From PhD to SME 2021: a 1-year leadership programme developed by Voka

This programme is a joint effort of VOKA (Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry) East Flanders and Ghent University (Doctoral Schools Office and Postdoc Talent Management)


This intensive programme will count as 1 specialist course and 3 seminars in transferable skills (Career Management + Leadership and Personal Efficiency + Communication Skills) in the doctoral training programme.

Target group

PhD candidates + postdocs


This programme is not designed for researchers in the earliest phase of their PhD: applicants should already have 1 to 2 years of research experience.


Dr Katrien Daemen-de Gelder (Doctoral Schools Office, Ghent University)
Jolyn De Baets & Arne Oosthuyse (VOKA Oost-Vlaanderen)


Frank De Craecker


Around 80% of our (post)doctoral researchers continue their careers beyond academia. Business careers differ from academic ones: in business, people typically work in rapidly changing contexts, take considerable risks, focus on attitude rather than on knowledge, and work together with different kinds of profiles.
Ghent University and VOKA East Flanders join forces for the exclusive 'From PhD to SME' programme, the aim of which is to build bridges between the world of research and small and medium-sized enterprises. 16 (post)doctoral researchers are given the unique opportunity to learn more about how SMEs are run and to put this knowledge into practice.

Participants are given a chance to gain first-hand (leadership) experience in a Flemish SME in order to increase their hiring potential and smoothen their transition into the non-academic labour market. In addition, they'll be able to build formal as well as informal networks, and to learn to identify and name their own strengths - maybe their skills and interests match better with business life than they had ever considered?

Closing event 2020 + Information session 2021

The information session about the 2021 edition of 'From PhD to SME' will be organised online on 9 December 2020 at 17:30. This information session will be followed by the wrap event of the 2020 edition. The closing event is open to all, but potential participants in the 2021 edition will find it particularly enlightening, as there will be testimonials from companies and researchers who participated in the 2020 edition of 'From PhD to SME'.

  • 17:30 Information session ‘From PhD to SME 2021’

     -  Words of welcome by VOKA
     -  Frank De Craecker introduces the programme of ‘From PhD to SME’
     -  Katrien Daemen-de Gelder (Doctoral Schools) explains the practicalities (registration and intake) of ‘From PhD to SME’

  • 18:15 Closing event ‘From PhD to SME 2020’

     -  Team presentations followed by Q&A
     -  Closing words by Rik Van De Walle (UGent)

  • 19:30 End

Registration is compulsory. Please follow this link for registration:


The programme will run from February 2021 through to November 2021.
It consists of the following components:
•    a full-day kick off on 26 February 2021
•    6 modules consisting each of a half-day theoretical session, a practical assignment in an SME, combined with a half-day intervision session
•    the dates of the different sessions (12 in total) are:

  • session 1: 10 March 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 2: 22 March 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 3: 2 April 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 4: 19 April 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 5: 7 May 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 6: 25 May 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 7: 9 June 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 8: 22 June 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 9: 2 September 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 10: 16 September 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 11: 28 September 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)
  • session 12: 14 October 2021 (14:00 – 17:00)

Wrap event: 15 November 2021 (evening session)

Throughout the programme participants will be supervised by a coach, VOKA East Flanders, as well as the SME they collaborate with. The focus will be on an integral approach of thinking and acting.

Integral approach

A. Theoretical sessions
Participants get acquainted with all strategic and tactical dimensions of running a business (strategy, processes, people, etc.)

  • Module 1: strategic choices and achievements
  • Module 2: leadership - primary process
  • Module 3: structures
  • Module 4: people
  • Module 5: systems
  • Module 6: culture

B. Practical assignment in an SME
After each module theory will be put into practice in fixed groups of 4 participants. Each group will be matched with an SME. Based on discussions with the CEO and other officers within the company participants will give advice and draft an action plan to overcome the SME's strategic and operational challenges.
The 4 SMEs, selected by VOKA East Flanders, are Flemish companies which are currently facing a strategic review, or find themselves in the midst of a reorganisation as a result of rapid growth, or ... What these companies have in common is the need for external input, critical feedback and new ideas.
The 4 groups of (post)doctoral researchers will be formed beforehand in order to ensure optimal heterogeneity and complementarity.
C. Intervision: feedback & reporting on the practical experience
During the half-day intervision sessions the 4 groups will discuss their case with each other and with their coach: in this way participants will broaden their horizons and learn from the experiences collected in other SMEs.

Added value

Co-organised by a non-academic patron, 'From PhD to SME' is a high-yield opportunity for (post)doctoral researchers who are keen to gain valuable professional work experience, much sought-after by their future employers.

Course material

Course material will be made available in due time.

Registration and selection

Applicants are required to submit their application online, using the following form: .

Registration will open as of Thursday 10 December 2020 at 9 am. Applications are due before Monday 11 January 2021 at 9 am.

Preselected candidates will receive an invitation for an interview to take place either on 18 January 2021 or on 20 January 2021. Applicants can already indicate their preferred date(s) on the application form.

Check the slide deck presented on the occasion of the information session on From PhD to SME 2021 here.

In case of further questions, do not hesitate to contact dr. Katrien Daemen-de Gelder.

Registration fee

Free of charge

Number of participants




Evaluation methods and criteria (doctoral training programme)

100% participation