“Vlerick was an experience of a lifetime. Without Vlerick, EnergyVision would not exist. I would not be an entrepreneur…”
Maarten Michielssens is the CEO of EnergyVision. It was once the fastest-growing start-up in Belgium – and now has a turnover of more than €100 million. He says Vlerick gave him the skills and confidence to take the leap and become an entrepreneur.
Yet when he started his Masters in General Management in 2005, a professor asked the cohort: “Please raise your hand if you intend to found your own company when you graduate.”
Out of 70 people, two put their hands in the air. Maarten was not one of them.
But as his studies progressed, a fire began to light inside him. He says: “Vlerick gave me the confidence to start my own business.
“I think I had imposter syndrome without knowing it. But the course, the lecturers and my fellow participants brought my entrepreneurial spirit out. I even met the future Chairman of the Board at EnergyVision on the programme – he’s now also my best friend.”
Courses on strategy, entrepreneurship, and operations, in particular, gave Maarten the concrete skills he needed to take his ideas and turn them into a viable company.
Maarten says: ”I learned everything at Vlerick. I learned about myself, and I developed my own mindset. The coaching you receive is valuable – and being around people who are completely expert in what they do.”
It was also during this time that Maarten realised business can have purpose and make a positive impact – and be a force for good in the world. He says: “I realised business doesn’t just have to be about maximising shareholder value. It should be about maximising all types of value – and it should be about impact and doing good too.”
EnergyVision was launched in 2014 to offer sustainable energy solutions for homes, businesses and vehicles. It now has a presence in Belgium, Morocco and China – and in 2020 it became a fully integrated energy supplier – with the King of Belgium attending its launch.
“Without Vlerick, none of this would have been possible,” says Maarten. “The whole experience was a turning point in my life. If I hadn’t done it, I would probably have become a teacher by now.”
So what made Maarten gravitate towards Vlerick? He says: “I was a graduate in Germanic languages – and business was probably not the most obvious path for me. However, Vlerick made a promise that they would develop what was already inside you.
“This promise appealed to me because I knew I wanted to do something – I just didn’t know what. I knew that I wanted to have an impact – and Vlerick gave me the skills, the tools and the confidence to take the leap and do just that.”
While Maarten’s Vlerick experience was a few years ago now, his company still benefits from Vlerick thinking. It regularly welcomes Vlerick students to carry out in-company projects – and Maarten lectures at the school about sustainable, purpose-driven business.
He says: “Why wait until the end of your career to help others? If you want to make an impact, the time is now.”
Maarten says he’s consistently impressed by Vlerick students, adding: “Seeing fresh ideas and watching younger people make a positive impact in the world is inspirational.
“We’re hopeful, not just for our industry, but for the future in general. You have to change what you can to improve the world. Vlerick students bring great energy and good ideas to help us fulfil this vision.”
Looking back at his time at Vlerick, Maarten adds: “Vlerick was an experience of a lifetime. Without Vlerick, EnergyVision would not exist. I would not be an entrepreneur. It was game-changing.
“If you’re thinking of taking the leap with Vlerick, just do it. It’s the best leap you could take.”