MBA students bring state-of-the-art AI product to the market for tech company ML6

An in-company project at the cutting edge of digital technology

When Natasa Zivanovic and Ruben Vandenbulcke visited the Google offices in Brussels with their full-time MBA classmates, and heard what the Ghent-based machine learning company ML6 plans to do with artificial intelligence, they knew straight away: this was their chance to do an in-company project at the cutting edge of digital technology. After successfully pitching to ML6, they were asked to draw up a plan to bring ECC.AI to the market.

MBA students at Google Brussels
Natasa and ruben at Google Brussels

Next to delivering machine learning services to industry-leading companies in various sectors, ML6 is productising advanced self-learning algorithms, so companies can use these products to put pretty revolutionary ideas – “moonshot ideas” – into practice. “With our product ECC.AI, we want to empower manufacturing companies to significantly optimise their production processes with artificial intelligence and machine learning,” says Simon Logghe, Commercial Director at ML6 and corporate supervisor of the in-company project. “First of all, we wanted Natasa and Ruben to assess the viability of the idea behind ECC.AI. If that seemed conclusive, they would then map out a go-to-market strategy, a financial plan and a strategy to attract investors.”

Four-step process

“Looking at the scope, we immediately knew that this particular in-company project would take longer than the usual two months,” Ruben points out. “So we simply started two months earlier!”

For their research, Natasa and Ruben pursued a four-step process:

  1. Discovery: which industries would benefit from ECC.AI? Interviews with their Vlerick professors in digitalenergy and operations pointed them in the right direction and to the right contacts.
  2. Determination: which industries should ECC.AI target first? They also interviewed relevant stakeholders in around 25 companies in the chemicals, petrochemicals and food & beverage industries: which ones already work with AI in their production process - or at least have vast amounts of data at their disposal? And in case you’re wondering, Natasa states the case very clearly: “AI is definitely high on the agenda of many of the companies we interviewed, but only a few actually use AI or machine learning on the factory floor, e.g. sensors in production processes.”
  3. Analysis: what should the go-to-market strategy look like? Who could be a potential alpha partner? How should we approach them? etc.
  4. Action: what does a solid business plan for ECC.AI look like? Pitches for investors, Business model canvas, Financial forecast, etc.

ML6 in-company project
From left to right: Simon Logghe (ML6), Professor Fredrik Hacklin (Vlerick), Ruben Vandenbulcke and Natasa Zivanovic after the project defense

“Hard to beat these two!”

“What Natasa and Ruben did for ML6 was absolutely stunning,” Simon comments. “They took a broad idea and narrowed it down to a concrete concept for a viable product. They gave us a plan to work with, and finally they trawled through their Vlerick network for alpha partners with whom we could co-create to develop a beta version. What’s more, they came up with use cases we hadn’t even thought of. We will definitely submit a proposal for another in-company project with one of our other machine learning product next year. But it will be hard to beat these two!” (laughs)

“A clean slate”

The in-company project was also very rewarding for Natasa and Ruben. Natasa: “Before starting my MBA, I had been working as a supply chain consultant for 5.5 years. I was familiar with the operational side of things, but of course AI technology and machine learning were new to me. What I really liked was that ML6 put aside its own prerogatives and gave us a clean slate.”

“I’m coding in Python”

Ruben, on the other hand, had a very different background. “I worked as an architect and designer for six years, and I had experience on smart cities. I embarked on this MBA because I wanted to broaden my career development and hone my entrepreneurial skills. But I didn’t expect to develop such a taste for all things digital – I’m even learning to code in Python at the moment. Looking forward to continuing my career in technology, the past year has been a turning point for me, and the project with ML6 played a big part in it.”

In-company projects

Do you have a strategic issue but neither the time nor the resources to address it? Could you use some extra management insights from our MBA or Masters students? Contact our in-company coordinator Kimberly Pauwels via [email protected].

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