February 3, 2024
Studio 100, Amazon, Netflix and even the Saudi futuristic metropolis Neom: they all turn to the Walloon Brabant Spantech when they are looking for state-of-the-art film studios. How did a Nivelles mother and her son go from tent manufacturer to ‘construction company 2.0’?
An anonymous office building with several warehouses and a storage facility for large metal profiles behind it, located in an industrial zone near Nivelles. Nothing about the headquarters of Spantech International exudes showbiz and entertainment. And yet: in recent years, the Walloon-Brabant family business has become the home of film producers and streaming services worldwide.
The 6,600 square meter pop-up theater of Studio 100 in Puurs, the luxurious Mansions at the Tomorrowland festival or the glass pavilion that the business club TheMerode has erected in its courtyard on Poelaertplein in Brussels. These are just a few of the many projects that Spantech has completed.
Full screen display
The latest jewel in the crown is a film studio in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, for the Netflix production ‘La sociedad de la nieve’. The film, which depicts the crash of a Uruguayan flight in the Andes, has been nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film.
‘That was a feat. The temporary studio was located at an altitude of 2,300 meters and had to withstand extreme weather conditions, such as wind speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour and snow storms. And most importantly, we only had three months to build the studio,” says founder and CEO Derek de Villenfagne. Together with his mother Ghislaine, he owned Spantech for many years, until Brussels investor M80 bought a majority stake in the family business in 2020.
Full screen display
Around the same time, his mother retired after years of leading the administration. “She didn’t necessarily want to stop, but joining M80 was a good time to take a step back,” says de Villenfagne, who calls her role and influence crucial. ‘When I first started the company, I was looking for a solid and loyal partner. Who else but Mom, I thought. She also had a good nose for strategy. For example, she encouraged me to get orders for the Olympic Games in Athens, because that would give us brand recognition.’
When I first started the company, I was looking for a solid and loyal partner. Who else but Mom, I thought.
Derek de Villenfagne
Flown over by the Saudis
Successfully. Spantech started as a manufacturer of tent structures, but gradually emerged as a specialist in modular constructions for a whole range of sectors, such as sports and aviation – think of temporary hangars for aircraft. Spantech built its first theater in Andorra for the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, opening the door to the entertainment sector. “That is a small industry with a big echo, which is why we soon received questions from Hollywood,” says De Villenfagne.
In the meantime, the enthusiastic CEO describes Spantech as a ‘construction company 2.0’. ‘Our competitors are traditional construction companies and contractors, but neither can do the same as us. What we do is quite unique. Our customers no longer need ten or fifteen partners to realize their project. We do everything: from the concept to the final installation,” says the CEO, who talks about sustainability. ‘All our metal structures – sometimes they are meters long – are designed in such a way that we can easily dismantle them. We build a structure, dismantle it again and use all the parts again for the next project.’
Even Saudi Arabia has noticed the expertise of De Villenfagne and his 155-person team. Spantech may supply two multi-million studios to Neom, the utopian construction project of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which includes a gigantic city of 170 kilometers long. “They want to bring Hollywood to the Middle East,” says De Villenfagne, who was picked up by the Saudis at his front door and flown to discuss the order. ‘And it has to happen quickly again. We received the order in September, and the studios should be operational in March.’
Spantech is also a well-known name in real Hollywood. De Villenfagne and his commercial man, the Dutchman Sjors van Vorstenbos, regularly visit Netflix and Amazon. For the latter, the Walloon Brabant company built a studio in the United Kingdom, where the TV series of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is recorded. The second season will be online during the year.
The screenwriters’ strike in Hollywood was a setback because if no scripts are written, no one orders a studio.
Sjors van Vorstenbos
Chief business development Spantech
To better utilize the potential of the American market, Spantech plans to open a branch in Atlanta, Georgia, this year. Five people will work there. “We had those plans for a while, but we had to postpone them due to the months-long strike of screenwriters in Hollywood,” says Van Vorstenbos.
That strike – the result of a social conflict over wages and regulations on the use of artificial intelligence – has weighed on Spantech, which generates 70 to 80 percent of its income from studios, temporary sports halls and constructions for the aviation sector. After turnover reached 28 million euros (+ 14%) in 2022, the company had expected further growth.
Full screen display
But it remained at ‘only’ 30 million euros. ‘If no scripts are written, no one will order a studio for a new production. It’s that simple,” says Van Vorstenbos. ‘That was a setback, but it is not unusual for you to reach a plateau after a period of growth. The strike has now been over for six months and we feel that everything is back on track,” says the CEO. Spantech expects to achieve a turnover of 40 million euros in 2024. It does not share profit figures.
We hope to reach the 100 million euro mark in five years. De Villenfagne and Van Vorstenbos see the sports sector as an important growth engine. ‘We have already built six temporary sports halls for schools and sports clubs in the Netherlands, which is a forerunner in investments in sports infrastructure. Sooner or later that trend will spread to Belgium and France, and then we will be ready,” says Van Vorstenbos.
De Villenfagne’s mother is no longer involved operationally, but still follows the company closely. ‘My son recently pointed out to me that I am now the same age as my mother, when she joined in with my story. She was 50 and started something completely new because she liked the idea of a family business. So yes, she was certainly loyal (laughs).’
Profile Spantech International
- Spantech was founded in 1999 as a manufacturer of tent structures.
- Founders Derek de Villenfagne and his mother Ghislaine developed the company from Nivelles into a global player in modular constructions. Spantech has offices in France and Dubai, and two factories in Poland and Germany.
- In addition to Studio 100’s pop-up theater, the company designed enormous tents for Cirque du Soleil, temporary aircraft hangars and sports halls. Many series and films are recorded in Spantech studios.
- In 2020, M80, the investment fund of ex-Gimv manager Peter Maenhout, took a majority stake in Spantech. De Villenfagne and chief business development Sjors van Vorstenbos are minority shareholders.
- 155 people work at Spantech, which achieved a turnover of 30 million euros in 2023. The company does not share profit figures.