“Developing entrepreneurial projects that use science to support the Sustainable Development Goals”
For academic year 2021, PSL is launching an Impact Innovation and Entrepreneurship course. The 100% hybrid post-Master’s (Bac+6) curriculum combines scientific excellence with a response to today’s greatest social and environmental challenges. We interviewed Cédric Denis-Rémis, Vice President for Innovation, and Alexandre Heully, head of hybrid programs and innovation in teaching at PSL.
PSL: What is high-impact scientific entrepreneurship? And why launch a new post-Master’s program in this field?
Cédric Denis-Remis: “High-impact scientific entrepreneurship” encompasses three concepts: the concept of “starting a business,” the concept of “science” and more specifically “scientific research” (from the experimental sciences to the humanities and social sciences), and finally the concept of “impact,” meaning developing technologies closely tied to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were developed to have an impact on the energy transition, peace, justice, social inequity, etc.
Alexandre Heully: Right, high-impact scientific entrepreneurship is an approach that consists of considering the social and environmental externalities in any entrepreneurial initiative. It means considering entrepreneurship not as an end goal, but as a means to respond to social and environmental challenges, both individually and collectively. With this program, we aim to train tomorrow’s responsible innovators and entrepreneurs, the ones who want to draw on scientific research to develop projects that are built from the ground up with social and environmental impacts in mind.
PSL: How will PSL’s scientific laboratories be connected to the program? Why do you believe it is important to train future entrepreneurs through research?
CDR: Education informed by research is the core of PSL’s programs. Incorporating it into this new program was an obvious choice.
The complexity of our modern world and the societal challenges we face require us to use and design increasingly complex tools. Training a new generation of doers in high-impact scientific entrepreneurship, alongside high-level laboratories working on health, materials, energy, cognitive science, and more, puts them in the best possible position to meet those challenges.
AH: Today, we’re not short on scientific projects or ideas; what we need is more men and women who are capable of implementing them and designing projects that take both positive and negative externalities into account right from the start. Entrepreneurship in science means using scientific research to offer social and environmental innovations. Entrepreneurship in research means seeing entrepreneurship not as an individual or solely financial goal, but rather as a means to address social and environmental challenges.
PSL: How is this new program different from those offered by incubators or other structures that support start-ups?
AH: Incubators and accelerators are aimed at entrepreneurs who already have a business project. This program is designed more generally for young people who “want to start their own business,” whether or not they already have a clear idea of what they want that business to be. Rather than starting with a technological solution, we wanted to start with the problem: that is, to present the social and environmental challenges that younger generations are facing, and guide our students to offer solutions to them. It’s a totally different approach, one that puts entrepreneurship into a larger context and invites students to fine-tune their start-up plans as they advance through the program, using science to benefit the general interest.
PSL: Describe the type of students who should enroll in this program.
CDR: Students who want to change the world! (laughs) We’re looking for Master’s year 2 level students who enjoy technology and entrepreneurship and want to have a significant impact on society, changing the world by creating their business.
AH: There is no standard background to become a high-impact entrepreneur! On the contrary, we will be putting together classes in which we consider a diverse background of education and courses of study – whether in the hard sciences, management science, or the humanities – to be an asset. High-impact entrepreneurship is a way of questioning the world, standing up as an actor in change and developing your own entrepreneurial ethics.
PSL: Classes will be 100% hybrid: why opt for hybrid, and what will be the highlights of the 2021-2022 academic year?
CDR: Offering a hybrid program above all involves taking advantage of digital technologies to design an innovative approach to teaching. The program fits learning times into the student’s rhythm, with advanced sessions and workshops with faculty offered “synchronously.” Beyond that aspect, the hybrid approach allows us to be agile. For example, we would like to keep meetings with researchers as in-person events, while still allowing students who aren’t able to be in Paris full-time to pursue the program.
AH: Our program will be organized into three main phases: a first part that will invite students to gain a bird’s-eye perspective of social and environmental challenges based on an approach defined by the planet’s limitations, a second part in which we will offer a high-impact entrepreneur’s “toolkit” to help them organize and develop their high-impact company, and a third part focused on developing their high-impact project that will take place in group workshops using design thinking methodologies. At the end of the program a three-month professional experience will be offered, allowing students either to launch their own high-impact start-up or join an existing high-impact start-up or lab to put the training they’ve received into practice.