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Lyon, A Start-Up Ecosystem On A Human Scale

Lyon, A Start-Up Ecosystem On A Human Scale

Large companies, research centers, universities… The Lyon ecosystem offers great opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to launch or develop their business. But they still need to be supported and guided. Explications.

Dig into business opportunities

On the occasion of the “Entrepreneurship Induction Day”, which took place on the Ecully campus, some of the major actors of the entrepreneurship network came to exchange with the students of the school’s International MBA.

Boasting 1,000 of France’s 10,000 startups, Lyon has the potential to become the country’s “start-up capital,” Gabriel Blanc-Lainé of emlyon business school argued on September 17.

“We have seventy students from thirty-one different nationalities,” shared Rhoda Davidson director of emlyon business school’s MBA Programs. “They’ve come to Lyon from all over the word in order to study business. They all want to be entrepreneurs. And that’s what we can offer them: emlyon business school has always been known for being a very entrepreneurial school. Becoming “early makers” is part of our brand. In addition, we wanted to inform but also give them the opportunity to meet with the stakeholders of the great Lyon ecosystem.”

One particular student reflected on her choice to come to emlyon business school, stating, “Reading is not enough to know about a market. I need to experience it.” She continued, “I think it’s a huge advantage to start a business in France, and especially in Lyon. There are a so many accelerators in the region. The support of the start-up ecosystem is a lot more mature than in Thailand, my home country.”

Gabriel Blanc-Lainé, who organized this day of conferences, elaborated on the state-of-the-art infrastructures for international events and conferences in Lyon. He cheerfully boasted about the great incubation structures in the city, designed to accompany entrepreneurs from ideation to execution, and H7, one of the country’s biggest incubators.

As of today, the emlyon business school incubator has been running for 34 years, making it the longest-established institute of its kind in France. It serves as a focal point for connecting entrepreneurs in the Lyon ecosystem. Alexander Bell, the director, also highlighted the concept of “early makers”, fundamental at emlyon business school. Early makers develop an entrepreneurial mindset by trying, failing, learning and trying again.

Building a company is about teamwork

The key is also understanding that entrepreneurship is not an individual activity arising from a particular mindset, but a shared activity that demands cooperation for completion. “A good idea is not enough,” according to Alexander Bell. “You need a good team.”

In this regard, entrepreneurs need to proactively attack the danger of isolation. “Spaces where an entrepreneur can talk about the rough periods they are going through without burdening family and friends. It’s in an entrepreneur’s club, where people can feel understood,” said Rodolphe Pasquier-Desvignes of Réseau Entreprendre. Such people can be found on the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes territory, no matter how specialized a startup is.

Despite the additional difficulties that they may encounter, the number of women launching new ventures and guiding their teams into building successful startups has been on the rise. This is highlighted by the work of Les Premières, a network of start-up incubators across France which provide services and support for female and mixed groups of entrepreneurs. “Nobody is born an entrepreneur,” is the slogan of Les Premières, “but we can help you become one.” Networks have been established in French regions and overseas territories with the aim of tackling common barriers to female entrepreneurship such as lack of confidence and family responsibilities. Les Premières is aiming to expand its presence to the whole of France by 2021. These new structures – such as B612, La FEE, 1Kubator – are proof that France has entered a new paradigm.

“The right place at the right time”

When Gabriel Blanc-Lainé – who experienced business failure in the 2000’s due to weak investment from the French market – returned to France in 2011 after a stint in the US, he remarked that, “There were still no signs of official support for the creation of an entrepreneurial culture.” For him, the breakthrough came with the creation of the Banque Publique d’Investissement (BPI) in 2013. With the creation of the BPI, he said, “France is finally becoming a start-up nation. You are at the right place at the right time”.

Gone are the days when France would seek to promote a small number of big companies as potential champions. “We want to connect entrepreneurs,” said Raphaël Didier, director of development at BPI. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are the keys to French competitiveness,” he argued.

BPI does not only invest in companies, it supports them and offers them a competitive edge, due to its credibility. Raphaël Didier pointed out that in 2018, the public bank invested 4x more in companies than in 2013. The reason? “The ecosystem is growing. Startups are maturing and globalizing”.

Gone too are the days when the successful entrepreneur would be seen as someone special with secret qualities that set him apart from the rest. Entrepreneurs are now seen, more realistically, as smart people who are knowledgeable about the market with great ideas and a strong network, supported by an efficient entrepreneurial ecosystem. Alexander Bell, director of the emlyon business school incubator, reminded the students that some companies try to expand too quickly, and in doing so, they deviate from their business model. Success is to “concentrate on what you do well first”.

Lyon, a window to the world

Furthermore, through its partnership with AfricArena, emlyon business school is working to strengthens ties between European and African entrepreneurs. Closer to home, the Lyon region occupies an ideal ecosystem for many types of startups. The city has been awarded the “Métropole French Tech” label, thanks to its enterprising digital ecosystem.
France’s new entrepreneurial culture has been quick to bear fruit. Doctolib, Kyriba, Ivalua and eFront have emerged as French unicorns – or tech startups with a market value of $1billion – in 2019. The French VC industry is now in second place in Europe, behind the UK, and closing the gap quickly when measured by deals of less than 100 million euros. Emlyon business school believes that the gap can be closed by reinforcing the entrepreneurial ecosytem and encouraging its early makers to bring innovation and their entrepreuneurial mindset to the table.

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