Image : © Patrick Tourneboeuf
"Five or six years ago, the role model and ideal paths for students were to become an Executive in a large company, working in consulting, or becoming an investment banker. Today, students all want to take an active role in the world’s challenges"
- Nicolas Landrin, Executive Director, ESSEC Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
France's startup scene is picking up massive momentum with student entrepreneurs shaping the nation's startup ecosystem and disrupting the market. This article explores the experiences of student entrepreneurs in France and seeks the reason behind this movement in the startup ecosystem.
Since President Emmanuel Macron declared France as the "Startup Nation" in 2018, the country has become a prominent player in the European startup scene. In 2022, the number of startups in France reached the record of 1 million, and this trend has even extended to the younger generation, with 42% of high school students planning to create or likely create a startup.
The rise in student entrepreneurship can largely be attributed to the global success of startups, motivating young entrepreneurs. At ESSEC campus in Cergy, it is well-known that Jonathan Cherki, the founder of Contentsquare, launched his remarkable project during his studies, turning it into one of France's most valued unicorns, worth $5.6 billion. Various programs backed by investors and the government also helped students to kickstart their own ventures. The French Government's initiative to develop the national status of student entrepreneur in 2014, for example, has benefited more than 6,000 students or recent graduates over the past four years.
Knowhow from the Best: ESSEC Business School as a Launchpad for Student Ventures
As a student, the process of becoming an entrepreneur may appear challenging in different aspects. To support students’ ambitious goals and provide essential resources side by side, ESSEC has operated various programs and projects. In 2019, ESSEC launched a new strategy aiming to develop its Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation with a team of 16 specialized professionals today and Nicolas Landrin as its Executive Director. This Center currently operates a student incubator named ESSEC Ventures, which currently supports 170 startup creation projects.
To this day, the school has continued to work on different projects to support the entrepreneurship ideas of their students. Few months ago, it launched its own incubator for ESSEC alumni entrepreneurs at Station F, the world’s largest incubator. A Deeptech Startup Studio was also created that supports the creation of university spinouts that leverage disruptive technologies. It also launched a pedagogical chair named “Leading a Scale-up” that trains future leaders of hyper growth companies.
To understand the growing popularity and success of ESSEC Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, KEY president Philippe Li interviewed Nicolas Landrin for the KITA-NextRise 2023 online forum, digging further into the topic of student entrepreneurship, supporting young entrepreneurs, and the future vision of the program.
P. Li: How would you characterize student entrepreneurship at ESSEC Business School? How easy is it to start a business and pursue your studies at the same time?
N. Landrin: Five or six years ago, the role model and ideal paths for students were becoming an Executive in a large company, working in consulting, or becoming an investment banker. Today, students all want to take an active role in the world’s challenges, especially the climate crisis, and many of them believe that the best way to tackle those challenges is to create solutions by either starting their own companies or joining existing companies. So today, students’ role models are entrepreneurs and they want to reinvent their industry with new products, new technologies, or new business models. It is very refreshing because these young people really seize the problem, but it requires institutions like ESSEC Business School to provide them with the best curriculum and the best support to help them succeed. At ESSEC, our team has always been very keen to select candidates who think outside of the box and want to do things differently, and we encourage them to cultivate their differences.
P. Li: Precisely at ESSEC, how do you stimulate student entrepreneurship and practically support entrepreneurs?
N. Landrin: We have students who come to ESSEC with the idea to launch their concept and their company. Some of them have already started their own business at the age of 17 or 20, while others have more conventional academic paths, and they need to discover what entrepreneurship is all about.
A few years ago, we designed a boot camp where we put our students in the shoes of entrepreneurs for 48 hours, including the night, and they came out of this experience by telling themselves “Yes, I can be an entrepreneur and this is fascinating!”, so we are kind of planting the seed. Then we provide the best entrepreneurship courses alongside courses in marketing, corporate finance, accounting; and we deliver support services with teams made up of entrepreneurs in residence, partners and the community helping one another.
P. Li: Do you see any prospects for your center to start planning initiatives with Korea?
N. Landrin: At ESSEC, many students, thanks to our campuses in Africa and Asia, decide to launch their company in more than one country. Being exposed to other continents and cultures helps them to grow mentally and professionally. Korea is one of the most dynamic and most innovative technology-savvy economies in the world, so it makes sense to consider Korea as one of the key countries to work with. Conversely, I think it is fundamental for any manager and entrepreneur to be open to other countries, to be able to work globally. So, one of the ideas that makes a lot of sense would be to have our students interact with their peers in Korea to understand how student entrepreneurs in Korea create, launch and grow their company and learn from one another. Having them exchange views and different perspectives of the same ideas but from different environments could be very beneficial for student entrepreneurs in both countries and continents.
Nicolas Landrin’s input on the topic gives us a way to better understand the ESSEC’s entrepreneurship programs and shows us that educational institutions play a vital role in shaping startup ecosystems between students. By equipping students with necessary knowledge, resources, and network, students are empowered to pursue their ideas and turn them into tangible ventures.
