Entrepreneurship is in our DNA

Entrepreneurship is in our DNA

INSEAD’s heritage fuels a unique approach to teaching and practicing entrepreneurship

When the 1957 Treaty of Rome opened the door to conducting cross-border business throughout Europe, Georges Doriot seized an opportunity. The French-born American saw that this new, open atmosphere drove the need for an institution in France that provided management training like Harvard Business School, where he studied and taught. Doriot, considered to be one of the founders of the venture capital industry, began to build this new European academic venture with his Harvard students. It later became INSEAD.

Nearly 60 years later, that spirit of entrepreneurship is still alive and well at INSEAD. In fact, it’s flourishing, with 53 percent of alumni engaging in entrepreneurial activities during their careers.

“INSEAD is an exceptionally entrepreneurial place,” says Bala Vissa, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Chair of the Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise (EFE) area at INSEAD. “It is built into our DNA.”

Philip Anderson agrees. “INSEAD has taken on any number of things that no one did before as a [business] institution,” says the Alumni Fund Chaired Professor of Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Rudolf and Valeria Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship (ICE). “That notion of doing something new contributes to the overall environment of entrepreneurship at INSEAD.”

Here, we take a closer look at that environment at INSEAD — examining how it influences the techniques used to teach entrepreneurship, shapes the students who engage in entrepreneurial studies and impacts the broader business landscape. As Bala and Phil explain, these factors contribute to making INSEAD one of the best and most unique places to study entrepreneurship in the world.

The growth of entrepreneurship at INSEAD
There are two entities at INSEAD that support entrepreneurship education and activities: The Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise Area (EFE) and the Rudolf and Valeria Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship (ICE). EFE focuses on staffing and recruiting faculty, managing curriculum and overseeing scholarly research, while ICE focuses on accelerating the entrepreneurial ambitions of INSEAD students and alumni.

“The ICE handles all the other things that you need to be a world-class entrepreneurship operation,” explains Phil. “It’s primary mission is to make sure that the lifelong experience of being an INSEAD student or alumnus offers you world-class support if you want to be involved in entrepreneurship in some way, either as a student or at some point in your career.”

The model seems to be working: Pitchbook recently ranked INSEAD alumni number one for capital raised in its list of Top Ten Global Europe MBA programmes, with $1.2 billion in investment raised by 90 INSEAD alumni ventures.

Since EFE became an official academic area in 2000, INSEAD has gone from having two tenure track faculty and five entrepreneurship courses to 18 faculty and about 19 courses. Today, 95 percent of all INSEAD students take at least one entrepreneurship elective. In addition, 55 percent of students take three or more classes.

Many of those courses involve simulations or case studies that put INSEAD alumni in the role of protagonist. “We try our best to use our alumni because it’s a very powerful way to role model,” Bala says. “We want our students to think, ‘If she has done it, why can’t I do it?’ We get the best people who change the world, because we also want our students to think big with the kind of entrepreneurial ideas they come up with.”

One of the most successful courses — and a great differentiator for INSEAD — is “Your First 100 Days,” a class that presents students with the following scenario: You and your team have just bought an ailing company. You have 100 days to fix it. What should you do?

As students work through the challenge, they interact with alumni and other senior business professionals who role play as board members, investors and other stakeholders. “It’s a very realistic and immersive experience,” says Bala. “It’s not something … that you read on a sheet of paper.”

Building on the success of the course, the EFE is currently developing a “Capstone Course” that will immerse students in other scenarios that replicate the real world. “We want to create an experience that forces students in teams to pull together key learnings from all of the core courses,” Phil shares. “It’s a way of showing the links between the different things you learn in core courses by pulling them together in one inspiring, immersive endeavour.”

A broader definition of entrepreneurship
Another differentiator for INSEAD is the way in which the school conceptualises entrepreneurship and its role in the world.

According to Phil, INSEAD defines an entrepreneur as someone who simultaneously organises and innovates in order to build a business to exploit a perceived value-creating opportunity. That can take many different forms, including launching a new venture, acquiring a company, investing in a new or established business, developing a corporate venture, growing a family enterprise or engaging in social entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is not a one-time event, like starting a business after graduation, adds Bala. “It’s a way of managing your career so that when an attractive opportunity comes along, you’re better positioned to hit the ground running to participate in a high-growth venture.”

INSEAD’s core value of “business as a force for good” also serves as an overarching halo to these different activities. As a result, many INSEAD graduates build enterprises or develop offerings that fuel economies and lift people out of poverty.

“Most people want to do well by doing good,” Phil affirms. “When they look at something that isn’t what it could be, they think broadly about social impact, about creating wealth, creating employment, creating opportunity, giving people choices they didn’t have before, all those things are just as important as making money.”

He continues, “When you operate beyond boundaries, you see possibilities that other people don’t see. All of these things are the cradle of entrepreneurship. That’s why you come to INSEAD, because you believe being around this incredibly diverse community of people will fuel the entrepreneur in you for the rest of your life.”

Editor’s note: Alumni are encouraged to get involved in entrepreneurship at INSEAD. Among the many opportunities, alumni are invited to consider the following:


  • Act as a mentor or judge for the Venture Competition
  • Serve as a guest speaker for the INSEAD Entrepreneurship Club
  • Participate as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (in person or remotely)
  • Sponsor the Venture Competition or Entrepreneurship Forum
  • Gift a gift to the ICE
  • Share their success stories for inclusion in INSEAD’s alumni profile series
  • Role play in a simulation or course
  • Work with the faculty to develop and co-teach a case in an elective course
  • Sponsor student projects in elective courses


For more information on these and other opportunities, please contact Phil Anderson at philip.anderson@insead.edu

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