Author: Bieke Vandaele
I started my bachelor’s degree in Bioscience engineering because of my broad interest in science. While the different domains such as chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, etc. all appealed to me, I was particularly enthusiastic about those courses that thought us more on how to use science and engineering to have a positive impact on the world. This particular drive was the reason for me to choose a Master in Environmental Technology. The courses I followed during my master’s degree showed me how scientists are rapidly and eagerly developing solutions to reduce the human impact on our environment. Learning about this was not only very exciting but also left me with a burning question: If science seems to be so far ahead in creating sustainable impact, why is the rest of our society lacking behind?
I soon came to understand that there are two important aspects of our society that seem to stand in the way of implementing the scientific solutions needed to create a positive impact in our society. First, there is an economic reality that must be taken into account. While all these high-end engineering solutions can be very appealing in our textbooks, they do come with a cost. For a company, the investment in sustainable solutions does not always outweigh the benefits on the short term. Second, there is the lack of clear communication between the various segments of our society. Too often we see that the academic society and the industry have a different point of view on the issues that they encounter. While scientist might have the opportunity to focus on solving one research problem at the time, a business needs to deal with multiple issues at once. Each of them requires energy, time and a budget to be solved. This will often lead businesses to prioritise those issues that have a clearly defined solution. Unfortunately, when tackling the same issues, these different approaches often make it seem as if the academic society and the business world speak two different languages.
Coming to this conclusion, I started to realise that I wanted to help build bridges between these two worlds. I wanted to be able to speak both “languages” and facilitate the collaborations that will be necessary to have a true impact on our society and the environment. Driven by my youthful enthusiasm, I could no longer wait to start building these bridges. During my final master year, I set up an awareness campaign for electronic waste (e-waste) at the KU Leuven with some friends. Our campaign was definitely successful in bringing people from different backgrounds together and to open up the discussion on the matter, but we lacked the knowledge and experience to lift our project from a student initiative to a professional level.
This lack of professional project management was something I wanted to resolve before entering the job market, so I enrolled in a postgraduate in Innovative Entrepreneurship for Engineers. This programme is a collaboration between Belgian universities that offers young engineers the possibility to expand their knowledge on economics and entrepreneurship while gaining work experience. A personal selection of courses combined with in-company internships is what eventually led me to becoming an intern at Brightwolves. When I was asked to perform a market analysis for a food company, I reached out to Brightwolves for guidance in this assignment. They gave me the opportunity to set up a collaboration between them and the food company by continuously giving me advice and feedback on my methods and approach.
At the start of my internship, I was appointed a direct mentor, Kevin, who closely follows my progress and who helped to get started on my project. He taught me more about basic concepts such as ‘issue trees’ and the ‘5-why’s’ and gave me training sessions to further develop my PowerPoint and presentation skills. Next to the day-to-day guidance from my mentor, I have a meeting with Miguel Van Damme every other week. At first, I was quite nervous to meet with the managing partner, but I quickly realised that that was not necessary. Miguel is very approachable and stays close to his consultants by keeping track of both their on-case progress as well as their personal development. He’s always willing to help them with questions or issues they might face, and he does the same for me. Looking back on his years of experience in the consultancy and by adopting this close management approach, he successfully combines his authority with an impact on his employees’ development. I am lucky to receive such high-level feedback from Miguel, Kevin and the rest of the team. Their advice has offered me to possibility to directly experience the steep learning curve that consultancy is famous for.
Not only have I been given great guidance during my internship but I have also been accepted as a part of the team very quickly. I was asked to join some of their trainings and quickly got involved in the organisation of afterwork events too. It turns out that their metaphor of a wolfpack is well chosen, as they take care of each other on both professional and personal levels while maintaining an inspiring work-fun balance at the office. Brightwolves is a company with highly ambitious, highly engaged and high-spirited people. Its drive to create a sustainable impact has really inspired me to keep working towards the goals I’ve set for myself.