The desire to be an entrepreneur
Many young people dream of starting their own business for many reasons: self-fulfillment, creating their own professional activity or freeing themselves from the salary constraints of their employer. This entrepreneurial intention of young French people aged 18 to 24 is even among the strongest in developed countries. And yet, the gap between the declarations of intention and the reality of the projects carried out is significant, especially among women. For those who embark on this adventure, the reality is brutal. If the support of an incubator brings a real added value, the fact remains that 40% of French companies (excluding auto-entreprises) created in 2010 do not survive beyond five years (50% on average in the European Union). The many tools available to entrepreneurs to anticipate the development of their business do nothing to help. The future of young companies may require a psychological exploration of the founder. The founder’s desires and growth opportunities are intimately linked. The case of Sophie, a young researcher-entrepreneur, illustrates the interest of this double focus.
Sophie is a landscape engineer who graduated from an agricultural engineering school in France and a planner who graduated from a major American university. Passionate about research, she decided to make it her profession upon her return to France. She then began a three-year doctorate in urban planning in the Paris region. However, she was unable to obtain funding. While teaching at the university, she saw a leaflet about the PEPITE program on student entrepreneurship. Knowing that she was in a precarious situation financially, she thought that entrepreneurship could provide her with additional income. She also thinks that it is an opportunity to acquire new skills that could be useful in her career, while ensuring her a job at the end of her doctorate. She finally seized this opportunity by telling herself that she could help other precarious doctoral students through her company. She then applied to the PEPITE program, and was part of the second promotion of this national program, which offers support to students to create their own business during their studies. This accompaniment takes the form of themed training workshops, access to certain professionals offering free consultations and access to national competitions to obtain financing.
Sophie mobilizes her networks of researchers and mentors. These different supports allow her to better understand the world of the real estate industry, and how this industry perceives the world of research and innovation. Her mentors give her access to their address books to meet with different business leaders and other decision makers in the city. Sophie wishes to go beyond the academic framework and better understand these relationships in order to get out of the precariousness and help her peers, especially since researchers in the humanities and social sciences are not necessarily trained to develop this kind of relationship, and to effectively communicate with economic actors.
The end of entrepreneurship
The adventure of entrepreneurship is complex because it combines business and human factors. The entrepreneur discovers a daily reality very far from what he had imagined. Sophie finally founded her agency specialized in urban sciences. She enjoyed developing her business, finding and carrying out the first outsourced research missions for her clients. Her business works and she manages to build client loyalty. She has many memories, often positive, which partly offset the difficulty of overcoming the pitfalls of the adventure. However, as her company grew, Sophie’s job changed. She became more of a manager than a researcher, and had to manage teams and customer relations, which interested her less. She also faces problems of a more personal nature and finds it difficult to balance her private and professional life. However, in her life as a doctoral student, Sophie also discovered the joys of teaching, and the gratification of the relationship with the student. She finally decided to stop her business and teach in a school of architecture. The freedom of the entrepreneur gives wings, but in the case of a teacher-researcher, the margin of freedom also exists. Sophie can choose her research topics and the colleagues she will work with, she has more latitude to manage her schedule. And she continues to do research, which was her primary motivation for creating her company.
No matter how sophisticated the decision support models are, they do not predict what will happen next. Emotions and other personal projects such as the reconciliation of private and professional life also weigh in the decision. In this respect, the entrepreneur is a worker like any other, and in some cases, his or her well-being comes first. For Sophie, becoming a teacher-researcher is a more favorable situation. She does not regret having followed her entrepreneurial dream. She was able to evolve without regret, making a personal choice. But the story is not over, Sophie still has many years ahead of her and other adventures may yet tempt her!
About the Authors
Claire Doussard, PhD is a landscape engineer, urban designer, and assistant professor at the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris, France. She is now a freelance expert. She is involved in several international research collaborations dealing with sustainable development in urban design.
Julien Billion, PhD is a professor-researcher at ISC Paris, an expert in social innovation and social entrepreneurship. He wrote a book entitled: “Je ne dors pas à la maison: histoires de jeunes sans domicile à Paris et à New York” and produced a documentary on homeless youth, “Comme tout le monde”.
Catherine Lejealle, PhD is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Groupe ISC Paris. Her research interests evolve around new technologies’ adoption from both company and consumer’s perspective. She published articles in journals, textbooks for higher education and cases that won awards for best cases.