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IMT Starter Offers Extensive Opportunities for In-House and External Entrepreneurs

In this article, UIIN – Lehigh University Iacocca Scholars Nia Nesfield and Madison Horn share with the UIIN readers their impressions and highlights of their visit to IMT Starter at Institut Mines-Telecom Business School (IMT-BS) in Paris, France.

Just a train ride away in the southern suburbs of Paris is a university-connected incubator known as IMT Starter. It provides cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship opportunities for university students (30%), whilst also connecting to its region by having start-ups run by outside entrepreneurs (70%).

IMT Starter is the digital incubator of Institut Mines-Telecom Business School (IMT-BS), Télecom SudParis (TSP) and ENSIIE that has been helping entrepreneurs to develop their projects in terms of business strategy, product/services, funding, etc.  Working closely with the business school, IMT-BS, and the engineering school, TSP and ENSIIE, it draws together students from these different backgrounds in IT and digital sector to develop new startups.

Along with other programs for entrepreneurs, IMT Starter supports entrepreneurial development through three flagship programs: CHALLENGE ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROJECT® (for second year students), a competition to develop a business idea; Majeur EntrepreneMajeure Entrepreneuriat (MIE) (for third year students, this program is not described in this case) and The Soft-Landing Project, an international project dedicated to start-up ecosystem discovery mission.

Entrepreneurship experience for all: “CHALLENGE ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROJECTS® 

As part of the second year of the Grand Ecole study programme, students are required to take part in the competition called “Challenge”, a one-week intensive programme to develop entrepreneurial ideas and mindsets. Students come together to form interdisciplinary teams of four to six from both the business and engineering school and develop a business idea and plan. This annual challenge is hosted by IMT in their collaborative new start-up space and drives students to come up with a business idea within the week. The aim of the programme is to provide a hands-on introduction of entrepreneurial thinking and methods.

The format for the programme allows participants to focus intensely on creating and developing their entrepreneurial IT startup idea in a format of a highly-structured one week ‘development sprint’. The competition is launched together with sponsors and mentors on the first Friday and teams have mentoring and learning sessions on Saturday and Sunday as they establish their idea. Monday and Tuesday consists of workshops to help students develop their idea and then by Thursday, submit a 20-minute-long video and executive summary of their business. The video and executive summary is then assessed by the judges, and 20 finalists are announced to go through two pitching rounds the next day. On the second Friday, the 20 finalists present their business plan in 20 minutes and answer questions in front of five juries. This culminates in the main event, a final in front of an audience and featuring 5 start-up teams who are chosen to pitch their idea in 2 minutes. The winner is chosen by a panel of experienced entrepreneurs.

The final winners receive iPads, headphones, and other prizes, however, every participant gains the experience of coming up with their own business idea and plan in a short amount of time. About 2 or 3 of the teams each year will continue to develop their ideas in the IMT Starter incubator making the competition an important feeder programme for the incubator.

“Soft Landing” for ecosystem builders and international scalers

Soft-Landing is the European project dedicated in the development of startup ecosystems (France, The Netherlands, Lithuania and Germany) in Europe. This intensive and immersive program for startups, scaleups and ecosystem builders to discover and learn about new markets. IMT Starter as being one of the partners offers foreign entrepreneurs the opportunity to access the French market. The programme has a goal of promoting growth of innovation ecosystems throughout Europe.

The programs are for startups and ecosystem builders. For ecosystem builders, the immersive program enables them to learn about new ecosystem and develop innovation within their own cities. The program offers discovery mission to travel to another city throughout Europe, Silicon Valley in the US and India. This way they can gain ideas from already established and successful ecosystems to discover how start-ups grow in other areas are supported through their foundation and growth stages. They can also gain and understanding of available resources and break down any misconceptions they might have about a different ecosystem while gaining valuable ideas for their own.

On the other hand, Soft Landing for start-ups and scaleups is a program where start-ups can spend a week in another city to help their business grow internationally and has a specific focus on those new ventures in the scale-up phase. The week visit is highly structured to support foreign start-up in understanding the ecosystem in terms of business development, funding, administrative procedures, work culture, etc. by providing access to local mentors and contacts as well as introductions to VCs. Start-ups apply for the program and eventually those whose needs align the most with the program are selected to go. Mentoring, connections, and attendance at conferences and social events are just some of the ways the businesses can gain experience to scale-up internationally. There is even an opportunity for these businesses to stay for a month in the cities if they see opportunities for themselves.

The Soft Landing program is an initiative funded by the European Commission therefore the participants are reimbursed for their travels. It is meant to build relationships across Europe for ecosystem builders and start-up companies. This way people can learn from others, regardless of their location.


IMT Starter sees their role as providing a soft introduction to entrepreneurial activities in the IT space for students and to open doors to all of their startups rather being there to sell something. Through programs such as those described, IMT Starter is influencing the lives of students, ecosystem builders, and numerous start-up companies. Since its foundation in 2000, the incubator has worked with 180 companies that have created over 2000+ jobs in the IT industry, as well as forming an alumni network of over 15000 active members ready to share their experiences.

The incubator has maintained its goal to ensure success of entrepreneurs all over Europe and future French entrepreneurs who are currently enrolled in their study programs. Students are meant to graduate with an understanding of all career paths they could choose from, whether it is a corporate career path or an entrepreneurial one.

Image credit: IMT Starter 

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