Vlerick Repository

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Research Output
Business Research Projects
  • What are the investment opportunities within the continuous learning market in Europe?

    Hanssens, Rachel; Van Ruiten, Isabelle; Wauthier Eléonore (2021)
    Sofina is a Belgian family holding founded in 1889 with a net asset value (NAV) of €8.9bn. It is listed on Euronext Brussels and is also part of the BEL20 since 2017. The uniqueness of Sofina lies in its patient capital, its established history as a family-owned investment company and its key partnerships with worldwide investment leaders. The firm has a global reach with investments in Europe, Asia and the United States. Sofina deploys three investment styles to partner with companies across different phases of the business life cycle: long-term minority investments, investments in venture and growth capital funds and investments in fast-growing businesses. Through an optimal mix of participations in said styles, Sofina performed particularly well in 2020, with a shareholder return of 18% and a jump in NAV from €7.6bn in 2019 to €8.9bn in 2020. The holding has four focus sectors: Consumer & Retail, Digital Transformation, Healthcare and Education. For the latter, Sofina is now looking to gain a better understanding of the fastest growing segment: continuous learning. Though poised to grow by 203% by 2030, this space has been left untapped by Sofina to date. In light of these findings, Sofina has mandated a Vlerick In-Company-Project (ICP) team to identify the investment opportunities within the European continuous learning market. This project is positioned within the fast-growing business investment style. The global education market has undergone massive transformation and growth over the last years. From a value point of view, the industry more than doubled over the course of the last two decades, growing from $2.8tn in 2000 to $4.2tn in 2010 to $5-6tn today. According to HolonIQ projections, the industry is set to reach $10tn by 2030, implying a 4% CAGR between 2000-2030. Albeit a century-old industry, education grows at a faster rate than the GDP of most advanced economies. The education market can be segmented in multiple ways. The consensus in the literature is to differentiate between four learning stages: Pre-K, K12, higher education and continuous learning. Whilst only representing 6% of the global education market in 2019, continuous learning is poised to note most growth by 2030, doubling its market share value-wise to 12%. The continuous learning market’s growth is driven by the changing demand for skills which is in turn is driven by key trends that are shaping the need for reskilling and upskilling the existing workforce. This trend that further supports Sofina’s rationale to deep-dive into the continuous learning market. The primary driver of the changing demand for skills is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The trend of digitisation, automation and the increasing use of data and artificial intelligence are changing the way business is done and live their day-to-day lives. These innovations are happening at a faster pace which is further fuelling the pre-existing skills mismatch. Not only the nature of work is changing, but also the workforce is shifting. On the one hand, there is the ageing population which increases the need for learning for older people to stay relevant within the current workforce. On the other hand, a shift in generations within the workforce will take place. Millennials and Gen Z attach great importance to learning and development opportunities in the workplace. Moreover by 2030, 80% of new jobs added to the European economy are considered to be high-skill intensive. Our research highlight that both IT skills and soft skills are expected to be required by the majority of the workforce within ten years. Therefore, we deep dived into the different subsegments within IT skills and soft skills as well as into the different learning methods that exist to teach those skills. The IT training market is worth approximately $70bn in 2020 split between data & software ($31bn), cybersecurity ($9bn) and IT infrastructure & cloud computing ($30bn). Based on our research, data/software training is delivered via different learning methods. Two delivery methods in particular, hands-on platforms and bootcamps, have been identified as well tailored for teaching advanced IT skills. Moreover, cybersecurity has also been highlighted as a universe for potential investment. Within cybersecurity, we distinguish between technical training and awareness training. Both markets show tremendous growth potential and attractive industry structure with a lot of new emerging companies. On the other hand, we noticed that the competitive landscape of IT infrastructure and cloud computing is dominated by a few big players such as Amazon Web Service, Google Cloud, Microsoft. Therefore, those markets are not interesting for Sofina because ultimately the holding would always have to deal with those huge tech companies as end suppliers. The soft skills training market is segmented in six learning methods: microlearning, short classes, medium classes, executive classes, coaching and mentoring & peer-to-peer learning. Among these methods, coaching has been identified as the most effective learning method for soft skills development and implies the the largest future potential. Based on data from the International Coaching Federation (2020), the total market size of coaching approximated $15bn in 2019, of which B2B with 65% accounts for the lion’s share. Given that the pricepoint for corporate coaching is often up to 3 times higher than B2C, it can be assumed that the actual market is potentially even larger. The prospects of the coaching market look promising. Coaching platforms enable to deliver coaching in a more scalable and affordable way. In addition, the online segment is projected to further grow on the back of democratised pricing of new coaching platforms. Our findings served as the basis for the ultimate deliverable of this In-Company-Project as they stipulated the rationale of our investment recommendation. We developed a universe-specific longlist, shortlist and profile one-pager of promising investment targets for the four selected universes: handson platforms, bootcamps, cybersecurity and coaching). We collected company names from industryspecific reports and enriched our list with players namedropped during expert calls and meetings with the Sofina education team. In total, 203 companies have been identified during this first screening. Those 203 companies constitute our longlist. Next, we shortlisted candidates based on five criteria set by Sofina: investment stage, presence of existing investors identified by Sofina as core or target investors, customer focus of companies (i.e., B2B was favoured to B2C), business model (i.e., pure players were favoured to multi-solution providers) and employee growth. We believe that these companies fit within Sofina’s investment strategy and are well-positioned to capture current and future value in the continuous learning space. The most suitable candidates not yet on Sofina’s radar have been profiled in 15 one-pagers. In conclusion, we recognise investment opportunities within the European continuous learning market in providers of IT training solutions (i.e. interactive platforms, bootcamps and cybersecurity) and providers of soft skills development (i.e. coaching). The team recommends Sofina to schedule more expert calls to further collect insights on the position of the 15 selected targets vis-à-vis other emerging players as well as industry incumbents. If favourable, the team suggests to establish first contact with the entrepreneurs to gauge investment interest.
  • Data services: the way forward for the banking industry Simge

