If you have been to Singapore in the last few months, you might have noticed that the INSEAD campus has a new neighbour. So does the carousel in the centre of Fontainebleau. And the new kids on both blocks have the same intriguing name: INSEADERS.
Type the word into Google and you’ll find yourself on the threshold of “the largest entrepreneurial network” for the INSEAD community. And you’ll discover that the two new neighbours (“next stop UAE… and then the world”) are the physical manifestations of an online network that connects more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, investors and advisors across the world – all of them with an “@insead.edu” email address.
Sailing into blue oceans
So what exactly is this new organisation? A forum for entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors? A recruitment platform for graduates looking for jobs in start-ups? A venture-funding mechanism? An incubator?
It turns out to be all of these things and more. “It’s so much more than an incubator,” says Rani François-Marie Saad, who completed the Advanced Management Programme in 2015 and co-launched INSEADERS in May of this year. “We’re really an entrepreneurial booster. We support all stages of the entrepreneurial cycle – from start-up and initial investment to turnaround and divestment. The aim is not just to catalyse entrepreneurs, investors and mentors to boost the value created by every single lead but also, most importantly, to capture the value that has been created bit by bit from day one.”
“It’s also a total blue ocean,” adds Micheál Collins MBA’04D the other co-launcher. “We’re addressing an obvious unmet need. INSEAD often invites me back to speak to entrepreneurship classes – and students are always asking me what practical help they can access, once they graduate.”
Hence one of the goals of the new venture, which is to support 100% of new start-ups emerging from INSEAD with advice, connections, collaborations – even a place to work and access to funding if needs be.
Conquering the world
Rani and Micheál have been amazed at the response so far. Less than five months after launching, they have members in 43 countries, 180m2 of incubation space in Singapore (thanks to the endorsement of two government agencies), 100m2 in Fontainebleau (rented from the famous Aigle Noir hotel), 10 physically resident start-ups and several more on the platform. These businesses include: an Uber-style pet-transport service in Singapore; a global provider of online teambuilding activities; an international fin-tech “disrupter”; a party-organising app from Brazil; a smart-phone repair operation in Germany… that trademark INSEAD diversity just goes on and on, in seems.
It isn’t just entrepreneurs who have signed up either. Investors, recruiters, consultants and others have flocked to the platform from across the entire alumni spectrum. “It’s great that many of the Executive Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change graduates are offering their services as expert advisers,” says Rani. “The price of entrance is simply that you bring something to the table,” explains Micheál.
When you stop to think about INSEADERS for a moment, like all “blue oceans”, it makes perfect sense. Not only do wannabe INSEAD entrepreneurs seek investment – financial, intellectual and/or human – from the alumni network; alumni who are investors, angels, acquirers or recruiters want to tap into a community they can trust.
And there are potential benefits for INSEAD too. “Half of INSEAD alumni become entrepreneurs of some kind in due course, yet this value isn’t fed directly back to the school,” says Micheál. Hence two more of the explicit goals: to create at least two scholarships for entrepreneurs who cannot afford INSEAD tuition and – through donations of equity, proceeds and generated wealth – to become one of the main funding sources of the school’s endowment by 2022. Less tangibly but just as important, it’s also about helping to position INSEAD as “The Business School for the Entrepreneurial World.”
The returns journey
For those still hesitating to take the entrepreneurial plunge, it might be heartening to learn that both co-launchers are living proof of the old INSEAD proverb: “entrepreneurs are made rather than born”. “Until now, I’ve always led the corporate life,” says Rani. “I joined the airline industry as a corporate management trainee and did it all – from negotiating with unions to leading global divisions. But when the company I worked for was acquired, I finally had the opportunity to dive into the entrepreneurial galaxy to bridge the gap between the corporates and entrepreneurs. It’s all about unleashing the power of disruption: changing the rules and using innovation and new technologies to upset the status quo.”
“It was only while I was at INSEAD that I realised I wasn’t interested in corporate opportunities,” says Micheál, whose first venture failed completely after one year – another heartening lesson. “I had $7.17 left!” he recalls. “Then I did some work for the late Professor Patrick Tuner, earned €2,000 and invested it in a company that took off.” Today, that business is still thriving. He spends about half of his time on it – and the rest on INSEADERS.
There remains of course one obvious thing to ask: how will INSEADERS make the two entrepreneurs money? “It’s a good question!” says Micheál with feeling. The business plan, it seems, is still evolving. There’s a question of fees for certain add-on services, the possibility of taking equity in some start-ups, even in due course a share of divestment transactions. But both co-launchers are in the comparatively luxurious situation of having time. “Currently, we can afford to work pro-bono till INSEADERS is launched and off the ground,” says Rani. “Cruising at 39,000 feet without avionics may be an amazing journey, but it takes time to figure out the perfect destination, before running out of fuel!”
Or as Micheál puts it: “Explaining INSEADERS is as impossible as explaining a new country. We don’t know where it’ll take us yet.”
To explore with Rani and Michéal visit INSEADERS.vc
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