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Zabala Innovation, winner of the Company of the Year award in Brussels

Company of the year award 2023

This 2023, the year in which we have blown out 20 candles in Brussels, is also the year of an important recognition. The Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Belgium and Luxembourg awards us the Company of the Year prize for our “exemplary track record” and “mastery in innovation management”. The Deputy Director of DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission, Signe Ratso, and the President of the Chamber, Pablo López-Álvarez, presented the award yesterday to José Mª and Erik Zabala, President and CEO of the consultancy, respectively. The presentation took place in an event that gathered, in Brussels, the Spanish ambassador in Belgium, Alberto Antón Cortés, and a hundred people from the European institutions and the EU innovation ecosystem.

An “exciting” world

It was precisely this trajectory, this “incredible journey”, personal and family, but also business, that José Mª Zabala referred to in his speech, recalling that he founded Zabala Innovation in 1986, the same year that Spain joined what was then known as the European Economic Community. “I never imagined that we would grow from three people in the company to 500 people, and to have 13 offices in Spain, France, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Belgium; but the first expansion, before the rest of the offices, was the opening of our Brussels office in 2003,” he recalled. In this way, our consultancy was able to seize “the opportunity to contribute to the exciting world of integrated innovation management, collaborating with companies, research centres, universities and public administrations”.

“I would like to share this honour with all those who have been part of our history,” he added, referring to the entire team, clients and partners, “and reaffirm our commitment to continue moving towards a more innovative and promising future.

A year with historic results

In the same vein, Erik Zabala wanted to share the award with his parents, José Mª and Lia, his sister Ainhoa and his brother Unai, as well as with the rest of the company and more specifically with the 20 people who make up our Brussels office. “Congratulations, this award is also yours”, he said.

Reviewing the path taken so far by our consultancy, Erik Zabala gave some data, such as the more than 2,000 projects presented under the umbrella of the Next Generation EU funds or the 200 proposals presented on average per year in major European programmes, with a success rate of 40%. “In the current Framework Programme, we have achieved important successes in programmes such as the Innovation Fund, in whose last call we obtained funding for 5 of the 11 projects we support”, he stressed.

For our consultancy, 2023 has been a milestone in terms of results, as our efforts have translated, for our clients, into a return of more than €1 billion in national grants this year alone. In addition, we have returned €1 billion in European programmes since 2021, and another €1 billion in Next Generation EU grants.

“Shaping an innovative and sustainable future”

In these as in other results, Erik Zabala sees the reflection of the intuition of his father, José Mari, when he decided to open an office in the city that is considered the capital of the European Union. “Looking to the future, we have great challenges, but our commitment is to work hard to be leaders in innovation management, to contribute to the growth of our clients and to forge a future that is both innovative and sustainable,” he said.

During the event, López-Álvarez reviewed the history of the Chamber’s Business of the Year award, mentioning previous winners, and explained Zabala Innovation’s merits for receiving this year’s award. Cortés gave an overview of the state of trade relations between Spain and Belgium, and Ratso highlighted the need to continue promoting innovation and industrialisation as key factors to improve competitiveness in Europe.

Previous winners of the Chamber’s Business of the Year Award:

  • 2013: Air Europa, for its outstanding commercial positioning in Belgium.
  • 2014: INDRA, recognised for its international presence and leadership.
  • 2015: ORONA, Europe’s leading lift and mobility company.
  • 2016: Everis (now NTT DATA), with a turnover of 816 million euros.
  • 2018: ONCE Social Group, for its unique contribution over 80 years.
  • 2020: Cacesa, noted for its global presence and messaging systems.
  • 2021: FCC Construcción, recognised for its international track record and in innovation.
  • 2022: Bankinter Luxembourg, first Spanish bank with a licence in Luxembourg.

Photo caption, from left to right: Alberto Antón Cortés, Spanish Ambassador to Belgium; Unai Zabala, Director of Consulting at Zabala Innovation; Signe Ratso, Deputy Director of DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission; José Mª Zabala, Chairman and founder of Zabala Innovation; Lia Versteeg, member of the Management Board; Erik Zabala, Business CEO and Ainhoa Zabala, Corporate CEO; Pablo López-Álvarez, President of the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Belgium and Luxembourg.