Born in Brussels to a Dutch father and a Belgian mother, Victoria and her three brothers were raised in an international-oriented environment and always encouraged to build on their experience abroad. Her Master’s at the SBS-EM (ScEco 2011) gave her the opportunity to participate in a United Nations simulation programme in New York and to study for a semester in a partner university in Santiago de Chile. “These first experiences opened my eyes to some of the world’s key challenges,” explains Victoria. “This reinforced my desire to find innovative solutions to societal issues.”
After graduating from the School, Victoria, together with two of her best friends, Pauline Verhaeghe and Gaelle Blondeau, spent a year travelling the world in order to discover and promote innovative social projects. “We founded a non-profit organisation – GoYoung – producing short videos of successful social entrepreneurs under the age of thirty whom we met across countries and continents,” she says before going on to describe some of these projects. From renewable energy production to innovative education methods and fair-trade business models, the small team uncovered more than forty impactful and pioneering solutions addressing social issues. In New Delhi for example, they interviewed an entrepreneur intent on developing simplified technology-based solutions for uplifting the standards of living of the poorest rural communities in India. In Myanmar, they produced a video on an initiative aimed at improving the level of English of Burmese people by creating an interactive video-based learning programme accessible to all. GoYoung’s final product took the form of a DVD featuring 15 social enterprises and complemented by sound business analysis; this sold to over 30 universities around the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Cornell and Imperial College.
Oxford and The Economist
Back in Europe, Victoria was awarded a scholarship by the Wiener-Anspach Foundation, available to ULB alumni who graduate with honours. This allowed her to pursue a one-year Master’s degree in Environmental Economics and Policy at the University of Oxford. “This programme was as much a human experience as an educational one!” Victoria explains enthusiastically. “I got to meet and become friends with students from all over the world with very diverse backgrounds and interests”. One of them, incidentally, would later become her business partner.
After graduating from Oxford, her passion for entrepreneurship led her inescapably to her next destination: London. With two degrees under her belt and a rich international experience, she was soon offered a position as deputy editor at The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), a business-oriented section of the prestigious British magazine aimed at delivering qualitative and quantitative intelligence to executives and governments around the world.
Disrupting the banking sector
“The EIU was intellectually challenging and a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the cleverest and most forward-thinking individuals,” Victoria recalls. “But after over a year with the organisation, my keen desire to develop my own project took over”. In 2014, together with two of her British friends, she co-launched a fintech start-up and has now been working on this for close to four years.
The aim of Lendable is to provide fast and affordable personal loans to UK consumers as an alternative to bank loans and credit cards, which are comparatively more expensive and time-consuming to process. The “peer-to-peer” (P2P) lending sector has been growing recently in different places around the globe, with key players in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.
AS A SMALL START-UP, WE HAD TO OVERCOME STRATEGIC OBSTACLES IN OUR EARLY DEVELOPMENT
Born out of the realisation that many people were looking for cheap and rapid solutions to borrowing relatively small amounts, P2P platforms are making best use of new technologies and developing algorithms able to assess hundreds of data points based on their borrowers’ credit profiles in order to provide fair and personalised interest rates.
“With lending decisions being made instantly – when it can take one or two days for comparable lending platforms and up to a week for banks – Lendable has rapidly established a clear advantage over its competitors,” explains Victoria. “Yet, as a small start-up, we had to overcome strategic obstacles in our early development, most notably the need to generate trust from investors without having an established track record in lending”. But after almost four years in business, more than 20,000 customers and an offer of comparatively high rates of return, Victoria and her partners recently managed to close one of the largest institutional deals in the European consumer-lending marketplace. Earlier this year, the £100m investment announcement by Waterfall Asset Management, a global credit investor, confirmed their position as a serious player in the market. Today, the start-up has grown to a 25-employee-strong business, including two Belgians brought in by Victoria. “As the only female co-founder, I also strongly support our established 50-50 gender split,” she adds.
Designing the future
“My experience at GoYoung and Lendable confirmed my conviction that innovation and technology can bring solutions to many societal issues and existing failures in the market,” the young entrepreneur concludes. While Lendable is likely to keep her busy for a few more years yet, she is already thinking of her next social ventures, which she hopes to develop in the areas of elderly care and food waste: “two sectors in which there is so much room for improvement!”