Chicago Booth’s business accelerator helped a London-based Executive MBA student turn his idea into a thriving, mobile-first training startup that’s helping frontline employees grow their skills.
Written by Melissa Brooks
Guy Van Neck, ’14 (EXP-19), came to Booth with three master’s degrees under his belt: communication sciences, management, and marketing and advertising. With his passion for learning, it makes perfect sense that he launched a startup focused on professional growth. His Belgium-based company, MobieTrain, offers companies a fun, mobile-first microlearning training platform for their employees.
“I wanted to help people get the content they need to support them in their jobs, and also in their life goals,” he said.
Mystery shopping and audit
MobieTrain was inspired by Van Neck’s time managing the European business for BARE International, a mystery shopping and audit company headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia. As he guided retailers in improving the customer experience, he realized there was little training for the sales staff who interacted with customers every day.
“There’s a lot of training for people in management, but the people in stores who are actually dealing with customers are often overlooked,” he said. “Companies wanted good sales, but most employees on the front lines never get the chance to keep improving their sales skills through courses.”
He created the business plan for MobieTrain while he was a student in Booth’s Executive MBA Program London. He brought his plan to the Global New Venture Challenge (GNVC), where he received tremendous support from Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor at Chicago Booth and the Polsky Director of the UChicago Global Entrepreneurs Network.
“Waverly was extremely positive about the concept,” Van Neck said. “She mentioned that often sales training is seen as ‘you can do it or you can’t.’ But there are actually a lot of techniques you can learn—how to close the sale, how to make contact with the customer, how to deal with difficult customers. She was really pleased to see that we wanted to support that journey and give people the right tools.”
“Everybody in the Global New Venture Challenge was really positive. With all the input from experts, it felt like there was more to do with the idea. That gave me the final push to start my company.” — Guy Van Neck, ’14 (EXP-19)
During the GNVC’s first round of pitches in London, one of the best pieces of feedback Van Neck received was to narrow his company’s focus to be more specific within the retail space. Van Neck refined his business plan for the final competition in Chicago, focusing on sales training in just a few verticals, including fashion and sporting goods. “That was what we really built our full pitch and story around,” he said. He believes this focus is why his team ended up winning second place at the GNVC, and later first place at UNLEASH, a large, international startup competition in the human resources field.
“Everybody in the GNVC was really positive,” Van Neck said. “With all the input from experts, it felt like there was more to do with the idea. That gave me the final push to start my company.”
The entrepreneur credits the Booth network with helping MobieTrain score its first big client: the lifestyle retail company Azadea Group in Beirut, Lebanon, which operates more than 35 brands across the Middle East and Africa.
“The CEO, Said Daher, ’11 (EXP-16), actually studied in the Executive MBA Program a few years before me,” Van Neck explained. “At the end of the MBA, my professors said I should contact him, and that’s how I got five minutes to pitch him. He brought me to meet with his team and then we actually made a deal.”
Five years later, MobieTrain is a thriving startup, providing onboarding as well as safety, sales, and other trainings to companies in retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and health care. Although MobieTrain, like many businesses, experienced some setbacks in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the startup has since rebounded, as many companies have seen the need to invest in remote trainings for employees. Now, Van Neck is looking to explore the US market.
“A great thing that I’ve always seen with Booth is that you have so many people you know around the world,” Van Neck said. “The moment we want to launch our business in the US, I can use the network there and that’s fantastic.”