From studying physiotherapy in Belgium to becoming a budding entrepreneur in Melbourne, Master of Entrepreneurship student Maarten Van Gorp’s journey exemplifies that entrepreneurship isn’t just for the business savvy.
We sat down with Maarten to delve into what it’s like to be an international student studying at the Wade Institute, how he has amplified his science-based skills and exactly how a trained physiotherapist came to enrol in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Entrepreneurship.
Maarten started out studying physiotherapy in Belgium. Although it was a field that he was passionate about, he couldn’t see himself doing it for the rest of his life. Towards the end of his Master’s degree, Maarten had a decision to make: pursue physio, or take the leap and search for something bigger.
A global search for innovative and different degrees lead him to the University of Melbourne’s Master of Entrepreneurship. “I decided to take the leap; I knew that the net would find me. In the lead up to making the move, I wasn’t sure what would come from the experience but I can definitely say that it was well worth the risk!”
“My biggest piece of advice for anyone considering studying overseas is to just do it. It broadens your view on everything. It gives you confidence, rapidly grows your network, develops your language skills and helps you think outside of the box you’re used to. Now, I’m even trying to convince my younger brothers at home to make the leap.”
Maarten grew up with his mum running the family pharmacy business and his dad working in the Corporate world. He was on a pathway to becoming a Physiotherapist, just like his friends – study, get a job and settle into adult life.
“I hadn’t really thought much about being a business owner, but a passion for leadership and solving complex problems was triggered when I worked with the Faculty Student Union at the University of Ghent. I realized there could be ways to improve how it was being run, and while I didn’t know if I had the skills to do so, I knew I wanted to be part of it. So, I joined the team and worked as an event manager, PR manager and eventually the chairman, representing 2000 students within the faculty.”
To escape the ‘expected pathway’ Maarten was also looking for more interesting ways to use his technical science skills “The topic of my Master’s thesis looked at the intersection of technology and physiotherapy. I worked with a colleague to explore a product that measured walking parameters and analyse walking patterns.”
This experience helped Maarten opened his eyes to the potential within commercialising his science knowledge, but he knew needed more business skills to make the most of it.
Moving to the other side of the world to learn a way of thinking had Maarten feeling like he was starting from a blank canvas. But quickly he realised that the best entrepreneurs look for the intersection between their unique talents and a real market need.
“Physio is all about clinical reasoning and thinking. You have to keep an open mind and know that the symptom often isn’t where the problem lies and you have to look at the bigger picture. Learning to see problems in this way is something that every good entrepreneur has done, and something that I’ve learned to harness this year.”
“A vital part of physiotherapy is also to empathise with what your patient is feeling and build a treatment plan that responds to that. It’s the same in business. I’ve learned that you need to understand the customer’s pain points so you can build a solution for a problem that actually exists and not the problem that you think exists. This is where conversation is essential – and the Master of Entrepreneurship has been great at maximising my people skills.”
Entrepreneurship is all about people – whether you’re managing them or pitching to them. Maarten has multiplied his connections exponentially because of the program’s strong push towards networking “You’re encouraged to talk to and engage with as many people as you can. I’ve made connections with people I never would have had access to in day-to-day life. The classes are less like the lectures I went to during my undergrad degree with 300 people crammed into a lecture theatre. They’re more like a conversation between like-minded people coming together to solve problems.”
“One of my teachers, Prof Kwanghui Lim, helped me get involved in a TRaM (Translating Research at Melbourne) project aimed at developing a robot to facilitate stroke rehabilitation. I’ve been working with a team of engineers and it has really helped me realized how much my thinking has changed. Instead of focusing on the product itself, my first thoughts were on what’s the customer problem we’re trying to solve, mapping out how we validate if our version of the solution is even needed and if there are better ways to solve that problem with our combination of skills and IP.”
“Another teacher, Prof Colin McLeod, put me in touch with a startup using wearable sensor technology in injury recovery and prevention. It’s a great opportunity that sits at the interaction of my skills and interest. Getting connected with the founders and exercising my skills has been invaluable.”
“I’ve gained the new perspective I was looking for before I left Belgium, meet so many new people, and gotten excited about the opportunities to turn my ideas into something bigger when I leave.”
2018: Maarten has since landed a pivotal role at ‘Dare To Venture’, building up the student entrepreneurship centre at Ghent University, Belgium.
Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship is a leading hub for entrepreneurial training delivering a range of programs to help you learn, create and connect.