Stories#064 Alain’s entrepreneurial university

#064 Alain’s entrepreneurial university

The story of Raymond’s signature wish is a story of Alain’s entrepreneurial university

Senior lecturer in business administration Raymond Loohuis believes that UT students should have a clear signature: a quality that immediately makes them stand out as being from Twente. According to start-up investor and UT-alumnus Alain le Loux such a characteristic is indeed reflected in the Shaping2030 ambitions. But, he says, there is still work to be done. ‘As an entrepreneur, it is quite difficult to gain access to the university.’

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Monday 7 February 2022

Like a rubik's cube

Raymond: ‘Hey, your LinkedIn profile is impressive. Business development for entrepreneurs…’

Alain: ‘That’s right, I’m bringing technology to the market. I made a career at PinkRoccade, a technology company. My colleagues used to call me ‘the only entrepreneur on our payroll’. Now I am indeed an entrepreneur: I invest in start-up tech companies. Pioneering is what I like best. I would rather take a new company from zero to one than make an existing company even bigger.’ 

Raymond: ‘So you’re not employed by the UT, and you graduated a while ago now. How did you end up here again?’

Alain: ‘In 2009 I started working for Novel-T, a UT spin-off that promotes high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship. I hadn’t been at university since I graduated in 1995. Damn, I thought, almost nothing has changed!’

Raymond: ‘And was that really the case?’ 

Alain: ‘Well, when I looked more closely, of course some things were different. What struck me: when I was studying in the early 1990s, there wasn’t a single foreign student. Now I suddenly heard people talking German and English in De Waaier. Also: when you are a student, you are in the educational stream. You have no idea that the university is also a research institution. I think you should bring these two streams together more.’

“Good marketing is of little use if your product is bad”
Alain le Loux

Raymond: ‘Yes, we do that more and more: some colleagues see students as junior researchers. How are you involved with Novel-T and UT at the moment?’

Alain: ‘I am a regular guest speaker in Enschede. Recently I gave a presentation to SMEs, about the financial side of entrepreneurship, like pricing and business models. And I coach PhD students when they start their own business. It’s a great job: PhD students are genuinely grateful when you help them.’

Raymond: ‘What tip do you have for people who are considering starting a company?’

Alain: ‘As an entrepreneur, it’s important to have a broad overview. You shouldn’t just look at it from a technical or financial point of view, all aspects are important. Good marketing is of little use if your product is bad. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube: you can make one surface completely perfect, but if the other sides aren’t right, you have nothing.’

Raymond: ‘Would you say bringing new technology to the market is reflected in UT’s Shaping2030 ambitions?’

Alain: ‘Yes, but when I was a student, UT called itself the entrepreneurial university. I think it’s a shame that this slogan has disappeared. Entrepreneurship is UT’s biggest strength.’

Raymond: ‘How does that strength show?’

Alain: ‘As a student I never realised it, but I didn’t study just engineering. I also took classes on society, psychology and communication studies. Very useful, because there’s a lot more to getting robots accepted in the workplace than the technology alone, for example. That’s the nice thing about UT: here, all aspects come together.’

“You don’t have to become best friends to be a good team”
Alain le Loux

Raymond: ‘Fifteen years ago people would talk about the inventive entrepreneur: someone who conquers the market with their new technology. Has that image changed?’

Alain: ‘Certainly. In the past, an inventor was forced to be an entrepreneur as well. Now we say: let the technical expert just invent things, and team them up with a real entrepreneur. Someone who thinks in terms of strategy and market opportunities. Every hour that an inventor spends on entrepreneurship, they cannot spend further developing the technology. While the technology is what it’s all about. That’s like taking your best footballer and make him play tennis. A real shame!’

Raymond: ‘So what you’re actually saying is that an inventor should have good networking skills.’

Alain: ‘That’s right, you have to bring the right professionals together around you. And people have to acknowledge each other’s expertise. Sometimes I hear someone say: oh god, I’m not working with him. But you don’t have to become best friends to be a good team.’

Raymond: ‘If you look at Shaping2030 as a vehicle for entrepreneurship, how could UT be of value to the Twente region?’ 

Alain: ‘Many companies have issues that are not being addressed yet. As an entrepreneur, it is quite difficult to gain access to the university. You have no idea what is happening on campus. UT now has a ‘science shop’ (Wetenschapswinkel), but not everyone knows that. There is so much hidden quality! It would help if we bridge the gap together. I now have several groups of students working one day a week at a number of my companies. They build up an excellent CV and then seamlessly make their way onto the job market. And for those companies it is relatively cheap labour.’

“Good ideas always come up when you bring people from different backgrounds together”
Alain le Loux

Raymond: ‘Anyone can knock on our door, but that doesn’t always happen yet. How could we organise things better?’ 

Alain: ‘I think you should actively offer teams of students to companies. Preferably university students mixed with students from vocational education and universities of applied sciences. Good ideas always come up when you bring people from different backgrounds together. But you have to keep chasing it a bit. UT, in cooperation with companies in the region, could always have a pile of graduation assignments ready. Especially in applied research – that can be of enormous added value to society.’

Raymond: ‘Good point! I can also imagine that we, the people of UT, could be even more active in using our personal network. Say, if it were up to you, would you restore that slogan ‘the entrepreneurial university’?’

Alain: ‘Absolutely, yes. The sooner the better. You know, it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy: the moment you start calling yourself that, people start acting like it.’

DR. RAYMOND LOOHUIS (1970)

graduated in business administration and worked as a management team member for many years, among others at Tata Precision Tubes and Thiel & Hoche in Germany. In 2009, Raymond took his practical experience with him to UT. Here he combined his PhD in business administration with teaching. Raymond obtained his PhD in 2015 by researching how companies innovate in challenging times. Today he mainly focuses on educational innovation. As a teacher at the ETM/BMS department, but also as a Senior Fellow at 4TU.

Alain le Loux MSc (1971)

studied Computer Science and Industrial Engineering & Management at UT. He also obtained a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Business School Netherlands. He worked for PinkRoccade and was CEO of several start-ups. Now he is mainly active as a start-up investor. For 11 years he was a coach at Novel-T, the UT platform that drives entrepreneurship.