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How an MBA Can Help Entrepreneurs [Podcast Episode] 0
How an MBA Can Help Entrepreneurs Oct 22 Inge Kerkloh Devif #492

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Do you need an MBA as an entrepreneur? [Show Summary]

What does it take to become an entrepreneur who drives impact and change? Is an MBA necessary? Inge Kerkloh-Devif, Senior Executive Director and Senior Vice President of the HEC Paris Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, shares her thoughts.

Interview with Inge Kerkloh-Devif, Sr. Exec. Dir. & Sr. Vice President of the HEC Paris Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center [Show Notes]

Welcome to the 492nd episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for tuning in. Are you trying to figure out how you should approach the four to eight applications that you’re planning to submit when applying to an MBA program? You can get tips and answers by taking Accepted’s free, short quiz – just six questions – at By taking the quiz, you’ll get a sense of how well you’re approaching this critical process and gain access to relevant resources, both free and paid, that will provide you with an effective and efficient strategy for your MBA application effort. 

Our guest today, Inge Kerkloh-Devif, earned her masters in Marketing and Communications at HEC Paris in 2006. Since then, she worked in business in Paris and then became Executive Vice President of HEC Paris’s Executive Education Program, focusing on Global Business Development. In 2019, she moved into her current role as Senior Executive Director and Senior Vice President of the HEC Paris Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center. In 2021, she added to her responsibilities the role of Co-Site Lead Executive at the Creative Destruction Lab in Paris in partnership with the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center.

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Can you tell us a little bit about both HEC’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center and the Creative Destruction Lab in Paris? [2:11]

Of course. The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center is the whole ecosystem we have built as a school around innovators and entrepreneurs. As we say, we think, we teach, and we act around innovation and entrepreneurship. That means we do research on innovation and entrepreneurship. We have more than 20 programs we are teaching at the school to teach innovation and entrepreneurship to our students. And we have all of our incubator acceleration programs, so students are learning by doing. Entrepreneurship is really part of the DNA of the school. 

The Creative Destruction Lab, or CDL, was founded 10 years ago in Toronto, Canada at the Rotman Management School. They’re now partnering with 12 universities all over the world to offer this objective-based program from massively scalable, seed-stage science and technology-based companies. It’s really an acceleration program for deep tech. The program has an intake from more than 600 companies per year. We have one lab in Paris, we have one lab on climate, and one lab on space.

What’s the difference between deep tech and tech? [4:15]

Very good question. I think I can give 10 different answers to this. For us, we can see this really emerging more and more in engineering and scientific projects. Those are really long-term projects. We are working with scientists and engineers to get these projects to grow. For us, it’s specifically based on scientific and engineering projects to give this deep tech long-term projects. When I say we are working with scientists and engineers, they’re coming out of the laboratories. It’s very research-based. 

If I have a business idea, or maybe I don’t yet have a business idea, but I know that I want to be an entrepreneur at some point in my career, how can an MBA help me succeed? [5:33]

I think of these as two different stages. 

If you already have your idea or if you’re just joining an MBA, what we can see is very often, students are launching their business or their ideas a little bit after completing their MBA. They learn all the basics, they build their network, and then the business idea emerges a little bit later. So the MBA is first, and the business idea and growing it come after they graduate. 

But also we have some students who already have a business idea. At HEC, we offer a specialization in entrepreneurship. Even during your MBA studies, you can meet investors, learn from peers, and you can get access to this amazing ecosystem we have to grow your idea. 

Those are two different ways to do your entrepreneurship project when you come to an MBA at HEC.

Do you have any idea how many HEC grads start their own business either while at HEC or immediately after, and how many do it a few years down the road? [7:03]

Almost 25% of our grads have the plan to build their own business when they’re graduating, which is an amazing amount to be honest, because five or ten years ago, it was not this way. People were going into consulting or banking. Now people are more and more interested in building their own businesses. 

