Newsletter 12: entrepreneurial training at the ParisTech schools
Interview with Philippe Bouyer, Director of Innovation and Corporate Relations at the Institut d’Optique and Sandra Cologne, Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Arts et Métiers
How do you support students interested in becoming entrepreneurs or starting their own business?
PB : In 2006 we created an optional “Innovation & Entrepreneurship” stream on our engineering course to identify students with a flair for entrepreneurship and help them develop their skills. Some have their own idea for a product or business, and others choose to tackle innovation projects on behalf of companies, technology centres, academic institutions, labs and so on. That means external companies can find a team to take their ideas from the drawing board to the marketplace. The first year is all about introducing students to the world of entrepreneurship and helping them work out whether it’s the right path for them. In their second and third year, students’ timetables are adjusted to allow them to spend one day per week (plus some whole weeks) working on their project. They can immerse themselves in the entrepreneurial world, spend time in fablabs to develop prototypes, and talk with their supervisors. Our teams of student entrepreneurs start by reflecting on what they want to achieve. Their supervisors, along with external investors and businesses, encourage students to think about their solution and how they’ll approach the market. Students visit the premises of companies in relevant sectors to get a better idea of real-world conditions and any adjustments they might need to make. Once they have a sound project, we get them to think about their long-term strategy and business model. We introduce new challenges and help the project take shape. After nine months, students start working on their business plan and prototype. Then, in their third year, it’s time to actually create the product and company. Students benefit from the same teaching and achieve the same qualification as their peers. There’s no obligation for students to start a company, but we support those that do by offering them a place in our entrepreneurial hubs, where they can get expert advice. Further support is available through our partnerships with external business schools and advisors.
SC : At Arts et Métiers we have a study route called PEIT, which stands for Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship Stream. It was set up in 2019 and combines conventional teaching with individual support for young entrepreneurs. Students who follow this route can design, develop, test and launch their product or solution both in France and abroad, benefiting from the best of the local ecosystems they’re involved in. PEIT is for students who want to start their own business and/or develop innovative technologies in an industrial R&D setting. We run two different programmes. The first, our “Innovation & Entrepreneurship Academy”, is for students with their own entrepreneurial project, and the second, “Innovative Product Creation” is for students who want to work on a business innovation project arranged by Arts et Métiers. All first-year students on our Grande École programme take an introductory module on entrepreneurship. Those interested in creating their own business or product or leading an innovation project within an external company can then choose to follow the PEIT stream in their second year, alongside their usual engineering classes.
Can you give some examples of projects or companies launched by students at your school?
PB : Stereolabs was one of the first companies created by our E&I students, and it now has two branches in the United States. The founders initially wanted to design imaging systems for use in a medical context, but economically speaking this turned out to be too complicated. They switched to focusing on 3D imaging and developed a product that went on to rival – and ultimately beat – the best in the 3D film industry. Another example is Effilux, who design and manufacture LED lighting solutions. The company was recently acquired by the world leader in the field, which shows just how successful they’ve been. And lastly, there’s the EthyloWheel project, where students are creating optical sensors for built-in breathalysers for cars.
SC : There’s Zozio, who provide production management tools, and Médusa, a company founded by two of our students. They sell top-of-the-range electric motorbikes manufactured entirely in France using traditional methods. One of the goals of PEIT is to create close ties between student projects and the world of research. We see research as a valuable methodological tool that gives students access to technological expertise and helps them develop innovative products. Indeed, lots of students pursue their ideas at PhD level. We also keep in touch with our student entrepreneurs after they graduate to find out how many go on to create companies once they have real-world experience behind them.
Arts et Métiers : 20 students selected each year (out of 100 candidates); 80 projects since 2019
Institut d'Optique : Over 150 projects completed for external companies and 20 companies created since 2006; 200-400 jobs created; more than 100 innovation prizes