French Business School Catches New Wave Of Entrepreneurship In Europe

EDHEC MBA students are helping to foster a vibrant startup culture at the school

Before attending EDHEC Business School’s MBA program, Yifei Tacconi had not even thought about starting her own business.

But since graduating in 2015, Yifei has built a small consultancy that connects European and Chinese companies. The Nice-based China native says her nascent business, called Yifei Consulting, was inspired by the cosmopolitan, collaborative environment she enjoyed at EDHEC.

“EDHEC treats their students like family,” she says. “I really appreciate my experience [there].”

Yifei Consulting forms part of the EDHEC Young Entrepreneurs incubator, a university initiative designed to shepherd student business plans from ideas into viable organizations. Spread across three campuses in Nice, Lille and Paris, the incubator has provided guidance to around 130 business run by EDHEC students and alumni.

Launched in 2010, the program has developed alongside a rise in entrepreneurship in France, and across Western Europe.

“About six or seven years ago, the world of entrepreneurship was different,” says Jean-Michel Ledru, the director of the EDHEC incubator. “There’s more of an aspiration now toward new ventures and entrepreneurship. We are developing our entrepreneurship capabilities at the same time.”   

While EDHEC does not donate funding to business in the incubator, it aids in the fundraising process by connecting students with potential investors. Coaches at the incubator offer support and advice to EDHEC students interested in transforming a startup plan into a long-term project.

In fact, Jean-Michel sees his role as more of a personal tutor than a business consultant.

“Often, when you speak about entrepreneurship and when you speak about incubators, people focus on the projects and the success of the businesses,” he says. “Our ultimate goal is to have our students enjoy themselves and be excited to fulfil their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs.”

That desire to build passionate businesses is also apparent in student life at EDHEC.

Outside of the incubator, the school’s MBA Entrepreneurship Club is cultivating nascent business ideas through peer feedback and professional criticism.

Along with providing facilities and networking opportunities to students in the group, Jean-Michel meets regularly with the club members to provide startup coaching and speak about entrepreneurship in France.

The club has more than 30 members from dozens of countries. Much of this is reflective of the international nature of EDHEC’s Global MBA program: more than 90 students from almost 40 different countries.

The club brings in successful EDHEC MBA entrepreneurs like Patrick Raymond (MBA '02), who invented self-expanding shower liner Curvi. At the club’s frequent meetings, would-be EDHEC entrepreneurs pitch their business plans to their classmates and, occasionally, prospective investors. Afterwards, presenters are asked a series of follow-up questions.

“Those questions are like gifts,” says Hind Salih, the club’s co-runner. “You never have the same perspective as the person asking the question.”

Along with her MBA colleague Andreia Madeira, Hind organizes club sessions, guest speakers and special events. A startup competition judged by venture capitalists is being organized, along with a trip to San Francisco’s Silicon Valley to tour some of the world’s largest companies and meet local entrepreneurs.

Andreia chose EDHEC for its commitment to entrepreneurship, as well as its diversity, and the potential for a high return on investment. Hind was after the EDHEC MBA network, crucial in connecting student entrepreneurs to mentors and future investors.

“EDHEC provides […] the coaches who provide advice and experience,” she says. “It’s been great for us.”

Yifei agrees. For Yifei, the EDHEC MBA provided the knowledge and the network necessary for future entrepreneurial success.

“The [EDHEC] MBA has not only opened my eyes in terms of finance, but also in marketing and in management,” she says. “I’m now capable of running my own business.”

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