At the opening of each academic year, one of our alumni has the honour of giving a keynote speech for our new Masters and MBA students embarking on their learning journey. This year our special guest was Julie Lietaer, alumna of our Masters in Financial Management, CEO of European Spinning Group and founder of Ariadne Innovation. She gave an inspiring talk about building a bridge between purpose and entrepreneurship, between society and economics, and about creating societal impact. And she talked about her path towards entrepreneurship, first taking over as CEO of the family business, and later founding her own tech start-up.
European Spinning Group is a third-generation Belgian family business with roots in the flax industry. Currently, the company has over 100 employees and spins yarn made out of flax, but it also produces innovative products for the future and a global market. Purpose and sustainability are becoming ever more important, especially in the fashion and textile industry. With Julie Lietaer as CEO, the company has invested in more transparency and transitioned to using more sustainable raw materials in its production processes.
But Julie was also on a personal mission to become a pioneer in the circular economy. A new product was developed from shredded old jeans, which were turned into new yarn and then woven or knitted again into new textile products. In 2019, the ‘Hack your jeans’ project was launched – with the mission to not only develop products but to connect, inform and inspire customers as well as designers, students and entrepreneurs.
With the global Covid-19 outbreak, supply chains in textile and fashion were interrupted and companies were looking for solutions and more local partners. Being a rather closed sector by nature, communication – and especially collaboration – were lacking. Combining her passion for the industry with her strong social drive, her creativity, and love for technology, Julie launched her own start-up – Ariadne Innovation – blending sustainability, digitalisation and collaboration as the 3 pillars for the future. As a part of Ariadne Innovation, her Ellie platform aims to inspire, inform, connect and stimulate collaboration and acts as a digital guide to finding sustainable solutions to textile and fashion challenges. Today, Ellie has 400 members and has been able to solve 45 challenges. Active in 18 countries, it’s the first platform with full production coverage in the textile industry.
Vlerick Dean Marion Debruyne interviews Julie Lietaer, CEO of European Spinning Group and founder of Ariadne Innovation. Julie was our keynote speaker during the opening ceremony for the current academic year.
Following her speech, Julie spoke with our Dean, Marion Debruyne, and answered questions from the students. Here are the 3 takeaways.
1/ Every entrepreneur should be a social entrepreneur
Today, there’s an increasingly strong connection between entrepreneurship and social enterprises. Every company should have its purpose. Apart from acting in terms of economic purpose and growing your company, every entrepreneur should also think about what impact he or she wants to have on society so that every profit becomes a social profit. Building a purpose-driven company is not easy and you will often be shown the door because others don’t understand or feel the need for impact. You need to convince your customers, your employees and your ecosystem that you’re doing it for the long run, as this is the only way to advance our society in the right direction.
2/ Fill your backpack with experiences and be your authentic self
There are advantages and disadvantages to every career choice, but it’s always a good idea to try out different paths as they will fill your backpack with a diversity of experiences. Through strategic consulting, you get the opportunity to work on different projects in a wide variety of industries. And you develop strong analytical skills, an asset in almost any job you can imagine. In a corporate environment, you learn how to work for a boss in a professional structure and you can venture into intrapreneurship. These are all experiences that can grow your confidence to take the leap towards becoming an entrepreneur, where you can build something from scratch and witness the impact you can create. And when choosing a business, stay true to your authentic self. Find out who you really are and look for something that you are passionate about.
3/ Networking and connecting are key
Being active in diverse networks and investing time in connecting with other people is truly valuable. There are many benefits to meeting other people and sharing stories. It’s a form of continuous education – and as an entrepreneur, lifelong learning and staying educated are vitally important. And during difficult times having a network to fall back on is a true source of personal agility and resilience, which can help keep you going and inspire you with new ideas. And finally, a network creates opportunities to collaborate with industry peers and do great things together.