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Future entrepreneurs from Columbia University discovering l’X

École Polytechnique has hosted for a week on campus fifteen American students from Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE), one of the largest US student organizations dedicated to entrepreneurship. Interview with their President.

École Polytechnique and Columbia University are linked through the Alliance program, which facilitates the creation of academic links and synergies. From March 16 to 20, fifteen students from Columbia University (New York), all members of the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs or CORE, came to École Polytechnique.

The aim was to discover the French entrepreneurial ecosystem, while strengthening the partnership between l’X and Columbia University, encouraging cultural exchange between the US and France and supporting new initiatives in favor of entrepreneurship and innovation.

After an official welcoming from Jacques Biot, President of École Polytechnique, the American students met innovative start-up creators from l’X and discovered several laboratories. They also toured Paris, visited the Agoranov Tech Incubator and participated in pitches organized by Cabinet start-up, the CORE-equivalent student association from l’X that promotes entrepreneurship on the Saclay plateau.

4 questions to Simon Schwartz, CORE’s President

What did you expect from your visit to École Polytechnique and what did you learn during your stay?

I came in France because I believe that there is a globalization of entrepreneurship. We have a lot to learn from one another. I was particularly struck by the proximity of École Polytechnique’s Research Center with its start-ups. The facilities are very impressive. At Columbia University, labs and start-ups are not as close in the beginning: they usually become connected only when the technology is out of the lab.
I also liked the enthusiasm and passion demonstrated by the students and spokespeople we met. I was particularly impressed by Jean Michel Dalle (X1988) in charge of the Agoranov incubator: he is very dedicated! You always learn a lot from mentors such as him! This incubator offers an ideal environment for starting a business. If the US is leading the way in the entrepreneurial field, Europe is not far off, for sure!

What differences did you observe between the French and American entrepreneurial ecosystems?

In the US, we are not afraid of failing; on the contrary, failure is seen as normal and constructive. This encourages students to engage in risk-taking, probably more than in France. This however seems to be changing. Another difference is that in the US, start-ups are mainly financed by private actors, whereas in France, there is more public funding.

What is the aim of an organization like CORE?

A student organization like ours needs to show that entrepreneurship is accessible to all. That is why we organize conferences of entrepreneurs sharing their experience: it is very important for students to have such feedback before launching a start-up. We also organize group workshops as well as visits abroad to discover other approaches of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Here at l’X, we attended pitches organized by Cabinet start-up: this is also a good exercise for students to practice sharing their ideas.

Do you have any advice for students from l’X who wish to create a start-up?

To be a successful entrepreneur, I think you have to be passionate. If you are not "in love" with your project, if you do not really believe in it, it will not work.
Human relationships are also at the heart of start-ups: solitary artists do not exist, you have to always build and consolidate your network. There is no point in keeping ideas to yourself, on the contrary, it is counter-productive. Finally, sometimes you have to learn to run before learning to walk, be the change you wish to see, respond to a real need you have identified.