In Meet Our Expert you will get to meet the talented people behind Cergentis' success on a personal level. In this interview, Wietske talks about her entrepreneurial heritage, her passion for languages, communication and cultures, and reveals her motivation behind working in the biotech field. Don't miss out on this candid interview where she looks back at some of Cergentis' biggest milestones, and gives a glimpse into her personal leadership style!
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in Leidschendam, just outside The Hague with my 2 younger sisters, it was an all-girl household! We’re all different personality-wise, but we are close and get along very well, most of the time [laughs]. Growing up I was always very family-centered. Overall, I think it was a carefree childhood, in a loving stable family.
My mom comes from an entrepreneurial family, as well as my dad who had his own insurance company that was passed down from his father. So, safe to say there’s a bit of entrepreneurial blood running in the family! With that said, our parents always allowed us to pick our own path. Be it for education or in terms of career. While the choice was entirely ours and we’d have their 100% support, they would still make sure that we would give it our best.
Sounds like entrepreneurship is in your DNA! Did that influence you to pursue communication studies?
Yes, I think so. I think it's something that came quite organically to me. Already in high school, I would focus on languages and wasn’t really into math, physics, or finance. Language and communication have always been my stronger points, and mostly interested me.
After high school, I wanted to explore international [business and relations] aspects more. So, I started this Bachelor study at The Hague University of Applied Sciences (THUAS) called European Studies, which offered 3 different directions within its program: law & politics, economics, and international communication management. I really liked that study! We would present every week in English, French, and Spanish and learn about public relations, corporate communication, brand management and so on. Basically, everything related to communication and marketing, I was able to explore during that study and my internship at IMCD. In my final year, I went to Nancy (France) to further study communication in French at the University of Lorraine. That was a challenging yet enriching experience where I became fluent in French. On a social level, that’s also where I met one of my best friends!
Was it difficult to narrow down the industry you wanted to work in?
After THUAS, I was hesitating between finding a job and continue studying at a university level. I ended up doing a pre-master at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) Amsterdam. Once I completed that, I was able to enroll into their Master of Communication Sciences. However, the job market wasn't great when I graduated. There were lots of budget cuts, layoffs, and very little job openings, especially in marketing communication. So, competition was fierce, especially among new graduates. The other dilemma was to figure out whether I’d prefer working in a large or small organization. And then, as you said, thinking about the field I wanted to be in.
Can you tell us about your previous work experiences?
After my master’s, I got a job at a publisher as an Editor, and eventually grew into the role of Content & Quality Team Member. The publishing organization has multiple online magazines and targets various audiences. I learned a lot there about content marketing! Then, I got a job at a very small organization called Innervida. When I started, there were only about 6 employees, but it eventually grew. Innervida is specialized in organizational, team and personal development. Through coaching and tailored development programs, they make sure that everyone is placed in a role within an organization that best suits their natural talents. Here, I oversaw all the marketing activities, communication, and PR. I set up social media, campaigns, created marketing materials like brochures, would send out press releases, monthly newsletters, etc. I was their first communication team member and ended up working there for 3 years, setting up the entire marketing communication system.
What are some of the opportunities and unique challenges that come with working at a smaller company?
Looking back, I personally think it could be nicer to start working at an organization where things are more settled, right after your studies. Because then, there are in-house experts that you can turn to and learn from to sharpen the skills that you want. That also gives you the chance to get a feel of what suits you best. At least, that really helped me. Once you know your “domain” and have acquired the right skills, I think working at a smaller company can give you energy in terms of helping get things off the ground, by helping set up processes and so on. At which point, you’ll be in a good position to act as the go-to expert. What I also like about smaller companies, is the wide range of activities you can get involved in, and untapped business avenues that you can explore. Those opportunities allow you to learn a great deal along the way and adjust your strategy accordingly.
As someone who enjoys working on multiple types of projects, I prefer having the freedom to develop in different areas within marketing. That’s what I’m able to do at Cergentis until today!
How did you end up in biotech?
I was working part-time for Innervida, and started looking for a fulltime job when I heard about a Marketing vacancy at Cergentis. After talking to Max van Min (co-founder), it was clear to me that there was a lot to do. Back then, Cergentis had a Sales & Marketing Manager who was handling everything related to commercial activities. As soon as I joined, that obviously freed more and allowed him to dedicate more energy to sales. Our efforts were very much complementary.
