What sort of entrepreneurs and startups come to an accelerator for help? What qualities do they need? What else do they need? Is it easy to be an entrepreneur today?
Elise Nebout ran NUMA Sprint – formerly Le Camping – NUMA’s startup accelerator, for three years. Now in charge of building up the mentor network in France and internationally, she agreed to tell us about her vision of entrepreneurship.
NUMA already has 15 years of history behind it. Founded in 2000 as Silicon Sentier, this non-profit organisation started out as a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to get together to avoid isolation. A few years later, in 2007, La Cantine – now NUMA Cowork – France’s very first coworking space, was created. The idea behind it was to create a venue where freelancers and entrepreneurs could work, share and exchange, meet potential clients, or simply get inspiration!
NUMA then began to spot certain entrepreneurs with whom it wanted to take the collaboration further, for example by giving them access to a network of experts or helping them with fundraising, which is how Le Camping (now NUMA Sprint) came about. Originally located on the premises of the Paris Stock Exchange, the accelerator relocated to the NUMA building in 2013 in order to generate more synergies between projects.
Numa: coworking, accElEration AND open innovation!
What does NUMA do for entrepreneurship?
Elise Nebout: At the moment NUMA offers a number of inter-related services. The first one is offering young entrepreneurs spaces to work, meet and organise events and meet-ups.
The second one involves working hand-in-hand with the startups we select and helping them achieve their objectives, whether it’s fundraising, expanding or finding clients. That’s what our accelerator does: French or foreign startups come to us and set out their roadmap and expand. To help them, we put them in touch with our resources: our mentors – top entrepreneurs, experienced company directors or experts in their field – who can advise them, but also corporate partners: major groups that startups can plan possible collaborations and even sign deals with.
Lastly, we also work with major groups on digital transformation through open innovation. That way we get corporates and startups to work together.
“With the digital transformation, we’re moving towards the 21st-century company, one that combines collective intelligence with generation Y, new tools and new markets. The large groups need to get in touch with innovative ecosystems such as NUMA’s so they can think, test, interact and expand in all these areas.”
The purpose of NUMA is also to help society move ahead in this major digital transition phase, which is a historic, unprecedented time in which a new economy is replacing the old one.
“All the economic players should work intelligently, hand-in-hand to create an economically viable society, and by ensuring a smooth, ‘non-violent’ digital transition.”
A typical startupper? A young, highly-educated man!
What sort of companies do you typically work with?
The NUMA accelerator currently has 22 startups, who joined us in June 2015 and will stay until 30 October. So far we’ve already helped a total of 100 startups.
In 2014 we looked at applications from 763 entrepreneurs who wanted to join the accelerator. They were predominantly male: only 11.5% of applicants were women, despite our efforts to be proactive in this area. Most are relatively young – the average age is 27 – with post-graduate-level degrees in business, engineering or design from some of the top schools such as ESSEC or HEC. 83% are from Paris or the Greater Paris area and 10% are from overseas (the US, UK, Brazil and India). When it’s a team, the founders have typically known each other for over two years (64%) and have previously undertaken other business ventures together.
What sort of qualities would you say these entrepreneurs need to successfully launch their project?
“There are thousands of types of entrepreneurs and ways to set up a business. Entrepreneurship is first and foremost a state of mind.”
We come across very diverse profiles, with very different motivations. But there are some essential qualities you need, such as tenacity, fighting spirit, self-confidence, but also the ability to listen to others. The “top entrepreneur” profile is actually rarer than you’d think, because on the one hand, you need to be attuned to the environment, be able to listen to advice, to weak signals, the market, clients, investors, etc., so you don’t get stuck in a particular mindset and can make the right decisions. But on the other hand, you have to be stubborn and stick to your vision: an entrepreneur is like the pilot of a plane: you have to be solid, not change your mind every other day and have a strong vision.
“To be an entrepreneur, you almost need to be ‘enlightened’: by that I mean you have to be lit up from within by a light that keeps you going, even when the going gets tough!”
Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster: one day everything’s fine and the next day, it’s not! It requires a great deal of energy and a huge capacity for self-denial and sacrifice because you need to devote all the possible resources for your company. In a word, to set up a business from scratch, you need to be creative and determined whilst remaining open-minded and flexible yet solid.
Another important factor: it’s vital to get the right help and support. Ambition and clarity are essential in order to work with the right people – ones whose skills can complement yours. It’s hard, especially when you’re young because clarity is often something you gain with experience. We sometimes see entrepreneurs who are a bit too ego-driven and set up their business but can’t take advice because they think they know it all. Consequently, they go bust! That said, paradoxically, you do also need people with strong egos: it’s a strength! Entrepreneurship requires a healthy dose of audacity and nerve: you have to get up every morning and drive yourself.
What does an entrepreneur need?
“Entrepreneurs need to believe in themselves and follow their vision… That requires defining that vision very clearly with their associates so they’re all on the same page.”
When entrepreneurs come to the accelerator, the first thing we do is tell them to go off to a house in the country for 5 days by themselves and draw their vision as a tree with roots, leaves and fruit, then discuss it with their associates. So for me, the first thing they need is to clarify their vision.
The second thing they need to do is to build the various economic models that will make up the startup: how are they going to make money? What are their distribution channels? Who are their clients? Why buy their product? What added value do they offer?
The third thing they need is to get clients and try out their development hypotheses, using the lean_startup method.
“There’s no use drawing up a vision all alone and telling yourself it’s perfect and you’re ready to tackle the market. Drawing up a roadmap without testing it in the field is a classic mistake.”
Once the hypotheses have been validated and the first proofs of concept completed, we come to the fourth requirement: fundraising. In order to expand and beat out the competitors – and there could be a lot of them – you need to hire, and hiring costs money!
We work with startups who are at the seed stage, which goes from starting up the company to the next three or four years. So that covers all sorts of issues to do with management, recruitment, implementing processes, etc. We introduce them to a community of peers, entrepreneurs who can advise them and share resources but also lend them visibility, credibility, structure and methodology… And all this in a challenging growth environment!
Is it easy to set up a business in France today?
Socially speaking, entrepreneurship was fairly rare for a long time. It’s a lot more common and widely accepted now, which is largely down to the digital ecosystem: co-working spaces and accelerators have “spread the gospel” and made the media and politicians more open to the entrepreneurial culture. For the past 15 years now, these organisations have been proselytising and promoting entrepreneurship.
But while a lively ecosystem makes it easier to set up a business, in the end it’s the entrepreneur him/herself who get the credit for fulfilling their dream. But fulfilling your dream means being a fighter!
“We try not to make things too easy for our entrepreneurs: ultimately, it’s up to them to fight their own battles!”
Entrepreneurship is a new way of seeing society, a vision whereby individuals are proactive and don’t rely on a nanny-state. That’s the generation Y philosophy: the desire to achieve something, to be free and not just get up every day and go to the same office!
“It’s easier to be an entrepreneur these days because the ecosystem is more favourable. But entrepreneurship is still a real adventure!”
In France, it’s particularly easy to set up on your own as there are lots of resources to help you: seed funds and business angels, co-working spaces and accelerators. After Berlin and London, Paris is the third best city in Europe for startups!
Crédit photos : NUMA