When Brice Lemaire worked as a Parisian investment banker, he developed a passion for business development. So when the opportunity to start his own business arose, he found it too good to pass up.
He moved to thriving Asian start-up hub Ho Chi Minh City where, together with his Vietnamese sister-in-law, he launched bespoke gift packaging business Kuadobox.
In spite of his start-up success, Brice decided to return to France and bolster his business skills with an MBA from HEC Paris, lured by its renowned entrepreneurship specialization.
The Réunion-born impresario started out his career in supply chain management at a subsidiary of French conglomerate Bolloré Group, before moving to Paris and into investment banking.
Why did you decide to move to Vietnam to start up your own business?
I’ve always wanted to start a “real” company.
My brother called me with an idea, but just needed the spark to implement and structure the project. I took the opportunity as a game; an exercise.
Is Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam Asia’s next big start-up hub?
It’s definitely one of the most influential cities in southeast Asia and the main business hub for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
While Singapore remains the biggest start-up hub in Asia, Ho Chi Minh City is the most affordable place to start your own business, and many foreigners do so.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to launch their own company?
Don’t be afraid of failure! Failure is common. And I believe that if you start telling yourself that failure is not an option, it will be hard to build something with confidence.
I would also recommend networking at entrepreneurial events. You’ll meet a lot of people and will pick up ideas, which will sharpen your mind-set and make you [pounce] on new concepts.
And don’t spend too much energy on a project if you don’t have a deep feeling inside [about the idea]. That should be the primary driver, not the money.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
After five months in Vietnam [with Kuadobox], we got a return on our investment, but I knew it was the right time to move on to the MBA.
I realized that I needed to further improve my entrepreneurial skills; gain more soft skills; and develop my network, so that I could perform more efficiently and more quickly next time around.
Why did you choose to study at HEC Paris in particular?
HEC has a strong entrepreneurship culture, which clearly suited my career needs.
Its reputation, its diversity and its alumni network in France set it apart from other programs.
What stands out about the entrepreneurship specialization at HEC Paris?
It’s not only valuable for the quality of its students, but also for the value of its professors, events and guest speakers.
It’s enabled me to build confidence in an entrepreneurial environment. And it’s helped me develop my entrepreneurial, hard skills — pitching…. valuation and business model validation — as well as my soft skills, [such as] managing a team, working with scientists, and networking with a diverse and international group of professionals.
It’s custom-made for those who want to launch their own venture, but also highly relevant for those who want to have a more holistic view of the business environment.
Outside the MBA curriculum, what stands out from your experience at HEC Paris so far?
At HEC, we have a very famous sports tournament which bring all the top schools in Europe together.
We didn’t have an MBA team for rugby, so my classmates asked me to form a team and be captain, even though I had never played rugby before.
I was sceptical but I agreed, and we ended up winning the tournament! It was a joyful experience which, of course, ended with some great networking and a lot of beers!
How has the HEC Paris student community responded to the November terror attacks?
Obviously, we have all been shocked by the death of so many civilians.
The HEC administration reacted exceptionally to what happened. A psychologist was available to support us and we had a commemorative day for all the people who died.
What was most difficult was that we lost our classmate and friend, part-time MBA Juan Alberto González Garrido. This still deeply affects us.