Can you describe what you do?
I’m currently CEO of icometrix, a company I founded six years ago together with my partner Dirk Loeckx. Our team consists of diverse academic and professional backgrounds, while over ten different nationalities are represented. I personally very much enjoy being part of such an international network within medical imaging, collaborating not only with clinical experts and researchers, but also pharma-companies and other strategic partners. I live in Lubbeek, a twenty-minute drive from Leuven. Being from Antwerp originally, having studied in Ghent, and receiving my PhD from Antwerp University, I only started discovering Leuven during my post-doctoral years whilst still living in Antwerp. I relocated to the Leuven area around the same time we started icometrix, which also lead to our decision to base our offices here.
How do you perceive Leuven? In your view, what kind of city is it?
Leuven city and its University are equally indispensable. Being founded in 1425, this Catholic university has existed for almost six centuries – and in this time, Leuven has not only been recognised within Europe, but internationally too. As a University city, Leuven has a young, vibrant vibe with plenty of start-up companies, not to mention global conglomerates such as AB InBev. This certainly makes for a unique atmosphere with many young, international professionals. Of course, the corporate scene is an element the University is dependent on. Close collaborations with industries and other public institutions like Gasthuisberg makes the many different courses and specialisations at the university pertinent and future-oriented. The combination of being relatively small and having this vibrant university-cum-spin-off community is precisely what sets Leuven apart from other cities.
One reason Leuven appeals to so many is not only thanks to its inhabitants and culture, but also its location. Indeed, the City sits just a half-hour train ride from Brussels.
What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
One reason Leuven appeals to so many is not only thanks to its inhabitants and culture, but also its location. Indeed, the City sits just a half-hour train ride from Brussels – and an even shorter one to Brussels Airport – making it an attractive place for people commuting to Brussels and its surroundings, as well as companies and public institutions. What’s more, and just like icometrix, many start-ups and companies have offices in Leuven, which allows us to play on the key strengths of a vibrant and multicultural City. Add to that a strong University and infrastructure and Leuven really distinguishes itself.
What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Recently, KU Leuven was listed as the most innovative university worldwide for the second year in a row – something the City of Leuven is rightfully radiant about. We too are proud to have been able to contribute a bit, with our spin-off icometrix. I’m a person with a lot of ideas and passion for converting innovation into a commercial product, from which people –in our case patients with brain disorders – can benefit. And Leuven has the perfect environment for this.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
Leuven should continue to play on its key strengths – however, like many other Belgian cities, it’s experiencing challenges in terms of its infrastructure. A growing population and constructions in and around the city comes with a need for good municipal infrastructure. Though I personally drive to work, thousands of workers and students use their bikes every day and solutions embracing the challenges and needs for both bikers and car users are much needed! In addition, although things have been improved with the likes of M-Museum, I feel there’s still plenty of possibilities in making Leuven into even more of a cultural hub.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
Personally, although not located in the city centre, I think the area around the Vaartkom canal illustrates just how young and dynamic Leuven is – a meeting place for urban and creative souls. I’m also a huge fan of De Hoorn, a meeting place including a café with tasty food, fantastic waiters and an even better atmosphere in what used to be part of the Stella Artois brewery. It’s practically become a Friday tradition for my colleagues and I to have lunch there. Otherwise, in the centre, the Muntstraat has many good restaurants, while the Italian PepeNero is an absolute must in my opinion.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
A few notable people were born or lived in Leuven, not least Andreas Vesalius. He and his De humani corporis fabrica had an immense influence on the development of medical science and health-care – even if, as a result of a dispute with his professor, he didn’t stay that long in Leuven. Another anecdote I heard when I used to live in Lier concerns the founding of the University. I’ve never actually looked into whether this story is true and maybe I don’t want to because I’d prefer not to know but from what I heard, in the 14th century, the City of Lier was going to be rewarded for their help in the battle against the City of Mechelen and could either choose to to host a university or a cattle market. As only one city in a certain region was permitted to host a cattle market at the time, and the possibility for livestock was highly crucial back then, the decision was made in favour of a cattle market. The rest is history, and in 1425 a university was founded in Leuven instead. A common reference to Lier inhabitants today is schapenkoppen, or sheep-heads – possibly referring to their “short-term” choice for livestock over academia. And who knows, maybe in another universe, this platform would have been called the Lier Hundreds?icometrix.com linkedin.com/in/wimvanhecke