New partnership ignites alumni start-ups to scale and extend their global reach at the world’s biggest start-up campus

The spirit of entrepreneurship is embedded in INSEAD’s culture, demonstrated by the fact that 53 percent of alumni engage in entrepreneurial ventures during their careers. With this in mind, INSEAD is solidifying its commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship through a highly anticipated partnership with STATION F, the world’s biggest start-up campus.

The long-awaited initiative fulfils INSEAD’s twin desires to engage with the thriving Paris entrepreneurial community and nurture the next wave of INSEAD start-ups. A key feature of the partnership is the INSEAD LaunchPad, a hub with 30-plus desks for alumni ventures that’s located on the STATION F campus.

The partnership strengthens INSEAD’s entrepreneurial culture, which has propelled it to a leading position among global business schools, says Peter Zemsky, Deputy Dean and Dean of Innovation. “We have a set of alumni who are world leaders in global entrepreneurship,” he explains. “This partnership is a great way for us to bring those insights to entrepreneurs and companies in Paris. It’s also a great way for us to raise our visibility. I don’t think people fully understand how strong INSEAD alumni are in entrepreneurship, globally.”

The partnership also supports INSEAD’s belief that global organisations have a responsibility to engage on a local level, says Zemsky. STATION F promotes that ideal by contributing to the development of Paris as a leading global centre for entrepreneurship. “We’re going to STATION F because we want to encourage the momentum in France around innovation and entrepreneurship.”

A space for entrepreneurs, built by an entrepreneur

acked by entrepreneur-investor Xavier Neil, STATION F is more than just a business incubator or accelerator. It offers an entrepreneurial ecosystem where start-ups can access all the services, support and resources they need under one roof.

The campus opened in summer 2017 with President Emmanuel Macron in attendance. It is located in central Paris, inside the former Halle Freyssinet rail centre—the inspiration behind its name.

The 34,000-square-meter space houses more than 1,000 start-ups, 3,000 workstations, 30 international start-up programmes, a TechShop for creating prototypes, event spaces, a post office, a restaurant, kitchens and a café. There are also plans for a three-tower, co-living space nearby for up to 600 entrepreneurs that features shared apartments, a sports centre and other amenities.

Entrepreneurs have access to start-up programmes with high-profile corporate partners, including Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and BNP Paribas. Onsite services offer advice and support to help entrepreneurs navigate laws, regulations and requirements for launching new ventures. VC firms and other funding sources also have space within STATION F. The idea is to cultivate a creative, collaborative atmosphere where businesses have access to everything they need to launch successfully.

A much-anticipated partnership
Many within the INSEAD community have asked for an initiative to support start-ups for some time, says Nancy Hsieh, Executive Director of the Rudolf and Valeria Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship.

“They’ve been asking us to not only create a programme like this, but create it in partnership with STATION F, which has a strong brand with a lot of support and enthusiasm surrounding it,” she explains.

The combination of the two strong brands has given the first group of start-ups at INSEAD’s LaunchPad programme a leg up, she says. “When they tell investors or potential clients that they’re based within the INSEAD LaunchPad at STATION F, it’s opening a lot of doors to them, which is fantastic to hear.”

Nicolas Tcherdakoff MBA’97J, Partner at Alpha Capital and 3T Capital, is one of the alumni who requested such a programme. Alpha Capital is a Paris- and London-based boutique investment bank focusing on venture-funded tech start-ups.

“I saw that a lot of schools in Paris had incubators, and some were creating funds around them, so I started lobbying INSEAD professors to start an incubator in Paris,” he recalls. “I believed INSEAD could really bring something different to the French venture community, as INSEAD is very international.”

Zemsky approached Tcherdakoff to serve on the LaunchPad Steering Committee, which advised on how to set up the programme and what criteria to use for start-ups.

“There’s a great demand within the INSEAD community,” Tcherdakoff says. “Before we started this programme, INSEAD alums who were entrepreneurs had to incubate themselves somewhere else.”

