Floris De Smet has spent his professional life as a highly-trained scientist, dedicated to taking care of animals. But he’s always nurtured entrepreneurial ambitions too. So in 2018 he decided to make the leap and join the Executive MBA at Vlerick. Two years on, he is almost ready to graduate – and turn his entrepreneurial dreams into reality.
“I’ve been surrounded by friends and family who are entrepreneurs,” Floris says. “And I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. I knew I didn’t want to be a vet my whole life – I wanted to either start my own business or buy an existing business. But I also knew I’d need to prepare for this. So I chose to do the Executive MBA.”
Floris describes his time at Vlerick as fantastic. “I really did start from scratch,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in economics so I’ve read a lot, but I came to the MBA with a purely scientific background. So for me, the journey has been huge. And so worthwhile.
“My group was quite big – 53 people. But we’re all close and there’s a great vibe. People are on the MBA for various reasons but there’s a common thread – everyone wants to do something else. Over the two years, I’ve really seen people grow and change.
“My colleagues are engineers, corporate people – people I’ve learned a lot from, especially as I didn’t have a business background when I started. You learn to work together and with people from different industries. Personally, I’ve made some great friends and professionally, there’s a great spirit. Everyone wants to help each other out.”
For Floris, one of the most valuable elements of the MBA has been its focus on hands-on projects and activities. “Vlerick is all about experiences,” he says. “Yes, you learn theory – but a lot of it is practical. For example, my Knowledge in Action project. I chose to do mine based on my start-up idea. The project helped me to identify a need, set out my solution, identify my USPs and write my business plan. It’s been great to bring all the expertise and knowledge together and use it to make a business happen.”
Another aspect of the MBA that Floris is passionate about is the international experience it offers. He says: “Shanghai particularly was a great experience of a new culture and how other countries do business. We also went to San Francisco to learn about scale-ups, which was really useful for me as a start-up founder. We heard testimonials from successful entrepreneurs and learned tips about raising capital and what to avoid. It was great knowledge for the future.”
When he started his MBA, Floris’ aim was to buy an existing company. But his time at Vlerick changed this – and he’s already co-founded a start-up with another Vlerick MBA participant. CURAFYT is an innovative start-up that will supply animal food supplements. It launches later this year.
He says: “It’s like it was meant to be. Initially, I planned to look for an acquisition. But when I arrived at Vlerick, I reconnected with a former colleague from veterinarian school who was also studying at Vlerick. She wanted to move into entrepreneurship too. We had the same ambitions and it was great to start the journey together. Initially there was an opportunity to take over a company. The opportunity turned out in a buy or build decision! Out of an opportunity to buy, we realized we could start it ourselves… And this was made possible because of my MBA knowledge and experiences.”
Floris emphasises that the fact that he and his business partner have both studied at Vlerick has been a real advantage. “We have the same knowledge, so we’re on the same page,” he says. “We’ve heard the same success stories and examples of where things haven’t worked, we know the risks we need to look out for. This – combined with the great network we gained at Vlerick – has really helped us get to the point we’re at now.”
With graduation fast approaching, Floris is ready for the next step. He says: “We launch the start-up in June and that will be my focus. Vlerick has given me so much – but really it’s all about confidence. Vlerick has given me the confidence of having a network, the confidence of knowledge and the confidence to take the leap.
“It’s also given me the opportunity to build a strong professional network – as well as the close personal friendships with my peers that develop when you go through the intense experience of an MBA together.
“And of course, the MBA programme itself has given me business essentials. It’s a tough two years – there are a lot of courses, projects and group work to do alongside your normal job. But it really is worth it. It’s given me everything – from frameworks and marketing knowledge to a valuable network – that I need to make my business happen. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.”
Floris De Smet took the leap from veterinarian to entrepreneur. He graduated in 2020.
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