“With former colleagues & friends working in diverse industries, roles and countries, there is no problem we cannot collectively solve.” This was the future-oriented message Alumni Network President Eric Lonbois shared with 200+ alumni guests this summer.

Addressing societal needs & business challenges at the same time

Felix Amez (Innovation Lead Accenture BeLux) presented what will be the guiding theme for the coming year’s Alumni Network activities: Innovation with Purpose. Having a positive social and environmental impact in the way we do business is central to Accenture’s core values and business strategy. Innovation with Purpose builds on this by bringing companies solutions that address their business needs and societal/environmental challenges at the same time. Workforce of the Future is a key focus. For example, Accenture in Belgium & Luxembourg has strategic partnerships with Passwerk (integrating people on the autism spectrum) and BeCode, a Belgian non-profit coding school that addresses the digital skills gap in an innovative and inclusive way: by reskilling untapped talent. Accenture is committed to hiring 25 BeCoders each year. Being actively involved in the local incubation and startup ecosystem is also key. Accenture is co-founder of Start it@KBC, partner of Co-Station in Belgium and Tomorrow Street in Luxembourg. Via the Alumni Network, former colleagues can get involved, starting with two groundbreaking Belgian startups, XRIntelligence and VR+, invited to showcase their immersive Extended Reality experiences during the evening.

Showpad: homegrown innovation becomes a world leader

In a Q&A session with Kristof Van der Stadt (Editor-in-chief Data News), alumnus Pieterjan Bouten (co-founder & CEO Showpad) shared the amazing story of his innovation journey from startup to market leader. After leaving Accenture in 2007, Pieterjan joined the fast-growing startup Netlog where he cut his teeth negotiating partnerships with the likes of Google. Many of Showpad’s first employees were former Netlog colleagues. In 2011, Pieterjan and colleague Louis Jonckheere spotted a gap in the market when they listened to the frustrations of sales reps. They set out to create a solution and co-founded Showpad in Ghent. This AI-powered, all-in-one sales enablement platform offers content management as well as coaching and training for salespeople to become more effective and customer oriented. By focusing on solving a real problem, Showpad answered a real need – aligning marketing & sales – and in a very simple way.

The company grew rapidly from two to 150 and this year will hire 250 new people. Despite numerous offers of acquisition, Showpad remains independent. Its co-founders are still leading, learning and having fun. The duo continues to set the bar high for themselves and they see their current success as just the beginning. 

“My personal goal is not being a CEO. I do this job because I enjoy it, not for any other reason.We are not fixated on becoming a Unicorn. Our focus is on growing sustainably. And to do this, we have to keep innovating. The ability to attract exceptional people who also share our outlook and values is vital. In the early days, we were more naïve and impressed by someone’s credentials on paper. Today, we hire people more based on their outlook and behavior. For example, I often invite potential candidates to dinner in a restaurant. You learn a lot about someone from observing how they treat serving staff.” 

Pieterjan and Louis remain very much at the heart of the business, regularly traveling between Showpad HQs in Flanders and Chicago. They have never forgotten the vision, core values and goals they started out with. “We have succeeded in creating a unique company culture, infused with our core values despite rapid growth. Of course, the more people you have working for you, the more complex the culture becomes. But we adhere to our company culture and expect colleagues to do so. For example, we are not afraid to call out bad behavior. Authenticity and transparency are important qualities as a leader. The new generation want leaders who are human, show vulnerability, empathy and a soft side.” 

Another key to its success is the fact that Showpad really cares about its customers. “We spend considerable time listening to them, constantly reiterating to build a product that works for them, not vice versa.”

Asked why they chose Chicago and not Silicon Valley for Showpad’s US headquarters, Pieterjan (himself from West Flanders) said, “Chicago is the West Flanders of America. People are humble, they have a strong work ethic and they deliver high quality work. It’s home from home!”

Pieterjan’s tips for startups?

Don’t start alone. Two or three people are the right balance, so you can celebrate the good times but also support each other in the hard times, which can be many at the start!

Focus on solving a real problem like we did and do it in the simplest way possible!

Pieterjan Bouten CEO of Showpad & Eric Lonbois
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