In September, Olivier Vanden Eynde is shifting his centre of gravity from EU to Kenya. A new milestone for his international non-profit Close the Gap. In preparation for this step, the social entrepreneur wanted to familiarise himself with the world of corporate finance. That's why he joined Vlerick's Executive Master Class in Corporate Finance.
Closing the gap
“I just turned 39 and Close the Gap has actually been my first real introduction to entrepreneurship. I started the project as a mini-enterprise during my last two years as a commercial engineer at the VUB. Initially, Close the Gap was a box mover: we took over computers from large European companies which often discarded their materials after just 18 months. We checked them and then distributed them to the poorest layers of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa using an affordable revenue model”.
“When I started Close the Gap in 2003, you would already practically be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize if you brought a computer from Europe to the bush in Africa. 15 years later, globalisation has thankfully changed all that. The African development of mobile technology has progressed at a tremendous pace compared to Europe and the US. But that also confused the economic ecosystem”.
Responding to a changing ecosystem
“As an entrepreneur, I couldn’t ignore this. It became clear to me that we needed to change into a more solution-oriented organisation. Our mission has been and remains tackling traditional development issues in an innovative way through technology. These solutions do not necessarily have to come from ourselves, however. It is more sustainable if young entrepreneurs in Africa develop solutions themselves”. “I’d been thinking about that strategy for a few months. Although I felt that I had a sound economic basis, I still lacked various tools, the right jargon. I wanted to better understand the mechanisms of corporate finance, the underlying drivers. That's why I signed up for Vlerick”.
“Why exactly did I choose Vlerick? For three reasons. Firstly, it offers a full academic programme which is also feasible for working students. Fairly unique, I think. Secondly, the Vlerick network was a big plus for me. I am Flemish myself, from Brussels, and the Solvay network that I built up as a result of studying at the VUB is very important to me. I knew less about the Flemish entrepreneurial world. And at Vlerick, you find the crème de la crème. My third motivation was Sophie Manigart. She is a leading personality in corporate finance. I was looking forward to working with her”.
A watermark for quality
“What really fascinated me about Vlerick's approach was the in-company project that we had to develop. It meant that I could use my training time to write my own business plan and test it against reality. I regard the good rating I got for my final project as a quality label. It also gave me the confidence to really go for my plans”.
“The fact that many programmes are given by people from the business community itself also offers added value. Various entrepreneurs revealed their recent start-up history to our group, and these are personal insights that you can't read in any textbook. It’s possible at Vlerick, because you know that these conversations will remain confidential”.
A new start in life
“Looking back on it, the programme came along just at the right time. 2017 had been a challenging year for me both personally and professionally. After Vlerick, I started my 2.0 career. Maybe I started the training to acquire some hard skills, but I learned so much more from it”.
“Apart from anything else, it is also a year in which you spend time working on yourself and getting to know every little flaw. You think about your role in society, in your family, in your business, in life as a whole. In that sense, the programme is a healthy break in the rat race of your life. It helps you to consciously seek out a better work-life balance. And for someone who is nearly forty and has young children—the average profile of our group—this is a very useful lesson”.