Innovation has become gold dust in business around the globe.
For Alexander Bell, professor of entrepreneurship and management innovation and the director of the EMLYON Business School Incubator, the traditional innovation teams employed by larger companies just don’t satisfy the current need in the workplace—entrepreneurial skills are needed across every corporate function.
When a startup can become an overnight success and disruption can eat valuable market share, entrepreneurship needs to be much more ingrained into the fiber of an organization. It’s key then that MBA grads entering the workforce have entrepreneurial skills under their belt.
“You need a staff profile of people able to create new businesses, have ideas and integrate technology and digital aspects,” Alexander explains. “You need this in every firm, whatever the type or size.
“You need entrepreneurs and you need ambidextrous leaders—people who can work on core business models while exploring others. This is an entrepreneurial profile.”
EMLYON Business School‘s startup incubator is a testament to its strong focus on entrepreneurship. The first incubator in France, it has now run for 33 years and has an impressive track record: a total of 1,400 companies have been created, approximately 13,000 jobs made, and 85% of the companies started at the incubator have had a five year or longer survival rate.
As the director of the incubator, Alexander has plans to further expand its influence. “The incubator should bring knowledge to every student and be able to help anyone that has an entrepreneurial idea no matter what stage of their study they are at,” he says.
“The main idea is that they always have someone to talk to. All our support at the incubator is based on mentorship. We find mentors that are able to follow the startups over one or two years. These are either successful entrepreneurs or experts in one specific area. We’ve built a community for over 30 years and are able to offer tailored support to any student.”
In recent years, the French government’s promotion of entrepreneurship in France has only helped EMLYON’s cause. As Alexander explains, “they used to be focused on the large firms that used to drive the economy, the top 40, but since the 2008 crisis everyone said, ‘ok, we need to change our mindset.’
“Before this, entrepreneurs were not mainstream. If businesses failed, this had a stigma in France and you were cast as a ‘loser’. It wasn’t like the US where you can fail all the time. Now, our mentality is starting to change.
“There are more actors and stakeholders in the entrepreneurship world, which is starting to become more professional. France is a good place to start a startup today because of all the energy.”
EMLYON Business School positions itself around the idea of ‘Early Makers’—people who take their destiny into their own hands. The scheme teaches students to test things, learn quickly from failure, and be agile. It’s an education on the entrepreneurial mindset—every program at the school is taught with this ‘Early Makers’ approach in mind.
For Alexander, the message is clear: flexibility is key to the future of work and being innovative plays a big part in that. “At EMLYON,” he says, “the idea is that by exposing all our MBA students to our startups, they learn how to deal with many situations to come in future work.”