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9 important changes to the Flemish subsidy landscape for 2021

In short:

  • VLAIO (Flemish Agency for Innovation and Enterprise) has made some important changes to its policy that will change the subsidy landscape from now on.
  • The SME growth subsidy has been given a new look, the evaluation criteria for R&D projects have been adjusted and new calls are being launched.

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SME growth subsidy now through thematic calls

The SME growth subsidy (KMO Groeisubsidie) has been adjusted since 1 January. From now on, the support measure will consist of 3 thematic calls, aimed at a number of important economic challenges of today. In addition to business growth through internationalization or innovation, the new system also allows support for internal business transformation that prepares the company for a digital or sustainable future. The calls for 2021 are the following:

Call 1:

  • Submission period: 1 March to 30 April 2021
  • Themes: internationalization, digitization

Call 2:

  • Submission period: 1 July to 31 August 2021
  • Themes: internationalization, digitalization, sustainable and circular entrepreneurship

Call 3:

  • Submission period: 1 November to 31 December 2021
  • Themes: internationalization, digitization, sustainable and circular entrepreneurship, innovation

New cost model for a large number of aid instruments

On 31 December of last year, the transitional measure for the new VLAIO cost model ended. This means that from now on the same cost model applies to a large number of support instruments. This way, there will be a more uniform approach to the budget for ICONs, Baekeland mandates, growth subsidies, innovation projects, etc.

Specifically for research and development projects (VLAIO Ontwikkelingsproject & VLAIO Onderzoeksproject), the most important changes are in the calculation method for personnel costs (based on a standard hourly rate), a higher ceiling for direct costs (operating costs – if justified), and an increase in the maximum allowed overhead costs (from €20k to €25k per FTE). Furthermore, long-term collaborations with freelancers, including management companies, are now also considered as subcontracting.

Adapted evaluation criteria for research and development projects

Until recently, only the economic added value (the expected staff growth and investments in the years following an innovation project) was taken into account by VLAIO to determine innovation support. This has changed since 1 January 2021. The Flemish Government wants to encourage companies to also tackle societal challenges in an innovative and economically profitable way. Therefore, in new aid applications, not only the economic, but also the social added value is taken into account. Just think of innovation projects aimed at sustainability, education or quality of life.

To make this concrete, a project is expected to be able to convert at least 10 times the allocated support into social added value for Flanders.

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Expansion of STS support for COVID-19 extended until 1 May 2021

The European Commission has extended the “Temporary Framework for State aid to support the economy due to the current COVID-19 outbreak” by six months. This temporary support can thus still be applied for until 1 May 2021.

The support is available to all Flemish enterprises. Within this specific STS (Strategic Transformation Support – Strategische TransformatieSteun) instrument, the maximum aid rate is set at 50% with a minimum investment amount of €250,000 for small enterprises, €500,000 for medium-sized enterprises and €1.5 million for large enterprises. The investment project must be completed 6 months after the aid is granted.

New Globalization Bonus

With the approval of the globalization bonus (globalisatiepremie), the Flemish Government hopes to support the sectors that have been hit hardest by the corona crisis. The premium is for companies that have lost at least 70% or 90% of their turnover in the last three quarters of 2020. They are entitled to an aid rate of 10% of the turnover in the same period in 2019 (01/04 to 31/12 2019). Please note that from this total amount the already paid premiums (nuisance premium, compensation and/or support premium and Flemish protection mechanism) will be deducted. Furthermore, the aid amount may not exceed 90% of the fixed costs for small enterprises and 70% for medium-sized and large enterprises.

The table below gives an overview of the aid amounts.

 70% loss of turnover90% loss of turnover
5-19 employees€30.000€50.000
20-49 employees€100.000€250.000
50-199 employees€500.000€1.000.000
200 & + employees€1.000.000€2.000.000

Attention: Companies with a turnover of more than EUR 25 million (excluding VAT) and with at least 20 employees are equated with the category of 200 employees and more.

Brexit Resilience Grant

Due to both the Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis, many companies have been forced to rethink their business models. For this important and difficult strategic exercise, VLAIO is giving a boost with the new Brexit Resilience Grant (Brexit Veerkrachtsubsidie). The total amount of support granted by the Flemish Government to VLAIO is €50 million.

Additional impetus to raise awareness and knowledge about cybersecurity

The global economy is digitizing at lightning speed, especially during the corona crisis. Unfortunately, this also means that cybercrime is increasing exponentially, ranging from identity theft through ransomware to economic espionage. That is why the Flemish Government, via the EWI Department and VLAIO, is providing additional support via cybersecurity improvement programs for SMEs and via various training and awareness opportunities for the general public.

Cybersecurity improvement trajectory for SMEs

Starting in 2021, VLAIO will support the acquisition of external advice and guidance for the development of cybersecurity for SMEs through the cybersecurity improvement projects. For this purpose, 9 different professional service providers – including EY – have been selected by VLAIO. Each trajectory has a size between €25,000 and €50,000 with 45% of the cost being subsidized. The total amount of support, allocated by the Flemish Government, is €4 million. Read more about how EY can help you improve your SME’s cyber maturity.

Increasing knowledge and training offerings among the general public

Due to the increase in cyber threats, the need for employees and organizations to know how to protect themselves against them is also increasing. The Flemish government is making some €1,125,000 available for this purpose. In concrete terms, a new Cyber Security Training Program has been developed by VLAIO in cooperation with the Flemish knowledge institutions. In order to strengthen this program, a joint Flemish Cybersecurity Blueprint is also being worked on. This is a course for and by Flemish stakeholders that will serve as a basis for the cyber security policy in Flanders.

VLAIO has also developed the website where all initiatives on digitization, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and industry 4.0 are bundled.

Would you like more information on these and other changes in 2021?

Schedule an intake session with our funding experts here.

Get in touch directly with our Subsidy, grants and incentives experts.


VLAIO (Flemish Agency for Innovation and Enterprise) has made some important changes to its policy that will change the subsidy landscape from now on.

Original article (in Dutch)

Wouter Desmet

EY wavespace™ Antwerp Leader, EY WEM Innovation Leader, EY Business Tax Advisory

Zoë Vanden Brande

EY België Tax Consultants manager