The Interreg SPEED project is focused on bridging the gap between the Data Science & IoT- market and the Western-European port market. The project’s research team is currently working on a diagnostic toolkit for supporting high-tech smart port focused entrepreneurs in their professionalization track. We talked to successful entrepreneurs at professionalized start-ups about their growth-and professionalization track. Unifly was introduced to us by Startups.be, one of our project partners. We got the opportunity to talk to Marc Kegelaers, CEO of Unifly and thought leader, about what professionalizing entrepreneurs should know.
Unifly is a software company that operates in the technology and services industry, specifically the UTM space (unmanned traffic management). The company is thus particularly focused on creating aviation-related solutions in order to make the simultaneous flights of manned and unmanned vehicles safer for all parties involved. With Marc as its CEO, the VITO (Flemish institute for technological research) spin-off has made some significant growth-driven steps towards obtaining a global presence. Marc has gathered substantial business knowledge in the tech-based industry over the course of his career and was kind enough to share some of it with us.
Match industry expertise with business knowledge
Unifly was founded by a diverse team of experts in their own fields namely a combination of Software Engineers, Air Traffic Controllers, and Licensed Professional Pilots. This combination alone provided for a diverse and complementary team that form the foundation of Unifly. Throughout the start-up years, as the team desired growth and professionalization, they recognised they lacked the required business knowledge to do so. Driven by a passion for aviation and business, Marc, who is also a pilot, was brought in as owner and CEO of the company. His experience, leadership and network led the company toward its subsequent growth.
Find out what you lack
Although this may seem like a logical step at first glance, it should be emphasised that most start-up teams (or entrepreneurs) find it incredibly difficult to know where they lack significant information or skills. Starting a company requires a particular set of skills that differ from the set needed to professionalize one. Where they differ depends largely on the company and the team behind it. Marc concurs, no on company is the same. That is both the beauty and the complication in this matter.
Do you need a manager?
Should every start-up look for a professional manager at a later stage? The question undoubtedly came to mind when reading the previous paragraph, but it is not necessarily the right one. A company should act in accordance to its vision. An entrepreneur is not necessarily a leader, nor is an (external) CEO necessarily an entrepreneur. It is the human capital that these individuals bring to the table at certain points in time that makes them extremely relevant assets. Ideas can be great; however, if there is no clear and feasible plan set up to turn these into reality, that is what they eventually remain, great ideas.
Align team and vision
Finally, professionalizing a company might in some cases mean, change. Getting a team to change with the company, is no easy task. Many entrepreneurs will be able to empathize with this statement. Understanding the importance of the team (and its complementarity) as the foundation of a company is key. Possessing a meaningful amount of emotional intelligence to be able to align the team with the company’s vision is another weighty element unique to a manager.
Understand your finance!
Lastly, at least a basic understanding of business management and knowledge of the company’s financial health is essential for both finding and dealing with challenges during professionalization (and later, growth).
We would like to thank Marc Kegelaers at Unifly for taking the time to converse with us for the benefit of future tech-based companies and research purposes.
For further information on the Interreg SPEED diagnostic and improvement toolkit, please contact Morane Atzmon (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Johanna Vanderstraeten (email@example.com).
To find out more on Unifly, their product and their team, please visit their website.
To find out more about Startups.be, please visit our partner page.
This research project was carried out by Johanna Vanderstraeten, Sascha Albers, Rudy Martens and Morane Atzmon.
Johanna Vanderstraeten is assistant professor of (international) entrepreneurship, Sascha Albers is professor of international management, Rudy Martens is full professor of general and strategic management, and Morane Atzmon is Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Antwerp.
This research was supported by Startups.be and benefited from the funding of Interreg 2 Seas.