Varieties of Entrepreneurship

This week, we had the pleasure of meeting two, bright and young French entrepreneurs who opened our eyes on a variety of ways of starting up!

The multifaceted entrepreneur

It’s in the chic and brand new “ZA” restaurant in the heart of Paris that we met Francois-Alexandre. As conveyor belts deliver our meals, he tells us about the many lives he manages to juggle within 24 hours. He’s currently working full time as product owner for an IT consulting firm while co-founding a startup focused on stress management and employee well-being. As if this weren’t enough, he’s also leading the Parisian branch of the Startup Leadership Program (SLP).

An accelerator that takes 0% shares of your business

SLP is a worldwide non-profit accelerator, with a unique program. The French chapter started in 2012 under the leadership of INSEAD alum Xavier Millin and has already trained 150+ highly skilled professionals; it is also present globally in 28 cities in 13 countries.  SLP offers a 6-month training and mentoring journey for high potential startup CEOs, demanding absolutely no share in return and entirely based on volunteers. In addition, its admission criteria are quite different from those of classic accelerators.

“We invest in people, not projects”

Here, candidates will be selected upon their diversity of experience, their education, and their future participation in the community rather than only business plans. Another substantial consequence of investing on people is that you don’t need to have already broken even, thousands of customers and a team of 10 to get accepted in the program; a thoroughly studied business opportunity can be enough to convince the jury. And if you’re wondering whether it works – it absolutely does! After 5 years in France, €100M have been raised by its graduates (“fellows”), demonstrating the traction of their businesses.

French evolution

About France’s future as a “startup nation”, Francois-Alexandre is optimistic but not naïve – the country has great (relatively cheap, to the US) talent and is evolving in the right direction in terms of costs to operate a business. Despite the apparent openness to start ups though, a lot is yet to be done. Among the important pain-points are the risk-averse mentality, the slowness of administration and the high cost of laying off people i.e. the proverbial “bad apples”.


Hardware startup

On hearing “start-up”, one instantly starts thinking along the lines of fintech, Internet of Things (IoT) or marketplaces like ‘the AirBnB of…’ . It would be a mistake however to ignore other kinds of businesses that also disrupt and add value. Take the case of Ganeo, a company that Baptiste Guyot founded when he was only 22. They design high-end HDMI cables and portable external batteries used by so many of us, daily. Starting from scratch, Baptiste’s products are now distributed in all major retailers like Fnac and Auchan in France.

One of the advantage is that on the contrary of the typical market place app, you don’t need to build a customer base to start making profit. Since its creation Ganeo has always been profitable and never had to go to investor to fund its growth. Even if more time consuming (Baptiste started 8 years ago), this approach can also have advantages – co-founders own 100% of the capital and current results prove it is working as the turnover is doubling year on year.

So next time you think about becoming an entrepreneur, try thinking beyond just fancy start ups and building “the new AirBnB of ….” New ventures can take various forms. Thanks Francois-Alexandre and Baptiste for showing us that!

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