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From Crooked Carrots to Delicious Dips: How this Vlerick Alumna is Tackling Food Waste

Helena Gheeraert (centre), founder of Wonky

Helena Gheeraert is an alumna of Vlerick Business School, and the founder of Wonky, a company that makes dips out of surplus vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away by food processing companies for aesthetic issues, such as wrongly cut carrots and bell peppers with pigmentation spots. However, Helena says she would have been unable to accomplish this achievement of founding her own company without her masters from Vlerick.

She undertook an undergraduate language degree, inspired by her love of communication and ambitions (at the time) of becoming a journalist. She soon realized it wasn’t her “cup of tea” and decided to pursue her interest in business and management by going to Vlerick Business School for a master’s in management. 

Helena chose Vlerick based on the recommendations of friends and family, and its location in her beloved Ghent, which she praises as an “increasingly innovative and progressive city”. The masters at Vlerick helped open the business world to Helena, learning about economics, entrepreneurship, and marketing. A highlight of her time at Vlerick was the in-company project, where students have the opportunity to work with a real-world company, coming up with a business solution, in this case for Mediafin, owners of Belgian business newspaper De Tijd.

Helena enthuses about her decision to undertake a business masters after studying a non-business undergraduate degree:

“A world of opportunities opened up! I realized that going to business school was the best decision I could’ve made as it’s extremely diverse and the opportunities are endless.”

After graduating from Vlerick, Helena became a management trainee at telecommunications company Proximus, to help her discover what element of the business domain she was most interested in. The trainee program enabled her to experience projects in many different departments, and marketing strategy proved to be a firm favourite. As she was working, Helena was also brainstorming different ideas for possible future career paths, when she came across something that sparked her interest:

“When I saw a documentary on food waste, I was wondering why no one did something about it. I tried out different business models to reduce food waste and came up with the idea of Wonky, to tackle waste in the food industry by making delicious and healthy dips.”

This documentary inspired Helena to start her company, Wonky. The drive to make Wonky a success comes from the truly shocking statistics behind worldwide food waste. Helena explains why she thinks this is such a vital issue:

“A third of all food worldwide is wasted, and 45 percent of all fruits and vegetables are not eaten. I’m ashamed we throw away that amount of food knowing that hundreds of millions of people suffer from hunger. Also, food waste has an extremely high impact on climate change.”

Helena found the most difficult element when starting Wonky was finding the right suppliers, as she was unable to provide an initial large batch of product. Fortunately, she found a production company who had faith in her concept, and after some testing, launched the first flavours of Wonky dips in December 2016. Now the business is growing fast, with plans to launch internationally and get foreign retailers to stock Wonky products, as she enthuses: “We want to rescue as many vegetables as possible, so we won’t stop!”

Helena credits her business school experience with helping her start her own business:

“I don’t think I could’ve done it if I didn’t study at Vlerick. Everything I needed to start the company, from purely administrative to highly strategic, I learned in my general management degree.”

A common goal for many business graduates is to start their own company. Helena has some advice for those who share this aim: “Go with the flow! If you feel like you have a good idea, or you want to change something, do it!”

Written by Julia Gilmore

Julia is a writer for TopMBA.com, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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