    Hocalar, Simge; Raymaekers, Nina (2021)
    This thesis discusses the question “Is the bank ING Netherlands in a position to propose a data insight solution to its wholesale clients?”. This subject emerged as external elements push banks to be more data driven and innovative. Market trends such as open banking initiatives, traditional revenues being under threat and increasing clients’ demands create an urgency for ING to adapt to the current market reality. The scope of this paper is narrowed down to look at the validity behind answering this question across three evaluative axes: desirability, feasibility, and viability. This was done by first exploring if the bank’s wholesale clients would be interested in such insights through a primary customer research, then by examining if its internal capabilities were adequate to doing so through analysis, and finally confirming viability of the project via an internal situation analysis. For the purpose of this study, we focused on the bank’s Dutch entity, gathering most of our information from employees in the departments of payments, sales and data analytics via semi-structured interviews. Through our research we were able to establish that all three components were addressable for this proposition. Our analysis of desirability has shown that ING’s wholesale clients want to better understand industry trends and habits of their customers, in order to make strategic decisions regarding store offerings, closures or expansions. In gathering such information, they currently are frustrated by incomplete data sourced internally or embark on a lengthy process to get it externally giving them only a snapshot in time. Therefore, to satisfy their client’s needs, ING has to incorporate information on share of wallet and segment overlaps in a potential product offering. It is clear that clients will be interested in acquiring this product under this form. Regarding the feasibility, we conclude that if ING decides to continue with this project, the bank is capable to develop such a data-driven product. First of all, the clients’ needs are addressable in terms of ethical compliance. This means that ING is able to create a final product which is both desired by clients and feasible for ING to execute. Furthermore, ING is able to offer the data insights in subscription-based bundles, since this is preferred by the clients as well as achievable for ING. The creation of a platform would support the distribution of the bundles and can be easily created as ING has the experience and a data analytics team is available. Lastly, internally the bank has the necessary components that are relevant in constructing the data proposition. The strategic mindset focused on data, the strong positioning and the unique selling point enforce the possibility that ING is able to create data insight solutions for their clients. For the viability of this project, we can conclude that ING should pursue a data proposition. The external market analysis indicates that banks should operate in an innovative way and utilize the data they have in order to keep up with the current market trends. Especially threats regarding traditional revenue streams, open banking initiatives and the changing needs of corporate clients push banks to adapt. Furthermore, within the current competitive environment we believe there is a space for ING to establish itself as one of the main banks, as no other ones were yet detected in the Netherlands who offer this type of data proposition. However, ING should be aware of emerging fintechs as they form a substantial part of the competitors who pose a threat. Additionally, previous initiatives showcase ING is capable of developing such solutions, but two obstacles should be considered when taking this initiative further: addressing the ethical dilemmas and monetizing the solution accordingly. In addressing the viability, we have also looked into the value for ING, where it can be either direct or indirect. Lastly, currently three roll-out options have presented themselves for ING to choose from. The conclusions reached from our research and evaluation of the three components can be illustrated by the following: desirability, feasibility and viability for this proposition are all present. Customer facing, their clients have pain points addressable through share of wallet and segment overlap information. Internally, ING has the data, product overview and capabilities needed to shape this proposition. In regard to the strategic decision, no other bank is currently offering this in the Netherlands but there are competitors, ethical dilemmas and monetization are obstacles to projects succeeding, revenue can be indirect and direct, and roll-out can be stand-alone, incorporate or partner. Our recommendations are based on the urgency and time sensitivity of this project for ING. If less time sensitive, they can incorporate this solution into the Dealwise platform, requiring no technical investment and allowing for pairing with loyalty schemes. If more time sensitive, they can decide to keep ownership as a stand-alone proposition within tribe payments, or partner with Alphalyx efficiently and cautiously. When it comes to monetization, an answer from the ethical board is necessary but if positive we recommend going ahead as this would generate a new revenue stream for the bank. We have also presented some advice to the company with points we deem essential to success. The bank needs to learn from and build upon its past initiatives around data insights in order to correctly address and minimise ethical dilemmas this time around. In taking the next steps recommended, clear communication and structure are needed for information and focus of the project to be directed towards success.
  • Performing market research to provide the key elements to design a go-to-market strategy for the branding and launch of an innovative dermatological product in Belgium

