For biotechnician Katrien Vanhonacker, branching out as a startup consultant meant taking a plunge after many years in sales and marketing with big companies. And that meant taking the Executive MBA at Vlerick.
We’re living longer and we’re working longer. And that means that we need to stay open to trying new careers, leverage new opportunities and ensure that our knowledge, understanding and skill set are up to date.
Take Katrien Vanhonacker.
After almost three decades in sales and marketing roles with major international companies, Katrien decided to branch out as an independent consultant working with life science startups in Belgium.
A biotechnician by training, Katrien felt that she had plenty of technical and business experience and expertise to offer to fledgling businesses looking to take their innovations to market. And she was excited by the prospect of doing something new, something challenging, and something that brought her diverse skills and competencies together.
“My career followed a fairly typical trajectory within life sciences, from research to sales and marketing within multinationals. In 2015 I felt the time was right for me to take a different path. My children were grown and I believed it was the time to look for new possibilities and take some new risks.”
Taking the decision to work at the forefront of innovation with young companies starting and scaling up was a daring departure for Katrien. And getting it right not only meant bringing all of her experience and know-how to bear; it meant broadening out her own understanding of the different business functions, and how they work together to deliver value.
“When you’re starting up you have to be involved in all of the different aspects of a business, from market research to product development to marketing to sales and beyond. And coming into this in a consultancy role, the advice you share will have implications for every function of the business. My decision to take the Executive MBA at Vlerick was informed by this. I knew I needed to understand all of the different disciplines and build the frameworks to bring them together and make solid strategic decisions.”
Starting the Executive MBA, there were a few things to consider. For a start there were areas of business in which Katrien had limited experience. Financial management and accountancy, for instance, were new areas to master. Then there was the fact that after many years of experience, she was at a different stage in life to many of her peers. Neither of these considerations was a deterrent she says.
“I certainly wasn’t the youngest person in my cohort, but the timing was absolutely right for me. Doing an MBA in your 40s or 50s is great because you have more freedom. You don’t have to juggle young children and you have more flexibility to really get the most out of the experience. Doing an MBA was a long-held ambition for me, but it wasn’t until this time in my life that my circumstances felt right for me to do it.”
And it’s a decision that has paid off enormously in terms of her career switch. Having an MBA, she says, gives her credibility both with clients and among angel investors.
“It’s a stamp of authority. An MBA shows that you have a business attitude and mindset and it demonstrates motivation and credibility, which is incredibly important in the startup and investor community.”
For Katrien, taking the plunge to try something new and update her knowledge and skills set has paid dividends in terms of personal development and fulfilment. She views the future with excitement and enthusiasm. And she has even caught the entrepreneurial bug herself, she says.
“We’re living and working longer than ever before. And I’d say this to anyone at my stage in life who is thinking of challenging themselves to try something new: it’s never too late to start over. Doing an MBA has given me an important update in terms of business and innovation, and in terms of how upcoming generations see the world. It’s also given me a renewed sense of what’s possible. Who knows, I might even end up starting up a business myself.”