Jürgen launched a business while studying for his MBA – and it now has a presence in 13 countries

Jürgen Degrande, Co-founder of Edgard & Cooper, Full-time MBA, 2016

“I co-founded what is now an innovative, €70m, scaling business. If I had not been to Vlerick, this would not have happened.”


In 2015, Jürgen Degrande was a successful sales executive, living and working in New York City, USA. But his home country of Belgium was calling to him.

Most importantly, his girlfriend was in Belgium. And there was another thought too, scratching away at the back of his mind – that maybe he could achieve more.

So he quit his job, booked a one-way flight to Brussels and enrolled on a full-time MBA at Vlerick.

Today, he’s leading the €70m pet food business, Edgard & Cooper, he’s married to Feryal – and they have a daughter together.

Launching a business and studying at the same time

He says: “I wanted my move back to Belgium to be the start of new things in many ways. I wanted to give my relationship the best chance, and I’m ambitious and wanted to see if I could achieve something more. I knew I had blind spots – things like finance, accounting and marketing – and I wanted to go outside of my comfort zone.

“Vlerick is well ranked. It has a great reputation – and so I enrolled for the year-long, full-time MBA.”

He’d only been at Vlerick a short time when Jürgen got a call from Koen & Louis, who would become his co-founders.

Jürgen says: “They wanted to disrupt the pet food market. They’d heard I was back in Belgium and thought my retail experience would be helpful. It was a really interesting proposition.”

But Jürgen wanted to continue his studies. So he spoke to Vlerick to find out if he could do both.

Supporting entrepreneurs

He says: “Vlerick is a school that’s really supportive of entrepreneurs. So when I talked to them about this opportunity I had, they allowed the programme to flex around me.

“They allowed me additional time to finish the programme – and they said I didn’t need to go on the international trips. They also allowed me to do my in-company project in my own business.

“So my MBA directly helped me to launch the business. I could go and learn about profit and loss, and then put that knowledge directly to work in the business. Also things like HR, supply chain and project management all give you a good foundation.”

Jürgen says being at Vlerick also meant being immersed in positive energy – and surrounded by like-minded people.

“If you need a sounding board or to brainstorm an idea, you have 50 people to talk to – and a ‘let’s make it happen’ attitude,” he adds.

If you are thinking about taking an MBA or starting a business, remember you only have one life. Just do it. Vlerick will support you to take the leap.
Jurgen Degrande
Co-founder of Edgard & Cooper

Better pet food, healthier planet

The company Jürgen worked for in New York had been very innovative and had created sustainable products. With this experience – and his new learnings from Vlerick – Jürgen worked from the very beginning to make Edgard & Cooper as sustainable as possible.

He says: “Traditional pet food is often made by taking all of the questionable by-products of human food such as ground-up bones and tendons, rendering this into a nutritionally poor raw material called meat meal. This highly processed and heated meal is then used to make a kibble which is a lot harder to digest.

“At Edgard & Cooper, we innovated and teamed up with an extrusion manufacturer that could make kibble out of fresh meat – which is much better for pets. We also launched alternative, plant-based protein sources, which are better for the planet… and we are proud to be using paper packaging for all of our dry food. Of course, we want to do more – and we want to keep improving.”

The company also commits 1% of its sales to the Edgard & Cooper Foundation, to support cats and dogs across the world, in places including Afghanistan, Chile and Sri Lanka. And it was after a trip to see the work of the foundation in action that Jürgen truly fell in love with dogs.

He says: “I didn’t grow up with pets, and up until that point the business had been a rational concept for me. But now I love my dog Alfie and he is part of the family – and it’s made me passionate about pet equality, and even more passionate about the business.”

Continuing relationship with Vlerick

“Vlerick is still very much part of my life and the business,” says Jürgen, adding, “I am an Entrepreneur in Residence at Vlerick and I give business lectures to students. We also have students from Vlerick do their in-company projects with us – and a lot of my colleagues have studied at Vlerick.

“Without Vlerick, I wouldn’t have started Edgard & Cooper. It gave me the environment I needed to succeed.

“If you are thinking about taking an MBA or starting a business, remember you only have one life. Just do it. Vlerick will support you to take the leap.”