    Arnou, Reinhard; Denys, Emma (2021)
    Acne vulgaris is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects 9.34% of the globalpopulation. The impact is both clinical and psychosocial, resulting in a considerable burden on people suffering from this disease. It has been described that the microbial skin flora consisting of C. acnes and S. epidermidis plays a large role as constituent in the development of inflammatory acne lesions. Consequently, current treatment guidelines include topical antibiotics to treat acne. As an R&D-driven innovation focused company, Flen Health developed Faceme, a medical device that has antimicrobial properties with a lower risk for development of antibiotic resistance in the treatment of acne vulgaris. The product creates an ideal wound healing environment for the acne lesions to reduce in both number and severity. Next to that, other ingredients contribute to lower sebum production and faster skin renewal. The anti-acne product market is extremely scattered with a very strong competitive landscape. This market consists of three types of products, including cosmetics, topical drugs sold without a prescription and topical and oral treatments available only on prescription. Globally, the cosmetics and anti-acne drug market combined, amount to over 6.5 billion USD in sales. Different sales channels and the very strong market positioning of competitors result in a fragmented market to enter for Flen Health. This report aims to provide the key elements in order to develop a product positioning and goto-market strategy for Faceme. This was done by means of the different steps described in the STP model. First of all, a generic product positioning was put forward based on the product properties and results of pre-clinical data. Secondly, patient’s experienced on suffering from acne and their search for a solution were researched. To design a patient journey pathway, both qualitative and quantitative interviews with patients were conducted. Based on these data, key stakeholders in the decision process of acne patients have been determined. The three main stakeholders are the patient, the pharmacist and the dermatologist. This necessitated the need for a qualitative semi-structured interviews with pharmacists to construct a pharmacist decision journey about recommending a certain anti-acne product. This has resulted in three decision processes for pharmacists i) starting with patients having an acne ailment ii) patients asking for a specific product, and iii) The main drivers for pharmacists to add a product to their in-house portfolio. Based on this research, it was observed that in order to create market disruption for Faceme, the pharmacists would be one of the main stakeholders to focus in order to be able to create large sales volumes. Before pharmacists can be convinced to recommend Faceme for patients, it is recommended to conduct additional clinical research on the efficacy of Faceme, next to a comparison with the main competitors. These have been selected based on usage by patients as well as pharmacy sales volumes. Finally, additional clinical data could also be useful to approach dermatologists and convince them to endorse usage of Faceme. A Rogers 5 factors analysis to determine the market disruption potential of Faceme was performed. This indicated that the strongest attribute for innovation adoption is Faceme’s relative advantage, which can be translated into a USP “Treating acne lesions as a type of wound”. Observability, on the other hand, proved to be the biggest inhibiting factor. Patients, pharmacist and treatment pathways were analyzed to define leverage points. These points were assigned a score based on multiple criteria. This model confirmed the importance of marketing efforts to drive large sales volume but was unable to provide insights into priorities because of a lack of specific data. This did however confirm the need for additional clinical testing. It is strongly advised to conduct additional clinical testing before launching Faceme, as this will clarify which leverage points to focus on and will help to refine how big the relative advantage of Faceme is.
  • Measure to success: KPIs in a growing B2B company

