Because of COVID-19, the third edition of the Belgian M&A Awards was unfortunately a less festive occasion than the previous two: no grand gala dinner in Brussels. This, however, did not preclude us from taking a good look at the ever active transaction market in Belgium. Indeed, the skills that set the truly great entrepreneurs and companies apart from the pack – creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance – come to the fore in trying times. The jury paid special attention to those companies and entrepreneurs that continued to grow and thrive in the Belgian ecosystem, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic 

Best Large-Cap Corporate Deal: Aedifica – Hoivatilat

Watch the M&A Sofa Session with Stefaan Gielens

There’s an interesting element in choosing the Best Large-Cap Corporate deal on a national level, in the sense that the companies that are big enough to be represented in this category usually outgrow the home country. Sustainable and intelligent expansion within Europe was therefore one of the more important jury criteria. This is clear in the case of the winner: by choosing the acquisition of the Finnish care property investor Hoivatilat by Aedifica, the jury acknowledges an important landmark in the expansion of Belgian interests in Europe. Aedifica is the first GVV (gereglementeerde vastgoedvennootschap) to expand to the Nordics, by buying a listed company through a public tender offer 

This was a deal with a very strong strategic component. Demographic predictions point strongly to a booming market in care homes for the elderly in Europe. The stable build-and-hold strategy of the Finnish company was seen as a strong base to continue the expansion in the coming years, a point that has already been proven: Aedifica has closed a number of related deals after this transaction.  

Best Mid-Cap Corporate Deal: Boehringer Ingelheim – GST

Watch the M&A Sofa Session with Jan Spaas

Horses with rheumatic complaintsprobably not a subject one thinks of on a regular basis, but it’s certainly a comfort that thecan be cured with a single injection these days. Even better: the stem cell therapy that makes this modern-day miracle possible is developed in Belgium, at GST, a spinoff from Anacura. The German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim acquired this company after a lengthy honeymoon period, in which the companies brought an innovative stem cell-based veterinary medicine to market in a joint venture.  

The synergetic advantage of the deal is clear. GST gets access to the phenomenal resources of the global pharma player, while Boehringer Ingelheim adds an important stream to the pipeline towards the next generation of animal health. The jury noted with satisfaction that the researchers and laboratories will remain in Flanders. This means the innovative Belgian ecosystem will continue to profit from the presence of this party in the ecosystem, affirming the position of Belgium as one of the global champions in biomedical research. It’s also a reward for how GST has been able to grow at Anacura with the support of investors. 

Best PE Growth Corporate Deal: Tosca – Contraload

Watch the M&A Sofa Session with Jesse Sels

The story of Contraload is a textbook case of entrepreneurial spirit: two bright young guys come up with an idea to ameliorate a key sector of the economy: the transport of raw materials to FMCG companies. With smart materials and clever software, Contraload managed to greatly streamline this transport process, while making important strides towards making it more sustainable. Within a few years the company managed to attain a position as the European market leader, with over 3 million smart pallets’ in circulation. This caught the attention of renowned investment firm Apax Partners, which acquired Contraload through its portfolio company Tosca. This American company operates in a complementary part of the market, namely the logistics from thFMCG companies to the retailers.  

The match between the two companies is obvious: Contraload for the upstream, Tosca for the downstream. In addition to that, Tosca acquires a base for European expansion, as the management of Contraload will continue as the continental branch of the combined company. This is all in all a great deal for the founders and the investors from previous rounds like GIMV and D2E, who make a good exit from their stake.  

Best Venture Capital Deal Technology: Odoo

Watch the M&A Sofa Session with Fabien Pinckaers

This deal too is a beautiful example of entrepreneurship. It all started on a small farm in Wallonia, but now Odoo is one of the most promising software companies. Over the past ten years, the company realised a 50% per annum. For the next stage in the development of the company, new funds were attracted to construct a new campus and recruit the next generation of developers. After careful deliberation a match was made with Summit Partners, the world renowned investor known for careful deal sourcing and success stories like Uber and Flow Traders. The deal was closed in a relatively short time span 

Best Venture Capital Deal Life Sciences: iTeos Therapeutics

BE MenA Awards nominee 15

This award cycle would not be complete without a deal that highlights the fruitful collaboration between researchers, entrepreneurs and investors that combat the diseases that have a high impact on society. iteos Therapeutics falls precisely in this category: the firm develops immunotherapeutic approaches for treating cancer. This is one of the most promising avenues in current research in the fight against cancer, with corresponding interest from investors.  

That iTeos belongs to the world leaders in this technology is apparent from the size of this funding round of € 125 million, which firmly places it in the global top ten. The money is needed for the continuation of the research and for the hiring of new hands to continue the work. The jury was also very much impressed with the speed with which the company has grown, rising from nothing to Nasdaq in ten short years. 

Because of calendar restrictions, we were not able to do an M&A Sofa Session with Mr Detheux, CEO at iTeos Therapeutics.

The M&A Awards 2020 Online were sponsored by Ansarada, who recently interviewed M&A experts in the Americas and APAC and conducted a survey of 50 leading dealmakers across Europe to round out a diverse perspective on what could lay ahead. You can read their M&A Global Predictions here