Hungry for hops or technology intelligence? VIB alumnus Mark Veugelers is your man

19 March 2019
Senior Science Policy Manager Mark Veugelers left VIB in August 2017 to follow his two passions: beer and life science technologies. With Enigma Life Sciences Mark provides key technology intelligence and strategic advice to customers worldwide. At the same time, he runs Enigma Belgian Brewery,a professional brewery with eight beers on the market: from the blond thirst quencher Ragnaröck to the 10% strong Hades Imperial Stout.

Your scientific career started at the same time when VIB was founded. What did VIB mean for you during those early days?
“I did my PhD in Guido David’s lab at the Center for Human Genetics of KU Leuven, one of the nine original VIB departments, during the ‘90s. We quickly realized that VIB would give a boost to Flanders’ research in biotechnology and biochemistry. But VIB also brought surprises: suddenly there was an interest in commercial applications of our science, which fostered a new mindset.”

“I only fully realized the impact of the science at our Department, and at VIB, during my postdoc at Cornell University Medical College in New York. That was between 2000 and 2004. While my own high impact scientific work was done at Cornell - immersed in top science abroad - I started to appreciate the level of high-quality research performed at the VIB labs. At the same time, I was exposed to a whole range of other environments, from investment banking to entrepreneurship and many other exciting new opportunities offered in the Big Apple.”

Those experiences have influenced your choice to start working at VIB’s headquarters?
“After my New York experience, I started looking at options to build my own group, but discovered an interesting open position at VIB Headquarters. It turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to work together with Jo Bury and Rudy Dekeyser to implement novel strategies to bring the organization to the next level. One of the immediate tasks was to set up core facilities to support the whole VIB research community. While Cornell had multiple core facilities, in Belgium the concept of centralized technology expertise service centers was still new at the time.“

You were also involved in the set up of the Tech Watch Team.
“Given that there are tens of thousands of companies developing new life science technologies, it is difficult, costly and time-consuming for individual research groups to find, test and keep up with all the top-notch technologies that could be beneficial to them. During my work at VIB, I also did an MBA at the Vlerick Management School. In the context of this MBA, we developed technology intelligence processes to identify external technologies of interest to VIB. My MBA work evolved into VIB’s Tech Watch initiative that finally resulted in the current Tech Watch Team, now led by Halina Novak.”

“The idea of Tech Watch is to continually analyze the potential of emerging and potentially disruptive technologies that VIB scientists might need in the future. By scouting these technologies way before they come on the market, we were able to bring them at a very early stage to VIB scientists through licensing deals or special partnerships with developers and suppliers. We’ve had many success stories where access to the technologies identified through our scouting led to papers in Nature, Cell and other top journals. Of course, such success is only possible when top scientists at VIB recognize the value that such technologies can bring to solving their research questions.”

Which Enigma is Enigma Life Sciences 
trying to solve?
“Being exposed to so many technologies and companies, I reasoned that many life science companies as well as investors could benefit from actionable technology intelligence. Enigma Life Sciences was founded to assists those companies with technology scouting tools and processes to enable market and competitor analysis, as well as identification of technological opportunities in their field of interest.”

“But we offer much more than technology scouting. Our Enigma-developed tools can also assist our clients in putting a value on technologies, on the underlying IP, or in the case of possible acquisition, the value of the company owning the technology. Of course, my network and expertise built up in many technological fields from my 13 years at VIB are invaluable in this light.“

“In summary, Enigma Life Sciences’ aim is to help organizations to implement effective technology strategies to grow their business. There are many enigmas in the world as we have worked with clients from many countries.”

You seem to be highly ambitious, because instead of one company,you started two companies. There is also Enigma Belgian Brewery.
“Enigma Belgian Brewery is one of the fastest growing breweries from all those founded in the last few years in Belgium. During my VIB time, I was already a hobby brewer and developed hundreds of beers. One of those beers, Tamera Tripel, got top scores in a competition. At some point I decided to scale up and test the market by commercializing some of my best beer recipes. The reactions were beyond expectations. We also apply many of the scouting tools we use in Enigma Life Sciences to discover novel market opportunities for our beers and this works really well. We have eight beers on the market offered by hundreds of bars all over Belgium. We export to Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and other countries. And the company has expanded with the help of a couple of people supporting the brewery’s growth in Belgium and internationally.”

“It is a challenge to find the balance between running the two companies but I am determined
to make both a success. Cheers to that!”


Go back to the overview : 'Your Research, Our Technology'
 
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Mark Veugelers
©VIB-Ine Dehandschutter