“The only truth for an entrepreneur is perseverance”

Maxime Marzin, head of the Sciences Po business incubator, talked to us about the fantasies, setbacks and successes of the students he accompanies on the great adventure of entrepreneurship.

  • How does the Sciences Po incubator differ from those of other universities?

Nobody comes to Sciences Po to be an entrepreneur, that’s a given. So we weren’t going to create a specific Master’s programme. However, if any of our students do want to start a business, at whatever stage of their studies, we want them to find the support they need. That’s the objective of the programme we’ve developed.

Our incubator is strongly supported by Sciences Po and that is one of our strengths. Our ability to activate our faculty and alumni networks means that our start-up founders can meet the right person at the right time.
I know of incubators where start-ups are told, “I’m not here to be your sales rep”.
At Sciences Po, it’s the opposite. We think it’s perfectly reasonable to put people in touch and we’re not afraid to get our feet wet. We are also willing to place real orders with some new start-ups so they can have Sciences Po as a client, and thereby get some practice and test their products.

Finally, some incubators only give their start-ups three months to take off. Personally, I can’t imagine Thomas Edison thinking: “I’ve got three months to succeed, then I give up”. We set our incubation period at twelve months. It’s a little arbitrary, but that way Sciences Po gives companies the time to form and move forward. It’s a luxury.

  • Do you know in advance if a start-up is going to take off?

No, it’s impossible to say. Luck is a big factor. Out of all the start-ups that have been through the incubator, a third died in the first six months, a third haven’t quite found their business model, and a third have become small businesses. But while I can’t tell in advance which ones are headed for success, I know which start-ups are doomed to failure.

  • Why?

Paradoxically, the incubated companies that run aground are usually the ones that either stick too closely to what we tell them, or apply less than 20 percent of the advice we give them. The first are not critical enough, and they haven’t understood that if there were a formula for success, everyone would follow it. The second are too stubborn to realise that even if they want to change they world, they have to start with the world we’ve got.
Those who succeed are somewhere in between. They are free to choose from the advice they’re given, but they apply at least some of it.

  • So is there no rule for success?

There’s only one thing I’m sure of: the only truth for an entrepreneur is perseverance. Discouragement and even failure inevitably lie in store somewhere along the road. The curve that I drew on my office window, which was designed by Paul Graham, founder of the US incubator Y Combinator, represents this state of mind.

It describes the psychological states that you go through when you found your start-up. First, euphoria, which might come after the first article in the press, for example. Then a fall, followed by a phase Graham calls “the trough of sorrow.” Next, when you change your product or concept, you plummet even further, and it is there, when you have reached rock bottom, that you realise your ability to bounce back and start to recover. The key thing is to know where you are on this curve, so you won’t be surprised at what comes next. That is what I explain to the new recruits at the first meeting I hold with them; I talk to them about this curve, and about the dangers of taking into account 20 percent or 100 percent of the advice they’re given.

  • And do they listen?

At that first meeting, yes. In fact I tell them a lot of things very early on, because afterwards I have no influence. And that’s perfectly normal, because in the incubator the rookies go through different phases. When they first get going, there’s all the excitement, particularly the thrill of not having anyone above them. Strictly speaking, they have no boss! At that stage they stop listening to me. When they come up against their first difficulties, they come back to me. Next, they find their feet and start raising funds, and then, very often, they take their distance again. It’s when they leave the incubator that they get back in contact – often with a touch of nostalgia.

Interview by Clémence Fulleda (class of 2014) and Anne-Sophie Beauvais (class of 2001)

Related link
Learn more about the Sciences Po programme for budding entrepreneurs

Congratulations!

Congratulations!

42 new graduates from the dual BA between Sciences Po and Columbia University took part in the Class Day Ceremony on 16 May 2016 in New York. All dressed in sky blue, the graduates were invited by James Mabry, the keynote speaker, to reflect on learning their lessons, finding their mission and living with passion.

More
Sciences Po among the world's top research institutions in economics

Sciences Po among the world's top research institutions in economics

The 2016 Ideas Rankings for economics research have just been published. Computed using data from the RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) database, these rankings take into account scientific publications and citations from the past ten years. Sciences Po ranks among the top five percent of economics research institutions in the world alongside Harvard (in first place), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the London School of Economics (LSE).

More
“Librarians still play an important role”

“Librarians still play an important role”

Matthew Baker started his career travelling the world for work. After leaving his home state of Michigan, he spent time in Belgium, England, Canada, Ethiopia and Switzerland before finally coming to Reims in 2012. He talked to us about his current role as head librarian on the Sciences Po campus in Reims.

More
“My undergraduate year abroad changed my life”

“My undergraduate year abroad changed my life”

Leon Yuchin Lau, an undergraduate student at Sciences Po, has just been offered a contract to become a foreign service officer with the government of Singapore. While he originally intended to follow his undergraduate education with a Master's degree, Leon changed his plan and decided to enter the professional world.

More
The

The "Erasmus Generation" in power.

Sandro Gozi, Italian Secretary of State for European Affairs – and, for the last fifteen years, professor at Sciences Po – will give a lecture on 18 May 2016 on the topic of his latest book, Génération Erasmus. Ils sont déjà au pouvoir (Éditions Plon).* The book highlights the arrival of a new generation of leaders, former Erasmus students like himself, who bring with them new prospects for the EU's future. Interview. 

More
One summer in Paris to delve into the social sciences

One summer in Paris to delve into the social sciences

The social sciences track of the Summer School offers students the opportunity to delve into the fundamental disciplines of Sciences Po, such as political science, international relations, economics, history and more. The deadline to apply to the 2016 Summer School is Sunday 15 May... Hear from 2015 Summer School students enrolled in the social sciences track, watch the video.

More

"I want to change the system. Not make up for its defects."

Tara Heuzé, a student on the Sciences Po-Columbia dual Master's programme, launched an initiative to collect sanitary products for homeless women. The operation, dubbed "Règles élémentaires", helped raise awareness well beyond Sciences Po. Interview with a student who wants use the weapons of finance to change the world.

More
To be or not to be in the European Union?

To be or not to be in the European Union?

On 3 May 2016 at Sciences Po, British Minister of State for Europe David Lidington said the UK must regain confidence in its ability to help shape the European agenda. Building on this conviction, he went on to outline  a series of challenges Britain and Europe will have to face together in the twenty-first century. Watch the interview.

More