    Cnockaert, Charlotte; De Maeseneer, Margot (2021)
    Serax designs and creates design objects and furniture in collaboration with several designers and sells them B2B through different channels. Sales can either come from the sales representatives, the B2B webshop or direct orders from the distributors. The manufacturing of these products is outsourced before being stored at and distributed from the head office’s warehouse in Kontich. The customers are divided in two main categories, more specifically retail and hospitality. Over the years, Serax has seen an incredible growth in terms of products and customers. The company sells their products in many different countries and has recently expanded to the US. Moreover, the company aims to grow even more and hopes to achieve 50 million euro in sales by 2023. They want to achieve this goal though attracting more customers in and outside their core markets. To achieve this, they will need to work with new and more international designers. As a result of this expansion strategy, keeping track of the logistics and warehouse manually has become increasingly difficult, but so much the more important. Hence, our in-company project focuses on the development of a KPI list across different departments within Serax and ultimately a fitting dashboard. First, a survey is sent out to the two categories of customers. The customer survey is tailored to the customer segments, retail and hospitality, and their corresponding sub-segments and questions the overall performance of Serax, the performance of several company characteristics, the importance of these characteristics and the B2B webshop performance. In addition, customers have the option to leave a comment. The importance of the different characteristics in combination with its performance allows to identify important company objectives from which KPIs can be deducted. The identified objectives mainly relate to the availability of the products, the delivery of correct and no damaged products, the compliance with expectations as well as the high quality customer service and products. In addition, the webshop seems to underperform with regards to its user-friendliness and functionality. Next to the survey, interviews are conducted with employees from Serax and people with relevant experience in the field of company reporting. The inhouse interviews help to map the different processes within each department and the corresponding responsibilities, while the external interviews provide insights in avoiding common pitfalls, such as developing too many complex KPIs and lack of accountability, and finding the metrics of great importance. The information collected from the survey, the different interviews and the literature review allows to construct a strategy map. The strategy map is used to define objectives and corresponding metrics customised to different needs while keeping in mind the overall strategy of a company. The strategy map objectives are presented following four different perspectives, more specifically the financial perspective, the customer perspective, the internal processes and lastly, the learning and growth perspective. After establishing and constructing the company’s objectives following the strategy map, each objective can be linked to one or more KPIs. This allows Serax to measure the desired evolution in terms of the extent to which KPI targets are achieved. Then, objectives are linked to other objectives within the same perspective or another to show how the objectives are interrelated and how each objective contributes to the overall strategy. To ensure the KPI list is as relevant as possible, another approach is applied in this report. The purpose of the second method, being the return on invested capital tree, is to better link the financial objective of a company to its operations. This should be achieved through splitting up the ROIC in as many relevant sub-components that are measurable. These measurable components then represent the KPIs. The combination of both methods yields a long list of KPIs. The full list contains objectives, definitions and the calculation method and was ultimately constructed following the strategy map structure. As not all KPIs can be measured using the information currently available in Serax’ SAP systems, the full list is only partly implemented. The remaining metrics are to be implemented in the future, providing some company process adjustments. Therefore, implementing KPIs is an iterative process that should be revised on a regular basis. Not only measuring the objectives is important but also defining clear KPI responsibilities to assure that employees follow up on them and act upon the information in order to achieve the objectives. In order to engage the employees even more, this is complemented by a hybrid incentive system, consisting of collective, team and personal level incentive possibilities, to motivate the workforce in achieving the pre-set goals for 2023. Lastly, some recommendations for the long and short-term future are listed. These entail solutions to measure more KPIs and current KPIs more precisely. The potential future changes mainly refer to standardising the processes in the organisation such that systems can be adapted to register data more accurately.
  • The development of a future-proof channel strategy to guarantee a strong position within the Belgian temporary staffing industry: a case study

    Segaert, Ann-Sophie; Van Puyvelde, Jozefien (2021)
    Obtaining and maintaining a strong brand position is necessary for a company to survive nowadays, especially within the highly competitive temporary staffing market. In 2015, a Federgon study predicted that technology would change this industry in a disruptive way. The introduction of technology within this market will totally change the way recruiters approach, select, and hire job candidates. Looking at the banking and automotive sectors, where the digital revolution started several years ago, we see that it is important for temporary staffing companies to adapt their business model to these digital changes in order to gain maximum visibility, reach their target audience and keep up with the competition. This project focuses on defining the strengths and pain points in the current brand positioning and MarCom channel mix of Forum Jobs, as well as defining the upcoming trends within the Human Resources Management (HRM) sector. The aim of this project is to come up with a well-founded sustainable action plan for Forum Jobs in order to keep growing and remain successful in the future. The content of this report is backed up by comprehensive secondary research. Firstly, based on theories regarding brand positioning and channel strategies, we were able to thoroughly analyse Forum Job’s current marketing efforts. Secondly, four relatable competitors were analysed based on their channel strategy and compared to Forum Jobs. Thirdly, literature and case studies on the current situation and the expected future of temporary staffing agencies gave deeper insight into the industry. To reinforce this secondary research, primary research was conducted by means of in-depth interviews with HR experts and surveys with (potential) job candidates. On the basis of the primary and secondary research, both a short-term and a long-term recommendation were developed. The short-term recommendations consist of all kinds of improvements that Forum Jobs can implement immediately or within a few weeks. This mainly relates to the increase of website traffic by optimising their ranking on Google, as well as to changes in the communication and content of their social media channels. In addition, we made recommendations to the company about the three job boards they are currently using. The long-term recommendations consist of significant investments that the company will have to make in the long term to stay ahead of its competitors. Both secondary and primary research support the investment in an application. The same applies to sponsorship initiatives, traditional media advertisements and street advertisements

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