With that said, now that I’m in biotech for over 5 years, I really like the industry. Even if my contribution is limited to marketing and is therefore only indirect, I like that I’m able to work at a company that’s really playing a role in helping improve healthcare and therapies for patients.
That gives me extra motivation. I like that we support our customers and allow them to do what they do best. That is, to bring new medicine and therapies to improve patient treatments. This type of purpose and real societal impact continue to take an even more important place in terms of my career decision. Even more so than simply choosing to work in a smaller or bigger company. Doing something that matters, motivates me!
Can you explain, in layman terms, what our business is all about?
Cergentis is a globally recognized and trusted biotech company that provides genetic characterization and QC solutions to researchers in the pharmaceutical & biotech industry. Over the years, we have significantly grown our business activities within the fields of cell line development, genetically engineered animal models, and more recently, successfully tapped into the cell and gene therapy market. Even though genetics represent a fraction of the entire process of what manufacturers and developers need, comprehensive genetic characterization and QC is a crucial step to guarantee the safety and quality of future therapies for patients. Our services and products are based on our proprietary technology platform and tailored to our customers’ needs.
Cergentis has now been around for 10 years! Looking back, what are some of your favorite milestones?
One of my proudest marketing achievements, I would say, is setting up a good framework for our marketing activities, including monthly campaigns, creating new, educational/insightful contents, etc. We’ve truly increased our visibility globally. Of course, this is not only due to our marketing efforts but is also a result of our colleagues’ hard work! Thanks to all of that, more and more people know about Cergentis, what we do and appreciate our unique capabilities. Today, we’re proud to boast over 60 peer-reviewed scientific publications where the added value of TLA-based solutions is covered by pharmaceutical giants and renowned research institutes. I think that’s something that the entire team can be proud of, because it says a lot about our high-quality standard, trustworthiness of our service, our scientific integrity and our skills. Again, this isn’t something that just happens overnight, it’s a cumulation of all the work that has done in the past years. Recently, Cergentis’ acquisition by Solvias is also a clear reflection of our global recognition as a leading genetic QC service provider. Having a company like Solvias acquiring us is a great compliment. This presents great opportunities for Cergentis to further grow, expand and help accelerate the development of innovative therapies, as a member of the Solvias family.
Why do you think Cergentis has been able to quickly progress from a start-up to a scale-up in a rather short time?
I think it’s the result of team effort. Everyone at Cergentis supports one another. We’re all in this together and that, in turn, helps create a nice vibe and gives everyone a lot of energy. It motivates us to do more to achieve our goals. It also helps to have managers and directors that trust what you do, have your back, and really give you the freedom to operate.
As Marketing Director, how challenging was it to find your own leadership style?
I think that developing your leadership style and skills should always be an ongoing process, no matter the job function you have. For me, the most important thing is to always keep learning and developing myself. So, when I had the chance to become a team leader, I applied this same mentality. One of my personal philosophies is: treat others how you’d want to be treated. I'm always trying to understand what drives and motivates someone. That's something I learned and got to appreciate during my time at my previous employer. It's important to make sure that everyone has a role that best suits their natural strengths and talents. Because only then, will they be able to truly thrive and create amazing things. So, I really try to carry those lessons with me.
Becoming a team leader also means responsibilities and pressure will increase. In those moments, I think it’s important to not overlook nor forget about the human dimension, to not simply view your team as mere robots taking direct orders from you.
Outside office hours, what are your favorite pastimes?
As a foodie, I like to cook and eat! I like to go out, explore new restaurants with my husband, family, or friends or discover new recipes. I also enjoy a good glass of wine. That’s basically how I picture having a good time: friends and family mingling, talking, laughing, and enjoying around good food. From a very young age, I learned to eat and enjoy everything. My mom is a very good cook, so we're all lucky! Besides food, I also enjoy traveling. We’ve recently been to Australia and absolutely loved it. I would definitely go back again! But there are also a lot of European cities and countries that I’d love to visit one day. In terms of hobbies, I’m trying to improve my golf skills and I really like skiing. Going to the Swiss mountains is definitely my happy place! For skiing, hiking – just taking in the fresh air and enjoy the beautiful scenery. As long as I can do that at least once or twice a year, I'm happy [laughs].
To conclude, you and your husband will soon enter an exciting new chapter in your lives!