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ESCP Europe Learns Startup Engagement and Growth in Silicon Valley

How can companies get a head start on what may become the central aspects of their strategy in 20, 10 or even 5 years’ time? And more importantly, how can the corporate leaders and executives of the future acquire today the skills and knowledge that will help them successfully lead their companies in the future? This question is at the core of ESCP Business School’s mission to educate the business leaders and executives of tomorrow.

Founded in 1819, ESCP is the world’s first business school and today prepares future company leaders to be effective at international, digital and intercultural levels. To help ESCP Europe better upskill its Master’s students for the business landscape of tomorrow, Silicon Valley Innovation Center designed a nine-day immersive program in Silicon Valley for a group of more than 80 ESCP Master’s students who met with industry experts at the world’s biggest tech companies, disruptive startups, leading universities and incubation centers.

Their custom program at the global hub of innovation was centered around three spaces:

  • Digital transformation & the future of business
  • Digital marketing & customer centricity
  • Startup engagement and growth

This article focuses on key takeaways from the third area, which connected the program’s participants to today’s main trends in startup growth and acceleration as well as with new players in digital learning and skill sharing. You can read about their group’s experience learning about digital transformation and customer centricity in our previous article on their visit to Silicon Valley.

Startup incubation and acceleration

In a digital world where startups can disrupt traditional, century-old industries in less than a decade with easy-to-use apps and services, it may prove decisive for future executive leaders like ESCP Master’s students to understand how to connect with startups and emerging technologies, and even build their own innovation ecosystem. If they were to head large organizations, it could allow them to assess potential partnership opportunities and foster innovation externally. If they were to join startups, knowing how to find the right market fit, attract investors’ attention, and design a practical business model could actually make-or-break the company’s success, especially when poor execution in those areas rank among the top reasons for startup failure.

During their custom program in Silicon Valley, the ESCP cohort toured acceleration centers and innovation hubs like the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology to better understand how to pitch products to investors, enter the tech space and grow startups.

The Sutardja Center was established in 2006 at UC Berkeley’s institute for entrepreneurship and technology innovation. Since then, it has developed an incubator for student startups called Venture Lab, a program for top engineers to take executive roles and the “Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship.” The presentation at Sutardja provided a thorough description of each stage of startup growth, from investment and incubation to acceleration, and also touched upon the trajectory of unicorns.

The program also introduced the students to strategies for pitching products and business ideas in different contexts. On a session with a pitch coach and expert, the group gained a deeper grasp on techniques to present themselves in interviews and succeed at an “elevator pitch.” The talk was engaging and interactive, with one of the coordinators commenting, “Even though it was a lesson for students, I took notes to apply them myself.”

Later, the program participants visited a startup incubation platform and saw the real-life application of pitching techniques when they attended a real seed round of 17 products. The incubator – which was an early investor in companies like Google, PayPal and Dropbox and today boasts a robust portfolio of over 400 startups – was an excellent setting for the group to witness first-hand the way products and early-stage companies are pitched to and selected by investors. Afterwards, a tour of the incubation center illustrated the phases of acceleration of those chosen companies.

As part of their program in Silicon Valley, the ESCP Master’s students also met with current employees at Waze and Facebook and gained a first-person perspective on getting started in Silicon Valley and tech companies. The students were very engaged and interested in these sessions, as it gave them the opportunity to ask about applying, getting referrals and preparing for interviews with major companies and hear real-life experiences from people who had recently started their professional careers as well.

Key takeaways: a deep understanding of the innovation ecosystem and startup growth is valuable both for future founders who want to pitch their product and business plan to investors and for future corporate executives who want to boost innovation by partnering with startups. Connecting with investors and incubation centers can provide insights into the growth trajectory of early-stage companies and their acceleration at innovation hubs.

Skills for the future

During their immersive program in Silicon Valley, the group of Masters students came in contact with new education models and ed tech companies seeking to equip the workforce of the future with skills for the digital world.

During a visit to the 42 Silicon Valley campus in Fremont, the group was amazed to hear about the tuition-free programming, coding and engineering programs available to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30. Opened in 2016, 42 Silicon Valley has no teachers and instead takes a peer-to-peer, project-based approach where students learn with own resourcefulness and from each other.

In this session, the ESCP students were very curious to learn about funding, duration, admissions, accommodation and visa requirements and heard about the way 42’s educational program works. This exciting visit was topped off with a tour of the building and labs.

While it is not possible to predict which skills will be in demand in the future, some companies have made it their mission to facilitate access to knowledge and new abilities for the workforce of tomorrow. One of them is Udemy, a privately-owned company founded in 2009 that has raised $173 million in funding to date. Udemy is a marketplace for instructors to upload courses on all kinds of subjects and areas that anyone around the world can then attend for a fee. Today, it offers over 100,000 courses in 50 different languages to 30 million users.

In this session, the program participants heard about the history and initial stages of the company. They were also able to ask about Udemy’s business model and profitability, the way instructors enroll and students receive lessons, the possibility of the company going public, and course certifications.

Key takeaways: access to digital skills and knowledge from different spheres is being transformed by new learning platforms and startups. Whether it is tuition-free programs, free MOOCs or paid courses accessed by anyone with an Internet connection, these organizations are reinventing education for a digital world. These innovative services are not only accessible learning solutions for the general public, but also represent valuable business opportunities to innovate in the education space.

Lessons from the startup ecosystem

The custom program in Silicon Valley not only connected the ESCP students with industry experts in digital transformation and customer-centric marketing – it also allowed them to fully immerse themselves in the startup ecosystem of Silicon Valley.

After meeting with employees at tech powerhouses and visiting entrepreneurship centers, incubation hubs and new learning platforms, the students gained key insights into  startup development and the innovation ecosystem. One participant of the program explained, “I realized I’m capable of creating my own startup and make it work. I just needed the ideas and being in the appropriate environment to learn that.”

Connect with the global hub of technology innovation

Want to see what the future of business will look like? Curious about applications of emerging technologies in your industry? Experience the Silicon Valley ecosystem and engage with innovation visionaries and thought leaders in a program tailored to your sector and management level. On Silicon Valley Innovation Center’s immersion programs you will learn best practices for digital transformation and gain valuable insight into innovation strategies for the age of disruption.



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