Why did you choose the InnoEnergy PhD School?
My interest in innovation entrepreneurship had already started to crystallise when I was studying on the MSc SELECT programme. So when I wrote my PhD proposal with KU Leuven and Enervalis it all came together. Having already learnt so much about entrepreneurship and the innovation journey, it was great to have the chance to carry on within the InnoEnergy community.
What have been the highlights so far?
It’s that community! I work most of the time at Enervalis, rather than in KU Leuven, so my time for meeting other researcher is slightly limited. So some of my most positive experiences have been during the training courses, and the networking opportunities they provided.
It’s great to be able to bounce ideas around, and listen to other researchers’ thoughts and experiences on energy in general – or on my particular interest, which is machine learning. I’ve met potential collaborators for a European project, and initiated a joint research project at these events.
But it’s also really good to meet people who are working on something completely different. I’ve learned a lot from people doing hard-core mechanical engineering, for example. It’s really outside my area of expertise, and their perspective on what counts as success is quite different – I’m a much better and more rounded engineer as a result.
It’s also a great opportunity to meet the experts. Leading figures at the IEA were at the Energy Economics course in Grenoble, for example: they write the reports that I read. It really was a high point to meet the people I look up to – and to get a chance to discuss their methodologies with them in more detail.
What are the most important things you have learnt so far?
I think the biggest one is the realisation that entrepreneurship is a journey rather than an end result. The goal is not always to create a start-up – it is to make a difference. Before this I didn’t know I could do that, and now I think I can. I’m also much more aware that everything I do as an engineer has to have an impact: I want to apply my research in and see the results in real life. I’m definitely not into research for research’s sake.
How would you describe the InnoEnergy PhD School?
Life-changing! That’s a bit melodramatic, maybe, but it has shown me it is possible to create a more sustainable future in which we are far less dependent on fossil fuels. I’m from Pakistan, where the debate is much more focussed on energy security rather than climate change. This has given me a dramatic new perspective.
Finally, what are your top tips for future entrepreneurs?
Have a solid business idea! Banal, but true. Be prepared to persevere – dogged determination is essential. And know when to stop. There comes a point when you have to stop tinkering around the edges and have the courage to present it to the world.