Program Name: Master in Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Length of Program: 10 months
Cost: € 16,400 (about $18,198)
Vlerick Business School in Leuven, Belgium is no stranger to the startup world, having ranked ninth among top MBA programs for entrepreneurship in 2015, according to the Financial Times. (The school did not make FT‘s top 25 for entrepreneurship in 2016, but did squeeze into the top 100, at No. 99, in the 2017 overall rankings). More than that, entrepreneurship “has been in our DNA” since the school was founded in 1953, professor Veronica Collewaert says. So it’s no shock that Vlerick would launch a new degree program dedicated to budding business founders; the only real question is, why has it taken so long?
Well, you can’t just throw these things together, can you? Vlerick’s new Master in Innovation & Entrepreneurship, designed for international students who want to start their own businesses and focusing on digital innovation and startups, launches in September after two years of planning, says Collewaert, program director. She says when it comes to entrepreneurship, it was finally time for Vlerick to “walk to talk.”
“We planned it over the course of two years, with some experimenting of our own,” Collewaert tells Poets&Quants. “This was the work of many people, all pitching in with their ideas to make this a success. I truly believe we have created a program that has an impact on our students and that inspires them.”
‘A DRIVE FOR INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP”
The program is based in Leuven, Belgium’s “tech startup capital” and oldest university town, where students have 24/7 access to purpose-built seminar rooms, a library, IT facilities, recreation areas, and several state-of-the-art computer rooms. In 2015, Reuters called Vlerick’s Leuven campus the second-most innovative in Europe, behind only Imperial College London.
Vlerick’s full-time MBA program, a bit older than usual (average age 30), contains 19 nationalities and about a 60%-40% male-female split. For its new master’s program, Vlerick won’t necessarily be looking to check any particular boxes — the school mainly is concerned with “fit,” Collewaert says.
“We consider how you have performed academically, as well as your results on GMAT, GRE, or VBAT (Vlerick Business School Admission Test),” she says. “We look at your resume so far — particularly any activities or experiences that demonstrate your interest in business in general, and in entrepreneurship and innovation in specific.
“The most important thing for us is whether you are a good fit for us, and if we are a good fit for you. How does the program tie in with your future professional and personal plans? For this specific program, you obviously need a clear drive for either innovation or entrepreneurship. It can be either/or — in other words, not everyone needs to want to start their own venture. But we do expect at least one of the two.”
Why did Vlerick Business School launch the program? “Entrepreneurship and innovation form a core area of strategic focus for the school,” Collewaert says. “From the school’s founding (in 1953), entrepreneurship has been in our DNA and something that has been instilled in our mission. It wasn’t until more recently, though, that we saw a significant increase in our master’s students having a keen interest in starting up their own ventures or wanting to take on positions in product development and the like.
“Additionally, companies are increasingly looking for profiles with a background in innovation and entrepreneurship to deal with a rapidly changing competitive environment. To address these needs, we set up this program.”
How is it different from what else is on the market? “Things that stand out include, for instance, our startup accelerator, in which students get to work on an idea of their own with the coaching of an experienced entrepreneur or investor alongside them,” Collewaert says. “A bit like (UK business pitch reality show) Dragon’s Den really, but on a repeated basis with hands-on coaching. Another eyecatcher is our Silicon Valley Disruption Tour, where we take the students on a one-week trip to Silicon Valley and have them meet all sorts of different players in the ecosystem there, ranging from famous tech companies like Google or Amazon to startups, incubators, and investors. It’s a very inspiring week — there are always some students who don’t want to go home afterward!
“Besides this, we also give the students some flexibility to tailor their program to their specific wants and needs via our hands-on bootcamps (e.g., in the fintech, healthcare, or energy industries). Lastly, we offer our existing students and alumni the chance to meet through Vlerick Venturing, a series of events to help our alumni and students to actually take the leap by showing role models and sharing best practices.”
What’s the application process? Are GMATs or GREs required? An essay? “You either need to succeed for the Vlerick Business School Admissions Test, which consists of an analytical test and a personal interview, or you can also apply with a GMAT or GRE score,” Collewaert says. “If your native language is not English and/or your undergraduate degree was not taught in English, you will also need to provide an English proficiency test.”
The next date for the VBAT is June 13 in Belgium. Tests will also be administered in July and August.
What are the application deadlines? June 30 for EU applicants; those who require a visa to study in Belgium are encouraged to apply no later than the end of April prior to the start of the academic year they wish to attend.
What can a student do to best prepare for the program in advance of its start? Books to read? Podcasts to listen to? TED talks to watch? “No real preparation is needed, as we take all of our students through the basics,” Collewaert says. “However, books we can recommend include The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank. Overall, we also expect students to be knowledgeable about the current economic environment and to be familiar with entrepreneurship-related or innovation-related trends and initiatives.”
What will students learn in the program? What’s the program format? “This program teaches you how to identify and manage new business opportunities,” Collewaert says. “It’s the gateway to a career as an innovative leader in any kind of company, whether it’s your own business, a multinational, or a large consultancy firm. Students can expect specialist subjects such as ‘design thinking’, ‘entrepreneurial finance’, ‘intellectual property’, a ‘Strategic Innovation’ boot camp highlighting a specific sector (healthcare, energy, financial technology, or consumer goods), and a startup accelerator aimed at helping them set up their own business. During the disruption tour to Silicon Valley, you’ll get the chance to visit innovative companies, investors, and incubators.”
The figure above shows the journey a MiIE student will go through from September until June. In the first part of the program, they’ll get a broad view on all management domains. Starting with a crash course on management essentials, they then move on to the core subjects. Throughout the different modules they’ll be faced with numerous action learning challenges and personal development exercises.
Throughout the year they’ll work in teams on developing new business ideas during the startup accelerator. Experienced coaches will help and challenge them on the way.
The second part of the program focuses entirely on innovation and entrepreneurship. Students will first take some specialized courses and then choose an industry-focused strategic innovation boot camp. Students also will visit Silicon Valley during this time. In the last two months of the program they’ll either work on an innovation consultancy project or their own startup.
During summer, students can apply for an optional internship in a startup through one of Vlerick’s partner incubator or accelerator programs.
Is there a capstone or special project? If so, please describe it. “The program ends with an in-company project focusing on innovation or entrepreneurship,” Collewaert says. “The students either work in small teams within a given company on a specific assignment for an eight-week period, or they continue to work on their own startup. Those who want to gain even more experience can opt for an additional work placement with an existing startup.”
What do you expect student outcomes to be? “They will feel empowered to undertake innovative business opportunities, regardless of the setting (i.e. corporate or a start-up), and will be aware of the trends that rule our business world today and tomorrow,” Collewaert says.