New Limburg academy helps companies overcome growing pains


The Growth Academy combines academics and experience to assist companies in identifying their barriers to expansion

Enough with ‘superficial measures’

The new Growth Academy in Limburg province is helping businesses deal with challenges related to expanding their scope. The academy combines the academic expertise of Hasselt University’s School of Expert Education (UHasselt SEE), which provides training to professionals and entrepreneurs, and the practical experience of consultancy firm Paquay & Associates, which offers customised guidance to growing companies.

Growth Academy stems from the business model courses at Hasselt University (UHasselt), given by professor Matty Paquay – who also leads Paquay & Associates. Paquay provides theory but also challenged his students to evaluate the business models of existing enterprises.

“The students in the end were better able to map business models than the entrepreneurs themselves,” says Paquay, who now also serves as academic co-ordinator of the Growth Academy.

A major problem for growing businesses, he says, is that they cannot detect the root causes of issues that are impeding further development. “Many entrepreneurs go for superficial measures, like hiring more sales staff or a new manager, while they haven’t noticed that their business model has changed during their growth, and clients no longer know precisely what they offer.”

The root of the problem

Paquay also points out that entrepreneurs get used to problems and ignore them, like a person afraid of the dentist considers toothaches just a part of life. “That’s one reason why some groceries remain local village shops, while Albert Heijn managed to found a supermarket chain,” says Paquay.

By combining knowledge of the human behaviour and practical expertise concerning business development, the Growth Academy will help entrepreneurs and their management teams to acquire the skills to detect where problems begin and the strategies to deal with them. They can then spread the message throughout the company, to steer everyone in the right direction.

The academy currently offers three training programmes for growing companies, but it’s preparing others, including one to help start-ups reach the next level. That early growth process is full of obstacles, causing many start-ups to give up along the way.

We hope to have an impact on the social fabric of the region as a whole

- Professor Matty Paquay

“To become a scale-up, start-ups have to do more than purely experiment,” explains Paquay. “They have to develop the systematic approach needed to repeat activities every day. At the same time, they have to keep that experimental mind-set, which is a very difficult combination.”

The academy’s workshops and masterclasses are currently located in the old prison building that houses UHasselt’s law faculty – except for the Growth Paradox programme, which takes place in a castle in Flemish Brabant. The trainings can be done in either Dutch or English.

The academy targets both Flemish companies and those in the Meuse-Rhine Euregio border areas, which take in parts of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. “We hope to have an impact on the social fabric of the region as a whole,” says Paquay, “by not letting so much potential for economic health and jobs go to waste.”

Photo: Growth Academy academic co-ordinator Matty Paquay (left) and Stefan Coenen of UHasselt SEE

Hasselt University

Established in the 1970s, Hasselt University (UHasselt) is one of Flanders’ youngest universities. With six faculties, seven research institutes and two campuses, it’s become an established education and research centre.
PhD - UHasselt awarded Flanders’ first-ever doctorate in architecture in 2011.
Partners - The university works with Maastricht University in the Netherlands on many research projects and degree programmes.
Jail time - The centrepiece of the university’s city campus is the renovated 19th-century prison that houses the law programme.
1 973

university was founded

5 000



million euro budget for new city campus