Start-up! Entrepreneur! Student Entrepreneur! These are words which are inspiring more and more people. Start-ups are increasingly in the media spotlight, receiving numerous initiatives from our politicians, sharpening the appetite of bankers, investors and other large groups.
Confronted by this societal phenomenon, VentureLab is asking three questions:
We ask about the very existence of these start-ups, where nearly all utopias can be found: What is the true meaning of the word?
Do start-ups have an impact on society?
Do they really bring value to the community in which they are developing?
In a world full of uncertainties, the second question (impact) leads us to understand how these start-ups can really contribute to tomorrow’s economy. Why do we create businesses? To have a start-up? Is the ultimate objective to be the CEO of a successful start-up, whatever its value for the society? We invite you to transform this way of thinking and let entrepreneurs be the drive for renewal of our societies which need to be reinvented. In these circumstances, if the start-up is a fashion that would mean that, once it was over, we would have found the solutions to our main challenges or that we would have failed to take them up.
It must be concluded that sustainable businesses exist but the economy overall is not capable of dealing with the challenges of society. Our third question looks at the role of an incubator in response to this observation. If incubators are becoming more and more common in the ecosystems (with their Fatboys, pinball machines and smoothies),
how can they be true pathways to solutions? If we had the answers, we would move on to other things. However, our belief is that there is not just one answer. It is also that the chosen answer should meet several key criteria so that the answer is relevant.
Among these, there are three I would highlight, in line with our mission:
In terms of education; to help future entrepreneurs understand their position in relation to the act of entrepreneurship. This means making sure they are leading a project which is perfectly in line with their values, aspirations and talents.
In terms of economics; to ensure that every project leaving the incubator has potential and is viable; and finally,
In terms of social impact; every effort should be made to make sure the project is in step with societal challenges and that the entrepreneur has the relevant tools to develop the project in this direction.
But what exactly is a start-up? How important is it to respond to this question of semantics deeply dividing so many specialists? Wanting to put a company inside a single box, isn’t that reductive? Isn’t a start-up simply the visible part of the iceberg of involvement in an adventure which is as uncertain as it is exciting? For, in the end, isn’t dealing with one’s own life the first act of entrepreneurship? And risking to be tormented by regrets, as it comes to an end: aren’t we all, each one of us, our own start-up?
Professor of entrepreneurship at HEC-ULiège,
founder and president of VentureLab