Sandro Iacovella


Why did you join the InnoEnergy PhD School?

I didn’t follow a completely straight road to the PhD School. I’d done an MSc in engineering, and then a second Master’s in management at KU Leuven – because I wanted to start my own company. That first venture didn’t go quite according to plan, so I came back to the engineering faculty at KU Leuven to do a PhD. And that’s when I found out about the InnoEnergy PhD School – it was almost as if it had my name on it! It was perfect for me.

What were your personal highlights?

I think the courses are excellent. The fact that you’re obliged to think about a well-defined topic for a given amount of time with a group of super-motivated people is really helpful. You can really focus, not worry about all the things you need to do in between – as you are in a research environment – and just learn from high-quality courses surrounded by great people.

It’s difficult to pick one course as a standout. But on the Energy Economics course, we were thinking about business plans and energy markets, and there was an external host: a former professor from Stanford and someone who had their own start-up. We had a pitching competition, and I got some really good feedback – that convinced me to go full steam ahead on my start-up. I got some really good tips and advice.

What changed about your approach to starting your own company?

I’ve always had the self-employed mind-set, and the ambition to start my own company before I began my PhD. It was something I really wanted and valued highly. And I was prepared to keep economic and technical feasibility in mind throughout my research.

But the PhD School really helped me in thinking about the big picture. I got to meet really motivated smart people from all over Europe. You can master the algorithms and the software – but in the end you need the right people. So having this network on the same topic, that was something really advantageous. It really helped me focus on whom I needed to approach, and how to approach them with my ideas.

What do you think are the main qualities needed to launch a business project?

First of all, you need hard work and perseverance. Never give up. There are going to be plenty of hurdles, so it’s really important not to take no for an answer.

Then you need to be at the right place at the right time and meeting the right people! Some of that is down to luck, for sure. But you also have to create those opportunities for yourself as well.

Finally – you need to be able to spot what’s critical and what’s not. And then focus on the critical stuff.

What’s your next challenge?

I’m done chasing qualifications – now I’m chasing customers! That’s the main challenge these days. But we’re having some really good conversations with utilities and appliance manufacturers. And because InnoEnergy helped us identify and quantify the customer pain points, we know what our prospects are struggling with and how we can help – and that makes it easier.