A place for high-potential start-ups
LaunchPad is open to all INSEAD alumni founders, regardless of geography or industry. Demand for space in the programme is high. Applicants must participate in a selective process and, if chosen, relocate to Paris where they will actively work inside STATION F.

“We’re looking for early stage start-ups that are at minimum close to or beyond the MVP stage,” Hsieh explains. “We want to make sure that those who are chosen are 100 percent committed to the start-up.”

The first intake of entrepreneurs, which started at STATION F in January, were chosen via application. For the second intake, entrepreneurs went through an application round, and a select group were invited to participate in a pitch round before a Selection Committee jury. The entrepreneurs chosen after the pitch round began in April.

Currently, the LaunchPad houses 13 start-ups and 34 entrepreneurs in total. Most anticipate staying about six to nine months. Companies include Beamy, Zephyre, QuizFlip and SeniorGrowth.

CODEXO Co-Founder and CEO Sébastien Huppe AMP’16Nov, who started at the LaunchPad in January, has found the collaborative atmosphere on the campus invigorating.

“People from different backgrounds are doing very diverse things here,” he says, noting that his business uses software to help companies turn contracts into smart data. “It’s a good melting pot with good energy. People are open to discussion, and that’s a great ingredient for success.”

A focus on social impact
Start-ups that have a social impact angle get priority at the LaunchPad, says Hsieh.

“We encourage the start-ups to keep INSEAD’s mission at heart and think about using business and tech for good in what they do,” she says. “It’s something we’re very aware of, and the start-ups we have selected are aligned with that.”

For example, the LaunchPad includes ChangeNOW, the largest positive-impact conference in the world, says Zemsky. Founded by Santiago Lefebvre MBA’15J, ChangeNOW held its first summit at STATION F last year. “We firmly believe that global entrepreneurship and business creation can have a tremendous positive impact on society,” says Zemsky.

Another LaunchPad start-up with a social angle is Aditlys, a medical technology firm that developed the first bioresorbable polymer-based graft for patients undergoing dialysis. Co-founded by med tech entrepreneurs Silvere Lucquin MBA’17D, Laurent Grandidier MBA04J and Marc Sola, Aditlys started at LaunchPad in April. Lucquin says he felt drawn to the MedTech field to save lives and reduce costs for patients.

“I already feel that I’ve had an impact,” Lucquin says. “I also love growing a company, employing people and building up a sustainable business.”

A win-win for INSEAD and STATION F
While the LaunchPad start-ups benefit from the resources at STATION F, the campus also benefits from INSEAD’s presence onsite.

INSEAD alumni and faculty “bring in expertise that STATION F may not have in their ecosystem,” says Hsieh. “Our alumni have been very successful in terms of building businesses beyond borders and scaling globally.”

INSEAD alumni can get involved in the partnership by applying to the LaunchPad programme, attending a Master Class or participating in the speaker series. They can also support INSEAD entrepreneurs by mentoring or investing in the start-ups.

Through the partnership, MBA students will have the opportunity to team up with the start-ups for project work. Zemsky notes that this may have the added bonus of attracting high-quality MBA candidates.

“There’s a lot of top, young talent in tech and entrepreneurship,” he says. “And they’re going to be asking, ‘Can INSEAD not only provide me with a great education, but also offer a complete ecosystem that will make me successful as a founder?’”

Just the beginning
INSEAD is ready to leverage all of the opportunities that this new partnership affords, says Valerie Coscas MBA’08D, Principal Strategy Manager at Amazon Web Services, who serves on the LaunchPad Steering Committee.

“The excitement in the INSEAD community around LaunchPad is amazing,” she says. “It has been a request of many alumni for many years, and the quality of the applicants were so strong that it was hard to select the start-ups.”

Tcherdakoff agrees, noting that the calibre of INSEAD start-ups is a great sign for the future of the programme.

“These are young companies that still need to mature, but compared to what I’ve seen as potential candidates for other incubators, the quality is certainly extremely high,” he says. “I see it as a start. We’re already talking about potentially growing in terms of size and services. We’re just at the beginning of this story.”


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