Back from the Startup nation: reflections on student entrepreneurship inspired by the Israeli context | Episode 2

by bold-lichterman

In the previous post in this series on student entrepreneurship in Israel, I pointed out the need for universities – yet pioneers in the training of their students as entrepreneurs – to think of new models, in the face of the boom in entrepreneurial support today. However, are these models of the “Startup nation” replicable in the French context? This is the whole purpose of this second part of our reflections …

Episode 2 – “Here, we do everything at 80%” *: should we be inspired by the methods of the “Startup nation” to promote student entrepreneurship in France?

Investing in talents: an additional brick in the promotion offer of universities.

The creation of investment funds held by Israeli universities is a response to this need for new support models. At Tel Aviv University, the StarTAU Entrepreneurship Center recently ceased to operate, making way for TAU Ventures, the first fund held by the establishment. Similar initiatives are emerging today in France, in particular with the opening of Saclay Seed Fund the first investment fund of the University of Paris-Saclay or even ISEP’s trust fund.

Taking advantage of the university’s excellent international reputation, TAU Ventures has managed to raise, over an extremely short period of time, $ 20 million from mostly foreign institutional investors keen to approach the Israeli market. . It thus constitutes an additional building block in the university’s development offer, which is already extremely well structured. Israeli universities were indeed equipped very early on with imposing development offices, such as Ramot at Tel-Aviv University or Yissum at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where mainly former researchers, working in the private sector, have extremely detailed knowledge of the various stakeholders in technology transfer. These advances make them poles better able to capture the value of the innovations brought by their students, from which the French establishments taking similar approaches can draw inspiration.

Creating new outlets for its graduates: the challenge of professionalization.

Israeli universities are also deploying student entrepreneurship as a response to a saturation of the job market in certain sectors, particularly in the basic sciences. The Sagol Scool of Neuroscience, which brings together researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds (neurosciences, psychology, computer science, linguistics, etc.), has thus sought to make the worlds of research, industry and entrepreneurship work together. Based on the observation that there were not enough positions – especially in higher education – for their graduates, this faculty of Tel Aviv University has stepped up initiatives in this direction, by creating two support programs. dedicated to doctoral and post-docs: Minducate, focused on educational technologies and BrainBoost, specialized on the development of new therapies in neuroscience.

Two years of doctoral scholarship (equivalent to $ 20,000) are awarded to a selection of students wishing to set up businesses in these fields. The objective is to create a virtuous ecosystem for the professionalization of students: the program managers hope that the companies created at the end of the program will then be able to recruit other students from the school. It is also for the school to multiply bridges with industry, through collaborations that may emerge from student projects with large companies. Above all, these programs help to make the faculty itself more innovative, with the projects of Minducate students being tested directly at Tel Aviv University. It is therefore both for the establishment to train students to start a business and to create and structure around a real ecosystem allowing these initiatives to emerge.

A startup economy?

While these models can be inspiring in the development of entrepreneurial support within universities, their simple replication in the French context is not without questions. The startup nation has been presented to us by some observers as a country of startups, not very conducive to the establishment of large companies, as has been the case in France since the industrial revolution. The relative youth, size, limited resources and geopolitical situation of the country are in particular to blame in the difficulty of implementing industry giants there. “From water desalination to weapons, we owe it to ourselves to be innovative,” recalls a manager of TAU Ventures, questioned about the country’s entrepreneurial dynamism. This need can thus help to explain the abundance of startups, often considered to be the most able to carry technological innovation.

In this sense, business creation is not necessarily geared towards establishing long-lasting organizations, but rather aims at “exit”, ie the resale of the young startup to large groups. These logics may have led some stakeholders in the Israeli entrepreneurial ecosystem to confide in us that “here, we do everything at 80%” *: Israeli companies would not seek organizational perfection, but rather follow opportunistic logics, consisting of choose the most efficient solution at time T, without necessarily looking beyond. It is therefore not uncommon to meet former entrepreneurs who have become investors when they have not multiplied the creations and resales of startups. This innovative start-up type of entrepreneurship model contrasts in part with a more traditional model, anchored in French culture, of the development of young shoots into perennial and sustainable companies. This is manifested in particular in certain impact indicators aimed at assessing the entrepreneurial dynamism of a territory in public policies: number of company creation, number of job creation, sustainability of companies after more than 3 years of existence. It would therefore be complicated to replicate the methods of the start-up nation, modeled on a more Anglo-Saxon model, in the French context, where the universe of large companies remains a solid benchmark. In addition, the strong selectivity of the logic of startups (grow or die) makes it a model that many remain discarded.

If the progress of Israeli universities to promote the talents and trajectories of their students are inspiring on many levels, the reference model on which it is based therefore suggests that its simple replication in the French context is not obvious. Beyond the copy / paste, the wealth of the startup nation is therefore perhaps elsewhere … Following the next episode.

The contributor:

Israeli style” what if entrepreneurial culture takes precedence over devicesPassionate about the current changes in work, Laëtitia is a researcher in Entrepreneurship, within the framework of a CIFRE between the University of Grenoble-Alpes and the Conseil & Recherche company. His work focuses on the entrepreneurial engagement of students and the role of support systems in the transition from intention to entrepreneurial behavior. This research is carried out under the direction of Jean-Pierre Boissin, coordinator of the national plan for student entrepreneurship and thus benefits from a prime field: the national Pépite France scheme.

In addition, as part of her consultancy activity at Conseil & Recherche, she takes part in collaborative research projects serving key accounts, on themes related to work transformations and innovation (New uses of work, innovation, employee experience, etc.).