straight, one km stretch lined with all kinds of shops. I’d then take them to Grote Markt, and give them a 360° view of the surroundings: Saint Peter’s Church, the Town Hall and the several guild houses. To finish off, we’d have to do beers of course.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Legend has it that some of the City’s bars have a direct conduit to the Stella Artois brewery, although the claim’s never really been verified.

Sander Van Den Dries (c).