Open the defense market to start-ups and SMEs

NATO releases a budget of 1 billion euros to finance a technological acceleration program in the defense sector. The objective is to attract civilian technologies, but adapted to defence.

At the Brussels summit in June 2021, the leaders of NATO countries took the decision to launch a defense innovation accelerator for the North Atlantic. The objective is to maintain or relaunch technological innovation in this sector, which has regained all its importance since the crisis in Ukraine. This plan revolves around the Diana project (Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic) supported by a investment fund endowed with one billion euros.

Many everyday technology (airbags, microwaves, GPS, Internet, etc.) stem from research projects in the defense sector. In addition, some particularly disruptive large technological projects born in recent years in the United States would never have reached this stage without the support of the American government and the defense industry. Today, the trend is reversing. More and more civil technologies (such as sensors or mapping tools) also find outlets in the field of defence.

The objective of the Diana project is precisely to facilitate cooperation between SMEs from allied countries and develop synergies around civil and military innovation, by creating an ecosystem around the defense industry for the benefit of NATO and around civil and military innovation (known as “dual use”). “For our companies, which are often at the forefront in these sectors, it is also an opportunity to take part in international development and research projects. Which is a very important stepping stone for their growth,” remarks Willy Borsus, Walloon Minister for the Economy.



“For our companies, often at the forefront in these sectors, it is also an opportunity to participate in international development and research projects.”

Willy Borsus

Walloon Minister of Economy

These companies will be able to benefit from development acceleration programs, co-develop directly with the military usertest their technology, or even adapt their technology to the expectations of defense markets.

Funding leverage

All accompanied by a financing of 1 billion euros over 15 years distributed among the 27 countries of the alliance. You should therefore not expect a very large windfall per project. But Willy Borsus does not want to neglect her. “This will be a limportant sink and above all a guarantee of quality to raise other development fundsThe Region could also support these projects as part of the Defense component of the recovery plan.

NATO has asked member countries to submit applications for innovation hubs developing civilian technologies that offer potential for military use. For Wallonia, two operators have been selected: WSL (Liège) as a start-up accelerator and A6K/Trail (Charleroi) as a test center for cybersecurity and artificial intelligence in the defense sector in connection with the TRAIL and CyberWal projects.



“Defence contracts are too often reserved for large companies in the sector, to the detriment of SMEs.”

Agnes Flemal

Managing Director of WSL

“Diana must especially benefiting SMEs focusing on artificial intelligence, quantum technology, autonomous systems, biotechnology and hypersonic technology. These markets are too often reserved for large companies in the sector. It’s an excellent way to attract them,” said Agnès Flemal, CEO of WSL.

With the selection of five operators (WSL and A6K, the Brussels IVK and the Flemish IMEC, and FlandersMake), Belgium is in the top 3 Allies in terms of applications selected. The final selection of the successful candidates will take place during the month of June. It is said that research centers, such as IMEC, would be essential in the final choice. Similarly, the Liège start-up incubator and accelerator WSL can demonstrate recognized experience in supporting industrial start-ups. Some of the start-ups in WSL’s portfolio are already involved in space and the sectors

The summary

  • The June 2021 NATO Summit laid the foundations for an innovation accelerator in the defense sectors.
  • It will be endowed with funding of one billion euros over 15 years.
  • Two Walloon incubators are pre-selected: WSL in Liège and A6K in Charleroi.
  • The objective is to interest start-ups and SMEs in the defense industry.

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Open the defense market to start-ups and SMEs


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