Have you ever been actively involved in the VITO activities, as an employee, doctoral student, postdoc or guest researcher? Then join the network of former colleagues today and stay part of the VITO vision.

In 2016 VITO celebrated its 25th anniversary. Since its launch in 1991, a lot of employees have come and gone, and spread across the world. Time for VITO to re-establish contacts with former VITO colleagues via an alumni network platform. Not only because we are proud of what our former employees have achieved, but also because we want to involve them more closely in the current VITO story.

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Where did our former colleagues end up? How do they look back on their time at VITO and how has that experience influenced their further career?

Read the interview with:

Jan Van Rensbergen, CEO beheersmaatschappij Antwerpen Mobiel – BAM, former Unit Manager Remote Sensing

What was your position at VITO and what is your current job?

In 1991, I started off as a project leader at VITO, right when it was founded, and quickly became coordinator of the research programme Energy & Environment. Five years later this research programme was split up and I opted for the position of Unit Manager at TAP, Remote Sensing and Atmospheric Processes. I chose to follow my heart, which is set on Remote Sensing and its accompanying technological development.

After 10 years at VITO, I worked at the Public Psychiatric Care centre (OPZ) in Geel for five years, and afterwards decided to take on the position of General Manager at BAM, Beheersmaatschappij Antwerpen Mobiel. We are responsible for major infrastructure works in the Antwerp region and the coordination of everything related to shipyards, works and mobility.

How has your position at VITO influenced your further career?

First of all, VITO has been focusing on internationalisation for quite some time now. As Unit Manager of TAP I visited many countries and organisations in the framework of projects we participated in. We already went on a scientific mission in China back then. You learn that the world is bigger than your own village, your own country. And you learn a lot in a very broad context. You have to cherish and open up this wisdom you develop; the different views and perspectives, but also the various interests that you should consider in your future career. Moreover, I have learned to think in systems, the coherence and relations between processes and the ‘look through’ to the future. What are the obstacles, the possible effects, and what are the breakthroughs you can achieve? It has helped me to get a grip on files and processes a lot faster, but in the organisations I worked for after my career at VITO as well.

What are your best memories of VITO?

There are many. The little things that become reality, pioneering and innovative business. Those things are very satisfying. Very enjoyable work. I remember me philosophising with a colleague and he asked me: “What do you think, between now and two years, our own aircraft?” That was the era in which dreams did come true. Two years later we had our own aircraft for a measuring campaign in the framework of the ESA-APEX* programme. I always look back at my time at VITO with much appreciation and satisfaction. 

APEX: the Hyperspectral ESA Airborne Prism Experiment

Florian Graichen, Science Leader for Biopolymers and Chemicals at Scion, former Business Development Manager Sustainable Chemistry at VITO

What was your position at VITO and what is your current job?

At VITO, I worked in the Sustainable Chemistry unit as a business development manager. Now I work at Scion, one of New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), primarily in research and development around forestry, manufacturing, bioproducts and the wider bio-economy. More specifically, I am science leader for the biopolymers and chemicals team within the in the manufacturing and bioproducts part of Scion. Our work around biopolymers, bioenergy, industrial biotechnology or the sustainable building environment is very closely related to that of VITO on these topics.

How has your position at VITO influenced your further career?

Together with my colleagues I am currently responsible for setting the direction of our scientific research, and more specifically generating impact through our science and technology. The knowledge that I gained in my role as a business development manager while at VITO has proved extremely useful, such as for the contacts with companies and research institutes in North America and Asia.  It is through these networks that I am able to identify possible customers or collaborators for Scion. My present role has allowed me to combine everything I learned as a scientist with the commercial knowledge that I gained as a business development manager. For me, it brings both worlds together and it is a fantastic job to do.

What are your best memories of VITO?

As you would expect, my best memories involve my former colleagues. I learned many different things from them, both on a personal and a professional level. Specifically for my current role it is important to know how to work with people, how to innovate and how to take commercialisation to the next level. It is fantastic to be able to continue the collaboration. The post-doc project run jointly by VITO and SCION, which was set up after my departure, is now already evolving into a broader long-term partnership between SCION and VITO.

Katrijn Siebens, Head of team Companies, department Waste and Materials Management at OVAM, former researcher in the unit Integral Environmental Studies

What was your position at VITO and what is your current job?

After graduating as a bio-engineer Environmental Technology I started at VITO in 1989 as a researcher, my first real job. I mainly worked on research projects for the government, such as the Flemish CO2/REG policy and the MIRAS report.

In 2000 I made the move to OVAM where I worked within the support and information centre for the prevention of waste. The variety and dynamism of this job is what I missed at VITO. At VITO, the focus of my projects was more on the scientific aspects, while I like to step into the reality of things and really create businesses. At OVAM I initially worked on the awareness creation to prevent waste and thereafter I advanced to my current position as the Head of the team Companies. I am, among other things, responsible for the SME performance and ecodesign in which we mainly provide support to businesses. 

How has your position at VITO influenced your further career?

When I was applying for a job, the fact that I had worked at VITO was a very convincing CV item and I guess it still is, especially in the waste and recycling sector. The network that I had built up inside and outside VITO was also very useful. I was in contact with companies and I knew the specialists at VITO personally. As an engineer with close ties to the scientific world, I was well placed to build a network of companies at OVAM. Today, I still follow the evolutions at VITO and it is nice to still be involved in VITO via e.g. the Ecolizer, our ecodesign tool.

What are your best memories of VITO?

Of course ‘the colleagues’. It was such a nice group. The atmosphere was very open, without having to go into competition with each other. Back then we made time for a joint coffee break in which information was exchanged spontaneously and we also got to know each other personally. We even organised parties with different research groups. The atmosphere was really good.

Wouter Gyoot, Manager Sustainable Value Chain at the Umicore group, former project leader Environmental Technology at VITO

What was your position at VITO and what is your current job?

I have worked at VITO from 1998 to 2000 as project leader Environmental Technology. There were three main activities on which I focused: research projects, consultancy for the industry and also consultancy for the government. In 2000 however, I realised I needed more focus to maximise my performances and I decided to start working in a solely industrial context. Hence my decision to do R&D at Umicore. I did this for 4 years, before I rolled into business for a decade. Today I am responsible Manager Sustainable Value Chain at the Umicore group and I have set out the guidelines for the worldwide Umicore group. I definitely found the focus I was looking for in an industrial context.

How has your function at VITO influenced your further career?

At VITO, I got a lot of insights in different areas. Considering my large interests, I could fully indulge my passion at VITO. It was a fantastic job in terms of content. But I did not merely wanted to work ‘for’ the industry, but also ‘in’ the industry itself. I wanted to be part of the transformation that was taking place, rather than just providing expert advice. That is something I started realising during my time at VITO thanks to the contacts I had with the industry and the projects I worked on.

What are your best memories of VITO?

The first thing that comes to mind is carpooling to Mol. I have some great memories about that and I even made a couple of friends. But I especially think about the particular freedom I had at VITO, the chances to experiment in an intellectual challenging environment and the collaboration with very inspiring colleagues.

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