As we dive deeper into the realm of student entrepreneurship, we had the privilege of interviewing some remarkable young founders who have already taken bold strides towards making their entrepreneurial dreams a reality. Their interesting stories shed light on the transformative power of education and how it acts as a launching pad for entrepreneurial success.
Voices of Tomorrow: Student Entrepreneurs Share Their Journeys
Lilas Rossignol studies at ESSEC Business School and Centrale Supélec pursuing a dual Master in Entrepreneurship. Before doing so, she studied Finance at Warwick Business School in the UK. Raised by two entrepreneurs, she has always loved the “hands-on” experience. Her startup is still in the development phase and undergoing numerous pharmaceutical trials before heading to the production phase.
Enzo Soyer ist a last year student of the ESSEC BBA program and will soon join ESSEC-Centrale Supélec double degree program this year. He is currently working on two blockchain startups called Tenk and Fungible Strategy.
How did you launch your startup?
Lilas: My startup idea emanated from a personal health condition. As it worsened, dressing became difficult due to the need for multiple creams and the desire to conceal my skin. While using a blister bandaid one day, I realized it could be the ideal solution for my eczema. These patches would protect my skin, prevent scratching, and simplify dressing. Since then, I have been devoted to developing these innovative patches.
Enzo: I became interested in blockchain during Covid-19 pandemic. As I had lots of time staying at home, I started to take online courses about blockchain to understand it better. This was the time I entered the blockchain world. At the same time, my co-founder approached me with an idea, and in 2021 we launched Tenk, the first NFT incubator on the Near Protocol blockchain. Building on my growing experience in the industry, I embarked on my second project, Fungible Strategy. It is a blockchain consulting firm that focuses on market analysis, strategic development, and fundraising for Web 3 projects.
Why France? Have you considered launching in other countries?
Lilas: I chose France because I live in Paris (at the moment) and it was convenient that way. I also believe that France has very good infrastructures for entrepreneurs and many events and other occasions to meet other people. It is a good place to build a network, something that is definitely crucial and always useful.
Enzo: My first project began in the ESSEC entrepreneurship course during my second year at school, which naturally led me to start in France. However, my current focus extends beyond the French market. With blockchain-based startups, our ventures inherently transcend national boundaries, emphasizing their international nature. Collaborating with co-founders located in different countries further enhances the global scope of our endeavors.
How do you feel about being a student entrepreneur?
Lilas: Having a finance background, I think it is a great opportunity to get to know and do other jobs. I chose the Master in Entrepreneurship at ESSEC because I wanted to be able to communicate, understand and challenge every team of my future startup and thus needed to know the basics. Also, I think that being a student entrepreneur helps you understand the world on a deeper level because you get to understand more people due to all the different fields of work you’ve explored.
Enzo: It’s not always easy, especially when I feel like people from bigger and more conservative companies are reluctant to listen to me or see me as competitive compared to more experienced entrepreneurs. But in the end, age does not really matter. What truly matters is what you’re able to deliver. This is why I have been able to consult with individuals who are much older than me and build trust with them.
Do you feel like you have enough resources and support at your disposal?
Lilas: I think that there are enough resources to do whatever one wants. The main determinant is your motivation and how far you’ll go to make things work. Your motivation is after all the only obstacle between you and your success.
Enzo: ESSEC was truly helpful in accessing essential resources and networks. When starting your own business, there are numerous factors to consider, such as software tools, regulation, and financing. Through ESSEC, I could easily engage in discussions with lawyers regarding laws that may impact my business, as well as connect with potential mentors or partners.
Organization/network group which could be useful for potential founders?
Lilas: Many events organized by ESSEC are good places to get to know other people, but I think that any other school’s network is definitely something to leverage because it is very easy. I would also look at the biggest entrepreneurial events hosted by your country and go there to learn and extend your network.
Enzo: I make an effort to attend events organized by ESSEC Ventures or other entrepreneur communities (eg. Station F, engineering schools’ incubators, etc). This provides an opportunity to connect with individuals from diverse industries and backgrounds, which allows me to not only discover fascinating projects but also gain new perspectives for my startup too.
The stories of these young entrepreneurs and the ESSEC’s dedication showcased that students can overcome challenges and create groundbreaking ventures with the right support and guidance. Now, the aspirations of French students have shifted towards creating their own companies or joining startups to address global challenges and we believe that with the exchange of ideas and perspectives between student entrepreneurs in different countries, there would be more mutually beneficial opportunities, fostering growth and innovation. With the availability of resources, support, and a growing entrepreneurial spirit, the student entrepreneurship landscape in France holds promising potential for future generations of innovators and change-makers.
Berthelot, B. (2022, July 21). Contentsquare valued at $5.6 billion after $600 million round. Bloomberg. https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/contentsquare-valued-at-5-6-billion-after-600-million-round-1.1794901
Boyer, C. (2018, March 15). Statut étudiant-entrepreneur : 6000 jeunes en ont déjà bénéficié. Les Echos Entrepreneurs. https://business.lesechos.fr/entrepreneurs/aides-reseaux/start-11356-statut-etudiant-entrepreneur-6-000-jeunes-en-ont-deja-beneficie-319720.php
INSEE Références (2022). Les entreprises en France. INSEE.
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