Entrepreneurs embrace doctoral students

'From PhD to SME'

C-SITE was one of the four SMEs that participated in the project, in collaboration with UGent and Voka East Flanders.

After the successful first edition of last year, UGent and Voka East Flanders are once again organizing the one-year process 'From PhD to SME'.

The goal: to introduce PhD students and postdoctoral researchers to the world of SMEs. Four participants from last year enthusiastically talk about their experiences.

"I like to draw a parallel with the concept of dual learning that everyone is convinced is the form of education of the future. Thanks to dual learning, young people acquire skills at school and in the workplace, making them optimally prepared for the labor market. This project honors the same philosophy." - Luc Feyaerts, CEO and co-shareholder of C-SITE

Second edition 'From PhD to SME' will start this fall

Last year, sixteen PhD students and postdoctoral researchers from UGent started working for four East Flemish SMEs. This - often first - introduction to the business world is not unimportant for these young people, because the chance that they can work later as a pro at a Flemish university is not that great, especially 1 in 13. Sooner or later the majority will come of this group ends up in the business world. For SMEs, this is an opportunity to collaborate with scientists who not only have a wealth of know-how, but also a refreshing perspective.

Same philosophy as dual learning

One of the four SMEs that joined the project is C-SITE. The Ghent-based company developed a platform that allows you to view photos, live stream and timelapses anywhere and anytime, which is very interesting for project, infrastructure and engineering projects for project follow-up, creative communication (website, social media, ...), risk, stakeholder and safety management. "In the academic world there are absolute top players in their field who have never seen a company from the inside and that is a shame," explains Luc Feyaerts, CEO and co-shareholder of C-SITE, the motivation to participate. “I like to draw a parallel with the concept of dual learning that everyone is convinced is the training form of the future. Thanks to dual learning, young people acquire skills at school and in the workplace, so that they are optimally prepared for the labor market. This project has the same philosophy. "

CTO and co-founder Tim Schokkaert also note that there is still a big gap between SMEs and the academic world. “Flanders has many good research institutions. Yet in the past we have deliberately not participated several times in some promising projects because the researchers sometimes lack the pragmatic reflex. As an entrepreneur you must always see the business case and they do not always take this into account. Two questions are crucial: "Is the market looking for this product?" and especially "How much does the market want to pay for this?" In other words, you can earn back the investment in product development in the long term. ”

Now that the process has been completed, Tim Schokkaert looks back with satisfaction. “It was a very interesting experience for us because our four PhD students had completely different backgrounds. They came from chemistry, psychology, architecture / engineering and marketing (audiovisual communication). They each looked at certain situations in their own way. That refreshing view on entrepreneurship was valuable to us. ”

CEO Luc Feyaerts confirms that participation in the project had an impact on business operations. “As a scale-up, you are busy with operational matters day in and day out, which means that you sometimes feel that you are running after the facts. Thanks to our PhD students, we have now become much more proactive. For example, we now pay much more attention to HR and we try to work in a more structured way. We have invested some time and energy in this project, but it was certainly worth it. "

Openness is crucial

The students were very interested in the first edition of 'From PhD to SME'. No fewer than 76 doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers applied.

Voka East Flanders selected 16 profiles from that group. Among them Jasper Dezwaef, Jono Van Belle, Kim De Nolf and the Portuguese José Pedro Pereira.

On the other hand, four companies were ready to welcome the PhD students with open arms. In addition to C-SITE, these were Pilz Belgium (automation systems from Sint-Denijs-Westrem), Metanous (software developer from Gavere) and Meyland (transport systems for piece and bulk goods from Adegem).

The process started with an introductory round in which the four participating companies introduced themselves to the young audience. Based on this, the doctoral students were allowed to show their preference. "C-SITE caught my attention because it brings an innovative concept to the sometimes very traditional construction sector," says Jono Van Belle. “But I was particularly charmed by the ambition that Luc and Tim radiated. In retrospect, this attitude turned out to be typical of the entire company, because the corporate culture is very closely linked to the personality and the values ​​of both leaders. ”

During the process, the doctoral students also took some theoretical lessons on topics such as strategy, leadership, structures, and so on. With that knowledge in their pocket, they fed back to their mentors. “From the beginning we got the feeling that Luc and Tim took us seriously. They really listened to us and also took our comments into account, ”says Jasper Dezwaef. "Luc and Tim were also very open towards us and I think that is the crucial success factor," adds Kim De Nolf.

"We were sometimes surprised about the questions we received," responds Luc Feyaerts. “They were always very to the point. We always worked hard to formulate a solid answer. "

Doctoral student becomes entrepreneur

The four PhD students look back with pleasure on the past year. “It was an educational period. There is nevertheless a big cultural difference between the academic and the business world, "says Jasper Dezwaef. “As a researcher you work under the supervision of a professor, but otherwise you are working on an island. In the business world, communication and teamwork are so much more important. "

José Pedro Pereira also sounds satisfied. “I already had the technical knowledge, but I was particularly interested in getting to know the entrepreneurial life and that worked out well. I was a bit surprised about the work ethic in Flanders. I regularly saw people here who closed their laptop at 5 pm and left. With us in Portugal, people beat more hours. "

This route was an important experience for Kim De Nolf and she wants to put it into practice immediately. She is in the process of starting her own business. QustomDot is a UGent spin-off that investigates the improvement of LED screens and lighting through the development of cadmium-free quantum dots.

Text Dirk Van Thuyne - Photo Johan Martens

Wanted: four hospitable SMEs to guide researchers for one year. Interested? Get in contact.

Source: Voka news