Business with both feet on the ground

Can you learn how to become an entrepreneur? It's perfectly possible. However, the most valuable lessons are often learned in practice. As a result, Vlerick Business School has collaborated with the business sector for many years. Although it is often hard for them to free up time in their busy schedules, we are lucky to be able to count on an extremely diverse group of entrepreneurs and investors who are willing to share their stories, knowledge and experience with our students completely voluntarily. The huge value of this synergy between academia and practice has now also been given official recognition with the new title of ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ or ‘Investor in Residence’.

Entrepreneurs in Residence
Back row: Arnoud Raskin, Professor Cédric Donck, Professor Hans Crijns, Jan-Willem Rombouts, Mark Vandecruys and Frank Maene; Front row: Professor Miguel Meuleman, Herman Van de Velde, Professor Veroniek Collewaert, Harry De Smedt and Pieterjan Bouten

Since the school was first established, fostering every aspect of entrepreneurship has been a fundamental link in Vlerick's DNA. The Entrepreneurs in Residence have been selected with great care. When it comes to entrepreneurship, they have a proven track record and cover the entire spectrum from conventional enterprise, start-ups, growth companies and family businesses to social entrepreneurship. And as you can't run a business and grow without finance, several investors are also involved.

On many of our programmes, we have been working with a large group of entrepreneurs for quite some time. However, some of them are very closely connected with the school and make a significant contribution,” explains Professor in Entrepreneurship Miguel Meuleman. “This initiative is intended to give these true Vlerick ambassadors the recognition which they deserve for their efforts and dedication. On a regular basis, we will also meet to exchange thoughts and optimise our cooperation as we move forward.”

Miguel believes strongly in the inspirational role of experienced entrepreneurs and investors: “They can prove invaluable to our students, not just by means of guest lectures, but also through coaching or participating in a jury. They are all professionals who have proven their worth in their sector and area of expertise. They are closely involved and offer great added value when it comes to the quality of our programmes. They also serve as a sounding board for our professors and researchers and help us to keep our finger on the pulse and see what is going on. We draw inspiration from their insights, experiences and network when developing new lessons or case studies.”

Our Entrepreneurs / Investors in Residence
  • Pieterjan Bouten and Louis Jonckheere – founders of Showpad, an intuitive platform which supports the sales department and makes content extremely easy to find, present, share and measure
  • Harry De Smedt – Board member at Officenter Group, which specialises in furnished, flexible office spaces and co-working spaces; chairman of the board at Ad Ultima Group which uses technology to help companies optimise their business processes and performance; business angel and chairman of BAN Flanders
  • Frank Maene – Managing Partner of Volta Ventures, a venture capital fund for internet and software companies in the Benelux
  • Arnoud Raskin – founder of Mobile School, an NGO which uses mobile carts of educational materials to teach street children all over the world and founder of Streetwize, which translates the survival insights and skills of street children into a learning model which fosters the same spirit in companies
  • Jan-Willem Rombouts – co-founder of REstore, a renowned energy technology company which specialises in the provision of sophisticated, automated demand response
  • Mark Vandecruys – chairman of Fedrus International, a Belgian group which distributes building materials, more specifically EPDM and roofing materials
  • Conny Vandendriessche – founder and CEO of Stella P. which specialises in building advisory boards and management boards; joint owner and founder of Accent Jobs and The House of HR
  • Herman Van de Velde – chairman of the listed Belgian lingerie company Van de Velde
What do our entrepreneurs and investors think? We asked them what motivates them.

Pieterjan Bouten - ShowpadPieterjan Bouten founded Showpad together with Masters in General Management alumnus Louis Jonckheere. “We have both lived in the US, where there is a big ‘pay it forward’ culture. In concrete terms, this means that everyone contributes to the ecosystem. For us, this ecosystem starts with education and training. It sometimes bothers me that there is too little focus in Belgium and Flanders on entrepreneurship and all the related aspects. And this starts from the ground up. Our education is excellent in many respects, but the aspect of entrepreneurship is not encouraged or covered to a sufficient extent. It's extremely motivating for us to collaborate with Vlerick, as it allows us to have an impact on the next generation.”

This impact translates into both inspiration and the transfer of knowledge. “We already have learned so much while continuing to expand our start-up, Showpad. We made good decisions along the way, but definitely some mistakes too. As well as sharing this knowledge, we would also like to inspire others. When we first became entrepreneurs, we were looking for inspiration too. We mainly found it in the US. Since we set up Showpad, many new entrepreneurs have joined us here in Belgium. So for us, inspiration is certainly part of the picture.”

Herman Van de Velde - Van de VeldeFor Herman Van de Velde, family entrepreneur and chairman of the lingerie company of the same name, the most important thing is gratitude. “At the start of my career, I took a few seminars at Vlerick. I was genuinely able to take the insights which I gained there and apply them to my business in practice. It has certainly helped our organisation to change and improve its performance. I got so much benefit from these seminars. Later, I joined the Impulse Centre ‘Growth Management for Medium-sized Enterprises’ (iGMO). Once again, I experienced the same highly practical added value. I would even say that our stock market listing was partly initiated by what I learned at iGMO. Vlerick has given me so much and now I would like to do something in return. Van de Velde is a family business which characterises the Flemish entrepreneurial landscape. If I can help others by means of my experience and the lessons I have learned, I would be delighted to do so.”

Arnoud Raskin - Mobile School / StreetwizeArnaud Raskin, founder of Mobile School and Streetwize, is particularly pleased that Vlerick is including social entrepreneurship in the picture. “This will help us to break down the barriers between non-profit, social colleges and a purely social context on the one hand and a more business-oriented approach on the other. What I have to contribute is business model innovation in the social arena. Bringing entrepreneurship and innovation into this social arena, in which people only tend to think about subsidies and philanthropy, allows you to create levers which will truly change the world. I feel it is very important for Vlerick to foster this cross-pollination too. I don't really like being depicted as a role model but after a session with Masters students, if the professor tells me that 10 students had an ‘aha’ moment, it gives me so much satisfaction. Even if I only inspired two to follow the same path and set up a business with a significant social impact, it would still be worth the effort.”

The aspect of acknowledgement also comes into play here. “The Forum for Social Entrepreneurship also gave me the opportunity to take the Young Management Programme. From the early days of our organisation, I always found advice and support here. Vlerick gave me access to its network during the start-up phase. If my own story can now inspire young people and perhaps even convince them to make a significant impact by choosing social entrepreneurship, then I would be delighted to share it.”

Harry De Smedt - Officenter Group / Ad Ultima GroupHarry De Smedt, board member at Officenter Group, chairman of the board at Ad Ultima Group and a business angel/investor, regards it as his duty to pass the Flemish entrepreneurial spirit on to the next generations. “In Flanders, we have many successful SMEs which often operate internationally too. Entrepreneurship tends to run in our DNA and as a Flemish entrepreneur, I consider it our duty to make some kind of social contribution. A kind of Flemish professional anchoring, as it were. By the same token, as an entrepreneur I have always been lucky enough to come into contact with the right people. Not just in the business sector, but also at Vlerick where I learned from inspiring people who (without actually realising it themselves) greatly helped to steer the course of my company. If this initiative puts me in a position to be the right person for others, it will be more than worth my precious time.

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