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Research and innovation
News article24 September 2020Directorate-General for Research and Innovation

Leuven is European Capital of Innovation 2020

The city of Leuven in Belgium is the European Capital of Innovation 2020, the Commission announced today at the European Research and Innovation Days. The award recognises Leuven’s excellent innovation concepts as well as processes and governance models creating a framework that brings ideas to life. The municipality will receive a €1,000,000 prize funded under Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme. The five runner-up cities – Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Espoo (Finland), Helsingborg (Sweden), Valencia (Spain) and Vienna (Austria) – will receive €100,000 each.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said:

Leuven is a mission-driven city that excels in innovative governance models. It offers its people an opportunity to get involved in critical decision-making processes. But it’s an honour to recognise the initiatives of all six winners. Their vibrant innovation ecosystems are an inspiration to all European cities.

Mohamed Ridouani, the Mayor of Leuven, said:

I am honoured and thankful for this award, which is a symbol of hope for a better common future, especially in these challenging times. Innovation for the better and for all is Leuven’s motto. Collaboration and empathetic leadership, translated systematically into an engaging governance model, is our way of getting it done.

Leuven is the sixth city to win the European Capital of Innovation award, and the third non-capital city after Barcelona and Nantes. The city aims to become one of Europe’s Labs of the Future through a mission-oriented model that facilitates collaborative innovation. Different groups of stakeholders come together, with the common purpose of innovating around complex challenges from climate change and the shift to a circular economy to ensuring high-quality education and care. Leuven is not only providing increased opportunities for innovating to its citizens, but also actively involving them in testing their ideas in the city.

Leuven’s key innovative projects and initiatives include:

  • Leuven 2030 - over 600 partners, including governments, knowledge institutions, companies, organisations and citizens, work together to develop and implement a climate transition strategy. This includes:
    • a roadmap on carbon neutrality, developed in 2019 together with over 70 experts. It provides a shared and detailed vision for a carbon-neutral Leuven, achieved through concrete actions and milestones.
    • a set of ‘strategic experiments’, done in collaboration with the Climate-KIC of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which identifies levers across multiple domains (citizen engagement, governance, data and monitoring, finance) to unlock change. For instance, one experiment aims to rapidly scale up retrofit in one of Leuven’s districts and achieve a lasting structural acceleration of residential renovations.
    • TOMORROW, a Horizon 2020 project, which made Leuven a lighthouse for ambitious cities such as Niš and Dublin for the development of a city climate roadmap.
  • Leuven MindGate - a unique innovation ecosystem composed of companies, knowledge institutions and the government, which creates a breeding ground for talent, entrepreneurship and investments, and makes Leuven one of the world's prime regions for health, high-tech and creativity.
  • Leuven, Maak het Mee! (Leuven, Co-Create!) launched an open call for citizens to submit their ideas on how to make Leuven a better place to live, work and play.
  • The transformation of Leuven’s Frederik Lintsstraat into a ‘climate street’ thanks to neighbourhood actions addressing sustainable homes, mobility, consumption and more.
  • Leuven Helps, an online platform launched during the COVID-19 crisis, connected residents in need with thousands of volunteers ready to help. Leuven was the first city to set up a platform of this kind, later adopted by 280 cities around the world.
  • The citywide network ‘Co-creating education’ (SOM), which aims to enhance equal learning opportunities and promote diversity, developed ‘Leuven Learns’ during the COVID-19 crisis. This tool connects teachers, students, experts, and volunteers to facilitate the transition to e-learning.


The sixth edition of European Capital of Innovation Awards was launched in March 2020. Also known as iCapital Awards, the competition was open to cities with a minimum of 100,000 inhabitants from the EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon 2020. This year, 35 cities from 20 countries applied to the competition (30% more than in 2019).

A high-level jury of independent experts with top expertise in academia, business and the public sector selected the winner and the five runner-up cities. The jury evaluated how the applicant cities are pushing the boundaries of innovation by looking at the four criteria: experimenting, engaging, expanding, empowering.

The competition first took place in 2014. Past winners include Barcelona (2014), Amsterdam (2016), Paris (2017), Athens (2018) and Nantes (2019). The awards are granted under Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation framework programme.

More information

European Capital of Innovation


Publication date
24 September 2020
Directorate-General for Research and Innovation