UHasselt students take theory into the real world

Summary

Students at Hasselt University have been learning about business modelling and putting it into practice to help local businesses thrive

Out in the field

Hasselt University has launched a unique business modelling programme with the city of Genk and local businesses. The initiative aims to give students hands-on management experience while boosting economic activity in the region.

Over the next two months, 21 students from the Master’s of management programme will work with six family-owned companies to improve their business plans. With the help of the Business Model Canvas, a template designed for use on existing enterprises, the students will take a closer look at how each company operates and analyse their customer relationships and revenue streams.

According to Matty Paquay, a visiting professor who supervises the programme, the goal is to “provide the students with professional experience and competitive advantage when they enter the labour market”. 

Before approaching the companies, the students learned how to apply the canvas method in a class taught by Paquay from September to January at Hasselt University. Paquay is one of only 30 consultants in the world certified in the programme.

The template is essentially a board divided into segments showing different aspects of a company. Unlike other plans, which tend to be very abstract and span 30 to 40 pages, “the idea is to bring the business model to its essence, with the use of nine building blocks that help you look at your company in a very structured way,” explains Paquay.

Practical skills

In designing the class, he wanted to combine academic material with real-life experience. “I had been working with the students for five months, not only teaching them theory, but also developing practical skills,” he says. “When I saw they were ready to function in a business environment, I opted to go out into the field.”

The first collaborative session took place at the end of March. Divided into small groups, the students spent half a day with the companies in an effort to better understand their operations.

The group provided a very fresh look at our company

- Stijn Lemmens

“It was quite successful,” says Liam Juan, one of the students. “Based on the information the company has given us, we framed what their business model looks like, and that's something businesses often lack to begin with.”

The students were asked to provide a step-by-step overview of the companies’ structures, from manufacturing and distribution to research and development, and organised each aspect into categories.

“The group provided a very fresh look at our company,” says Stijn Lemmens, CEO of Euro-serre, one of the Genk companies taking part. “Their suggestions don’t necessarily have to generate more profit, but if they provide a better understanding of how our company operates, and of our customers, that is beneficial enough.”

In recent years, Genk has experienced economic downturn,  culminating with closure of the Ford manufacturing plant last December. According to Paquay, the city is now hoping to strengthen entrepreneurship in the region, where most businesses are still family-owned.

“They are supporting initiatives like ours because they see the value we bring in helping overcome the negative economic effects of recent foreclosures,” he says.

photo: Piet Pauwels, dean of the business economics faculty at Hasselt University (left), and visiting professor Matty Paquay