On campus, we have 400 projects per year that our students are building. That includes the MBA and Executive MBA students. Not all of them are growing and going further, but we have the HEC Incubator. We see that the projects that come to the Incubator have a survival rate of about 85% about three or four years down the road. It’s a very high figure. Most students are really pursuing their businesses once they have joined the HEC Incubator. We currently have 200 projects in the Incubator. 

What kind of support do students receive from the HEC Incubator? [9:10]

They have a very fancy office space because our Incubator is at Station F, which is the most important startup campus worldwide, and we have our 200 startups there. But the office space is a small part. I think the important part is we have a specific custom-made program, which is not a fixed program. They have an “à la carte” menu. They have office hours with our experts, our alumni, and our professors. We have 650 experts around our “Incubees,” so to say. They get custom-made support depending on their project. 

They also really benefit from our alumni network, which helps with many things beyond access to finance or funding but general business connections. I think it’s even more important to get business access to have those first customers. It’s not just about fundraising. They’ll really benefit from this ecosystem.

Some will say that entrepreneurs would be better off investing money in their entrepreneurial venture instead of getting an MBA and learning from the experience. How would you respond to that? [11:13]

We get this question quite often. I think there are a few answers to this. What we can see is the competencies students get during the MBA help them be very efficient in the business world. Especially during the pandemic and this uncertainty, people are looking more for MBA training. We really had increasing numbers of people joining the MBA during these uncertain times. 

We follow our MBA students a couple of years after they graduate and what we can see is they all have a ROI, or return on investment. They don’t ask if it’s worth it three or four years later. 

Last but not least, I think our network and community are priceless. Students are getting access to a big alumni community. We have 68,000 alumni all over the world. We have more than 80 chapters in different countries. Students immediately gain access to a global network. HEC’s 

How is deep tech entrepreneurship developing going forward? Can you touch on the conference you attended regarding this? [14:25]

We really see an exciting development in this. In Europe and in France, you have a lot of important engineering schools, and we can see more and more projects coming out of that. At HEC, we actually mix up those engineers with our business people. When we think about the future of tomorrow, there’s a lot of technology. Our economy and our world will benefit from future technology. Things like the climate crisis can be addressed through technology and innovation. 

The conference I attended was IAC, which is the International Congress for Astronauts that took place in Paris this year. I see entrepreneurs taking part in the space adventure. Obviously, there’s Elon Musk and SpaceX, but there are so many developments coming and out from entrepreneurs who are able to contribute to the future space adventure. Space will be part of our world tomorrow. We really see the momentum here in the present moment. We are really excited about combining this potential with our business students to be a part of building our future. This is what we’re seeing worldwide, especially in Europe and in France.

How is space exploration going to improve our lives? [16:59]

I think there are a lot of examples already. There’s been a lot in medical research. Even L’Oréal is doing some exciting research in space. I think this is what we can see today already having an impact, but in the future, it can have an impact on the climate, for example. The information we can get from space can give us innovation to solve the climate problems we are facing on earth. There are more and more solutions coming out of space that are helping us. One important impact is that we can get access to the internet worldwide. It’s step by step. 

I think there are a lot of things coming in the future, and I don’t know what we will discover once we are on the moon. I think there are a lot of things coming, but immediately I think research, communication, and information. And last but not least, we’ll probably get some help with the climate challenge. 

What is your favorite piece of advice for college students or adults out of college who have what they think is a great idea for a business? [18:36]

Interesting question. One thing we say is, “Make it happen, make it big.” That means you can have a small and beautiful idea, but look at it and be excited about the idea to grow it in order to have a big impact. When one of our students has an idea, we challenge them to make it happen and to make it big. Think about how your project, even though you need to start small, can grow and if there’s an opportunity to grow, how you can scale it in order to get a more important impact. 

