Hervé Lebret is the opening speaker of Seedstars Summit 2018. Currently in charge of EPFL’s start-up unit, Hervé Lebret has created the INNOGRANTS incubator for EPFL Innovation Park. He is sharing with us EPFL’s innovation current dynamics, and the Swiss environment for entrepreneurship and innovation.
EPFL’s innovation park is hosting more than 100 firms, concentrating more than 2000 working persons. What are the main success factors of this high tech innovation center?
HL: A High tech innovation park success depends on multiple components. A first element is the EPFL University, which is a magnet of attraction. Despite more expensive offices’ rents than in the city center, start-ups settle down at Innovation Park because it offers proximity to students, for internships and employment. Another thing is the Park itself, which offers a strong network for entrepreneurs, investors (3 capital risk investment funds are on site), scientists... People can attend events such as Seedstars, and obtain wide range of services such as coaching and advisory sessions. It is not solely an office space!
You have created INNOGRANTS program, which has financed more than 80 teams and helped the creation of more than 50 start-ups. In what types of profiles and ideas is this program investing?
- Innogrants is a tool to foster and help innovative projects. After a 10 minutes pitch, a comity of 20 experts awards a 100k CHF grant to the most promising one –
HL: I don’t have any selection criteria, but one thing is important: Passion and Enthusiasm, as long as their pitch make sense. I don’t care about the tech, the market or the clients. Why Google Facebook and Tesla worked? Their success rely on individuals mad enough to try new things!
Business models don’t matter. Google didn’t make any business model when it started. Every good project find financing after a while.
We noticed EPFL improved the support it offers to the students going into entrepreneurship ventures. What are the next steps regarding EPFL’s ecosystem for start-ups development by students?
HL: Xgrants is an award for students starting new ventures (price of 10k CHF). This accelerator has been created recently by EPFL. Besides that EPFL provides help through courses, mentoring and coaching – Hervé Lebret is teaching to master students how to innovate during entrepreneurship laboratories courses – In addition, EPFL campus has multiple start-ups accelerators, business plan competitions. Two main factors are important: funds to invest, and experts to help creating a project. But a good entrepreneur is learning by doing. Steve Jobs for instance learned by creating Apple.
You have a scientific background, which is electrical engineering. What were your motivations to enter the entrepreneurial world?
HL: I have studied for 2 years in California (Stanford University). All my friends were creating start-ups. I was amazed by this world where you can work for your own instead of being in a big firm or organization. I loved those people! They are always attempting new ideas, trying to innovate.
As Guy Kawasaki said “To make a church, an artistic creation, or an enterprise is the same thing: the goal is to control its own destiny”. That is the reason why I joined an investment fund.
Do EPFL have collaborations or development projects with emerging countries?
HL: There are many projects underway, it starts with teaching and education. A lot of MOOCs have been created mainly for French speaking African countries.
We also have Codev (Cooperation and development center), a unit to help developing emerging countries. We must be aware that this is a sensitive matter (western countries help for development). We want to support people and walk with them to achieve their goals, and not impose our visions on countries and individuals.
What role has entrepreneurship within countries development?
HL: The emerging countries are the most entrepreneurial markets because individuals have to work harder to obtain a satisfying welfare. Entrepreneurship is strong in such countries. Indeed it offers the possibility of being local or global, with new technologies those frontiers are disappearing.
Entrepreneurship is essential for all economies.