Daniel Jarjoura: My initial motivation stems from the school's managing director, Joël Courtois and his ambitions. After several seasons at the StartUp42 accelerator, which was working very well, I decided to leave and take up new challenges. However, the ecosystem has since changed. In 2013, when StartUp42 was created, France had virtually no startup accelerators. There were perhaps two or three, but no more than that. This new model brought us fabulous industrial partners and very good entrepreneurial projects, from both EPITA and other schools, which we were able to successfully develop with a very positive assessment: today all the structures that worked with Startup42 by EPITA represent over 100 million euros. Things are quite different now. There are a rising number of accelerators on the market and almost all corporations are interested in startups. In light of this, StartUp42 became pointless and no longer had the same impact, so we had to come up with something new. As EPITA has always been a very innovative school, the teaching staff and I worked together on a new concept that would be able to provide a solution to the drawback that we had identified in this ecosystem.
What is this drawback?
It is based on two observations. To begin with, today there is an increasingly high number of EPITA students who are interested in entrepreneurship, which was not necessarily the case in 2013. At that time, we had to convince them to join us, and today, they are coming to us in hordes. Secondly, the majority of entrepreneurial programs in higher education, whether they are engineering, design or business schools, mostly lead to similar startup ideas, primarily focused on encounters, parties or paying less for a specific service or product. This is normal because these startups are built by students, who have never truly been confronted with the business world. However, we know that when these same students work on professional projects, even if they are only 20 years old, this can lead to extraordinary success, such as MotionLead and ProcessOut, two B2B projects (mobile advertising and payment respectively) developed by EPITA students. Although these projects could have been launched by professionals with 10-20 years of experience in these sectors, they were ultimately created by students. This proves that when these young people work on professional projects that aim to solve real problems, they are successful.
The creation of EPITA StartUpLab in the form a Startup Studio?
Exactly. This is the goal behind the StartUpLab: to bolster the students' entrepreneurial drive, despite their level of education, and to steer them toward projects that are more likely to succeed. This last point may include helping them change their ideas or focus on new ideas. This is the concept behind Startup Studios, which already exists in many organizations in the United States, Germany and even France - such as eFounders for example -, which consists in disassociating the team in charge of the project from the idea. It is said that in order for an idea to work, those in charge must be experts in technology, products, marketing, etc., who are not necessarily there to identify a specific problem and find its solution. So, with this Startup Studio, the students without a project can choose one from a list supplied by the StartUpLab or its partners (corporations, investment funds or business angels) and then after four months, develop a minimal version of the project to confirm the suitability between the idea and the problem to be solved. This is a true entrepreneurial approach: there are no teachers and no classes, only four months to take an idea and create a product that must be validated by visiting real people and proposing that they use or purchase the solution.
The other advantage of StartUpLab is reflected in the idea of time spent: students who wish to engage in entrepreneurship often do not have the time they need to work on their project while they are studying and taking classes. Thanks to this new system, they can now be involved over the long term without neglecting their studies ?
How can EPITA students join the program?
For now, there are 25 students involved, mainly those in their 5th year, with a handful of 4th year students as well - and selection is based on their level of motivation. The final goal behind the program is not to create as many startups as possible, but to make sure that a maximum number of students acquire entrepreneurial skills, which they will be able to use later to develop their own start-up or when joining an innovative company. This is the real aim of the program. More and more structures, whether they are large groups or young companies, are looking to recruit creative individuals with entrepreneurial skills - product design, user experience, acquisition of online users, communication... These are other areas of expertise that are not only complementary to the technical skills of an engineer but are becoming increasingly important and sought out.