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Startup Launchpad Kicks Off with Airbnb Cofounder

The effervescence was palpable in the corridors and cafeteria of HEC Paris’ S building on Monday January 30 where 138 students congregated for the kickoff of the Startup Launchpad they had enrolled for, designed by HEC Paris in partnership with école 42.

Startup launch pad 2017

36 Startup teams

The nine-week course is part of a Digital Major which has blossomed, seeing the numbers of candidates triple since 2014. Its last edition was lauded by Challenge magazine as unique, “an astounding cocktail to unearth talent.” The course aims at supporting student entrepreneurs who launch their own startup, ably assisted by mentors and academics who are well versed in the Learning-by-Doing philosophy. 33 startup teams have been created, joined by three further teams backed by Axa, Orange and Altares, respectively. While the course is dominated by students from HEC Paris and école 42, there is a healthy smattering of graduates from institutions like Sciences Po, Sorbonne and EPSAA.

“Learning by doing” is a principle first spawned at HEC Paris by Robert Papin when he created the Entrepreneurship program back in 1978. It is to find its full expression during this third edition of the HEC-42 Startup Launchpad, currently masterminded by Guillaume le Dieu de Ville, Stéphane Madoeuf and Julien Levy of HEC who have allied themselves to the école 42 director Nicolas Sadirac for the duration of the course.

Disruptive startups

“Times have changed,” explains program director Guillaume le Dieu de Ville, paraphrasing Nobel laureate Bob Dylan; “A few years ago students dreamt of market exchanges and advising CEOs. Nowadays, largely thanks to the digital age, they’re launching a web service or developing an app. But for this, they need to gain expertise in a wide array of fields, including marketing, strategy and finance.”
“The advantage of the digital age, is you can quickly put projects and startups to the test,” continues le Dieu de Ville who is also the cofounder of Lingueo. “The numeric age redistributes the opportunities and opens up the field to everyone. Startups can even be disruptive!”

Nathan Blecharczyk Gives Thumbs-up

Stéphane Madoeuf insists on the diversity of students participating in the Launchpad. “The Digital Major at HEC Paris invites people with atypical profiles, such as lawyers, engineers and computer programmers, to join our postgraduates,” he explains over a coffee. The professor at HEC believes the diversity of partners such as école 42 and Epitech encourages this opening out. “The results are there. Companies hiring our students take full advantage of their ability to innovate. And, through these intense courses, the students gain experience thanks to on-the-ground work and the transformation of classroom theory into applications in real world situations.”

Monday’s kickoff included a short but powerful message from this year’s patron, Nathan Blecharczyk, cofounder of Airbnb. Succeeding the 2016 course patron Xavier Niel, the American entrepreneur lauded the Startup Launchpad, saying a similar program called Y Combinatory had helped put Airbnb on the road to success. And from his California base, he shared two pieces of wisdom: “Entrepreneurship is all about determination. I hope this program can provide both the wisdom to identify what is the most important (element) and provide the structure to stay hyper-focused on it.”

Sweating Blood for a Chance at Success

The teams will have an early opportunity to test their determination and focus as they prepare for the first of four pitches, programmed for February 7. “They’re going to sweat blood,” said le Dieu de Ville with a smile. “But it’s all part of the learning curve where you also have to learn how to pick yourself up after failure, question your fundamentals and prove your flexibility. This is a course which tests you but also which unites you with fellow-students and sets up networks that will be precious in coming years.” He should know: of the 30 students who graduated from HEC with him in 2006, around 15 see each other every month.
The course’s climax, called DemoDay, is scheduled for March 30. By then, Nathan Blecharczyk will have dropped in to exchange and share worldly wisdoms with participants who will have benefitted from courses as diverse as UX Design, acquisition policy and communications.

To follow the day-to-day activities of the Digital Launchpad startups go to