Are you a budding entrepreneur, looking for some actionable methods and frameworks you can apply to your journey? Perhaps you are bursting with new ideas, and are looking at how you can actually translate those into real-life products, services and goods?
Vlerick Business School’s Masters in Innovation and Entrepreneurship may be just what you are looking for! Today we speak to Veroniek Collewaert, Programme Director. She tells us about the great benefits the course offers, the opportunities previous students have found after graduation, and about their unique annual disruption tour in Silicon Valley (US).
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Tell us about how long you’ve been at Vlerick and also about your background
I have been the Programme Director at Vlerick Business School for their Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship since 2016.
I graduated with my PhD from Ghent University (Belgium) in 2009. Prior to that, I was in the US at Stanford and I also worked at Maastricht University as an assistant. I joined Vlerick Business School in 2012.
During my PhD, I also spent some time in the US at Stanford as a visiting scholar. Since then, I worked at Maastricht University (the Netherlands) as an Assistant Professor before I joined Vlerick Business School in 2012.
I’m also a professor at KU Leuven (Belgium) and part of a couple of different boards – at Teamleader, for instance, a SaaS company and at one of our Angel groups advising how entrepreneurs can interact with investors and how they can best handle investors once they are on board.
What is the most important reason to choose the Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School?
There are many reasons to choose to study the Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The year gives students all the tools and skills to think and act like an ‘innovative entrepreneur’. They also benefit from real-world experience to prepare them for the world of business. The number one reason cited by most students is the startup accelerator where students can work on their ideas with the help of entrepreneurs & investors and maximise their exposure.
There are also many soft skills which are developed throughout the year. Students go out and actually speak to potential customers, they also get the experience of pitching and selling their ideas.
At the end of the year, they get a choice of 2 modules. One is to undertake a project for a corporation and develop a new business area, while the other option is to work exclusively on their own startup with the help of a Vlerick professor.
However, what makes our programme really special is the fact that there is a practice-oriented component present in every single course.
At the start of the year, every student team is matched with an entrepreneur or an investor. Naturally, we ensure that there is a good match. This person becomes a mentor of the student. As all groups mix and mingle, this also provides a great opportunity for networking.
You mention that students will receive the tools and skills to think and act like an “innovative entrepreneur”. Can you explain a little more?
We help students to hone the skills that really set innovators apart. This includes daring to question the way things are and developing keen observational skills whilst not taking anything for granted. We place a strong emphasis on design thinking and we encourage students to think with an experimentation mindset and to not be afraid of trial and error.
Most students find that their idea at the end looks completely different from the idea they had at the start of the programme as their critical thinking evolves. We also help students to develop resilience and use methods to deal with pressure.
What is the disruption tour in Silicon Valley?
We take each cohort on a one week tour of Silicon Valley. Students are exposed to as many different companies as possible – think Google, Facebook, but also less well-known startups. The number one goal is to inspire people and it always works.
The tour gives students a sense of what makes Silicon Valley special and why people want to go there. It also provides a more realistic picture as speakers often talk about the difficulties and challenges they have faced.
what do you think are the best regions or ecosystems for innovative entrepreneurs in Europe?
It really depends on the industry. For example, I’d say Berlin for technology and London for fintech. Belgium, for instance, is quite known for its outstanding biotech and B2B SaaS companies. Overall, I must say I think geographical boundaries have become less relevant. The best place to start is to think about where your customers are. Another question founders need to ask themselves is “where is it interesting for me and where is my network?”
What kind of industries do students get into?
A bit of everything! Software and apps are always very popular. For example, we’ve had alumni who developed a chatbot for lawyers, an AI algorithm to detect errors in production lines or do track-and-trace, and a peer-to-peer shopping based app. But, at the same time, we’ve also had cocktail producers, e-bikes and e-scooters, and dips made from rescued vegetables.
What has changed for innovative entrepreneurs during COVID?
It depends. Of course, the availability of funding is impacted and when you start with zero cash it’s much harder. But, like with any other crisis, there are also opportunities. There may not be many students who are starting a restaurant at the moment, but they may be looking at B2B software services (e.g., digitizing registration forms or capacity planning software) instead.
What career prospects does the programme give after graduation?
Around 30% start their own venture, while the remainder go on to join another startup or business. Not everyone is ready to start their own business immediately or even want to. All students will have developed a host of new skills including innovation, new business development and consulting. We’ve seen students who are engineers who are then able to combine R&D with a commercial orientation. We’ve also had many budding Product Managers and Business Developers.
Do you have any tips and suggestions for prospective students looking to apply?
Mindset is the most important thing – being able to demonstrate evidence of an entrepreneurial or innovative approach. For example, what do they read and what practical experience do they have. Being up to date on the latest innovative technologies and making sure you are on top of the latest news and current affairs is important. But it’s about more than that; we are looking for people with an openness to the world – our teaching is very much action-oriented, so we want people to share their own experiences and be open to other’s experiences. Learning from one another is the best way to learn!
If you still have questions about whether a Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship is right for you then get in touch with EDUopinions. We can help you select the right programme for your unique needs.