We are really looking at all of our projects and asking what impact they have on business and society, so my second piece of advice is to ask, “Is this project able to positively contribute to business and also society?” We can see our students are looking for those results. Businesses can really help and have an impact tomorrow. If you start a business, you need to be responsible for what you’re doing with your business and the way you’re growing.

So make it happen, make it big, and look for the impact on the economy and society. Those would be the two answers I would give.

Of the four new unicorns in France in 2022, two of them got their master’s degrees at HEC. Of a total of 24 unicorns, HEC alumni founders represented 25%. That’s a pretty impressive track record. What aspects of HEC’s entrepreneurial offerings do you feel were most helpful in these entrepreneurs having the impact and making it so big? [21:23]

It’s not our focus because while we think unicorns are important, you also can grow a business without being a unicorn. So the first answer is we don’t focus on unicorns. For sure, as I mentioned, we really live by the “Make it happen, make it big” motto. If you have a unicorn, you can have a huge impact. 

Our first unicorn was actually Doctolib, which is a platform to help book medical appointments. It was really helpful during the pandemic for the government and for all of us citizens. Being a unicorn and having a big impact is nice but getting that status is not our sole purpose. It’s a huge number, to be honest. We are a little bit surprised ourselves. We thought about what the reason behind it might be. What we can see is that education can really help you be performant and drive a business with performance.

Second, as I mentioned, we mix up engineers with our business students. These people come together and sit in one classroom, meet, and find some very brilliant ideas. The diversity of our students might be an answer. 

The third part is we really think the ecosystem around HEC students, including alumni and professors, leads to success. 

It might be any of these three reasons, but there might be others. I should ask our students and our unicorns. It’s really nice because very often, students credit HEC and say, “My experience at HEC has been important, thank you for helping me to build this business.” That’s very nice to hear.

What are some of the differences between entrepreneurship in Europe or in France and the United States? [24:24]

There are actually not a lot of differences, which might be surprising. What we can see is that Europe was a little bit behind the United States but we can see a growing ecosystem and growing support. The French government has been very supportive in the last few years. We can see more investment and funding opportunities as well as support from the government. There are also more students looking to be entrepreneurs. So I would say that we are catching up to the United States and the way we do business is almost the same.

There is the difference of being spread out. We don’t have one place like Silicon Valley, but we have innovation hubs all over Europe. London is a very important place for creation. Paris is obviously another one in Europe and the third is Munich. What is different in Europe is an entrepreneur here is not working in one place. You probably will work in London, Munich, and Paris, which is actually nice. You have these ecosystems like mini Silicon Valleys spread across Europe. 

It’s multilingual but English is actually the most important language. You work in English all over Europe, so the language is not an issue anymore. It’s still nice if you speak some French. 

If you don’t mind, I would like to mention Asia. I think we also need to keep an eye on what’s happening in there, even though it’s more difficult in China, but there are a lot of things happening in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. We shouldn’t underestimate the innovation and entrepreneurship they have in place there and how heavily they support this within Asia Pacific. I think there’s a lot of innovation going on all over the world. Africa is also starting to see this a little bit as well. Overall, I think the global place is a very innovative place.

One of the entrepreneurial mantras that I hear talked about is, “Fail fast and fail often.” What do you think about that? [28:09]

Obviously, you can learn from your failures, and you should always learn from them. Looking at it from a cultural point of view, failure is not the same in France compared to the United States. We don’t like failure so much in France. It’s a cultural difference. You can learn from failures but we focus on helping students be successful. It can be quite expensive to fail too. I think we try to help them to be successful but still encourage learning by doing and learning from failures.

What would you have liked me to ask you? [29:59]

You already asked me about the impact we have from entrepreneurship in tech and space. And the important question is how innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech entrepreneurship can be a part of the solution for a better future. This is a contribution we can give to our future world and economy and society. It’s very close to our heart at HEC. This is quite an exciting environment we are working in and it gives me a bit of hope saying, “There are a lot of solutions out there, let’s be a part of the solution.”

Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about HEC’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center? [31:29]


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