Turn your passion into your job

If you drink a delicious cocktail at an event or in a bar, there’s a good change it’s a Fusion cocktail. Emiel Govaert, the founder of Fusion, is a civil and architectural engineer, as well as a mixologist – a ‘cocktail architect’ if you like. “Making cocktails is my passion and thanks to the Masters in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, I have turned it into my job.”

Bridging the gap

Emiel feels this Masters in Entrepreneurship & Innovation is an interesting addition to many study programmes, particularly Civil and Architectural Engineering. “With the exception of a few optional subjects, economics or entrepreneurship were never tackled in my degree course, which I missed. The one-year Masters programme seemed like my perfect fit – and it was.”

Emiel Govaert - Fusion cocktails

“The curriculum tackles just about every aspect of setting up a company. And for some subjects you can choose your own business case. You can use the start-up accelerator module, as well as subjects like entrepreneurship and design thinking to work on your own start-up. That’s exactly what I did.”

The same drinks, over and over again

“Have you ever wondered why you rarely – or even never – find fresh cocktails at larger events and pubs?” he asks. “Making fresh cocktails requires great effort, a lot of ingredients and tools – and consequently also a lot of space. But it also calls for the right skills, and finding them is no easy feat, especially if you work mainly with students. Opening bottles, putting ice cubes in a glass, pouring the drinks… That’s all automatic. Making cocktails, on the other hand, disrupts your whole routine. You could rely on premixes or breezers, but they don’t contain any fresh fruit, and that affects the taste. Real professionals refuse to use them. The result? You always end up being served the same old drinks. I want to make sure you can enjoy real cocktails anytime, anywhere, not only when you head to a dedicated cocktail bar. Fusion supplies premium ready-made alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails at an honest price, all made with fresh ingredients, without chemical additives.”

A unique process, a unique taste

The name of Emiel’s start-up says it all. Fusion stands for a harmonious combination of various elements. “At the end of the day, that’s what a good cocktail is. Fusion also refers to ‘infusion’, a process to extract flavours from a variety of ingredients though liquids. A few examples are infusions with liqueurs, syrups and oils”, he explains. “I create infusions with the full cocktail, so not only with the spirits used. Making infusions takes time, but since my cocktails don’t need to be made on the spot, I can use processes that are not an option in traditional bars. I use fruit and fresh herbs, for example. These infusions give cocktails a unique flavour and take them to the next level. I’m currently experimenting with peppers, flowers and whisky casks. The possibilities to create exceptional drinks are endless.”

Blind tastings

Emiel believes that, without this one-year Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship programme, Fusion would probably never have seen the light of day. “I developed the business plan with several fellow students as part of the entrepreneurship module. And during the start-up accelerator we tested several hypotheses among consumers, and catering and hospitality establishments. Blind tastings with friends and family served to determine the freshness of the cocktails – when do you start noticing a difference in taste? And of course we also sat around the table with the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) and the Customs and Excise department to obtain the necessary licences. Instead of opting for an in-company project, I continued to work on Fusion to prepare the production and sales process.”

Did I encounter any problems throughout the process? He chuckles. “Of course I did. It requires so much more than you’d think. Branding, logistics, packaging, you name it… A 10-litre cask with a tap may be convenient at an event, but in a bar it’s easier to work with a regular 1-litre bottle. It took a while for all the pieces to fit.”

Mum’s kitchen

What’s next? “Three months on, I’ve sold over 2,200 cocktails to several catering and hospitality establishments and at professional and private events. The catering and hospitality sector is enthusiastic. The cocktails are selling like hot cakes; they are basically hassle-free and customers love them. In the past few months I’ve hardly been able to keep up with the demand. At the moment, the greatest bottleneck is still the production process, but I’m working on it. I was using my parents’ kitchen, but now I’ve set up a second one that serves as the ‘Fusion lab’. My mother’s happy, because, finally, she’s got her kitchen back,” he laughs.

The question is whether this success will continue even after the summer months. “Maybe cocktails are still associated too much with good weather. Now the challenge is for me to convince people you can enjoy them all year round.”

Problems are opportunities

Emiel explains this has been an incredibly enriching experience. “I’ve learned so much and met so many interesting people. You know, I had so many ideas, but I didn’t quite know how to turn them into a concrete project. Vlerick gave me the know-how and support I needed. I had a whole year to think things through and try things out, surrounded by the right people.”

He would do it all again in a heartbeat. “This is the ideal programme for anyone who feels problems are actually opportunities, just like I do. By the way, I’m still planning to work as an architect. This Masters will be useful in that field as well, because it gave me the tools to set up a healthy business as an architect too.”

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