What started as an exercise for a group work during their business engineering course is today, barely two years later, in 35 shops in our country. With Gutsy, Jack Lathouwers and Achilles Hannecart want to offer food that is healthy for your dog, but also for the planet.
Jack: "Gutsy is a brand that goes against the grain. Because it takes guts to try something new, but also to save the planet. Achilles and I like to put our money where our mouth is. With our hybrid formula of insects, chicken meat and other natural ingredients, we make dog food that is genuine, honest and healthy. But it's not just the product itself that counts. Our packaging is also 100% recyclable. We want to be sustainable in everything we do."
How did two economy students come up with an idea for dog food?
“We are both avid dog lovers. For an exercise by Professor Verrue about a hypothetical start-up, we researched alternatives to existing dog food. As humans, we have long been able to make conscious choices in terms of sustainability and healthy food, but dogs don't get that choice. We looked for unique protein sources and ingredients that allow dogs to live a healthier and better life, while also offering a better solution for the planet. After all, traditional pet food has a heavy ecological impact.”
That exercise was as you say hypothetical. When did you decide to make Gutsy a real business?
“The exercise during our master was indeed limited to the theoretical part of a business: drafting a business plan, market research,... At the end, we had to defend our project in front of a jury of real entrepreneurs. At that pitch, we received a lot of positive comments, which made us decide to really go for it. We made our plan concrete and set up a company.”
In 2021 you participated in Expedition DO!, the start-up programme for entrepreneurial students at Ghent University. What did you learn during that programme?
“Expedition DO! was a real kickstart for us. The different sessions were of great value in taking us to the next stage of entrepreneurship away from the theory. It helped us to dare to take the leap into the unknown. We were able to count on a lot of support in the process and even now we keep in touch. We were even on the jury of last year's edition.”
What was it like combining your studies with starting your own company?
“We were able to enjoy student life in our undergraduate years. But our master years were quite tough. Negotiating designs or prices and taking an exam the day after was not obvious. But it was a unique experience. It is great to see where we have come from and where we are today. Every day we hear dog owners who are happy with our product. That's fantastic.”
What advice do you have for students brooding on an idea of their own?
“Just do it! You might not dare to get out of your comfort zone or have concerns about the financial side of things. We struggled with it too. But your student years are an ideal moment to jump in. Basically, you still have very few responsibilities or obligations as a student. So just try it. Why wouldn't you do it?”
What does the future hold for Gutsy?
“There is still a lot in the pipeline. Besides dog treats, we have already developed two snacks too. We are also looking at international markets. It is not easy though for a small player to stand up to big and established brands. Getting a consumer and their pet to switch is not obvious. But we are systematically going for it.”
In 2021, Jack and Achilles became finalists in Expedition DO!, a unique 7-month start-up programme in English for entrepreneurial talent at Ghent University that teaches how to develop a business idea into a successful start-up.
Are you a student or researcher at Ghent University and would you like to participate with your idea or business in the next edition of Expedition DO!? Register before 1 March and win 5000 euro start-up capital.
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