Teaching Kids Entrepreneurship in France

As the Council on Business & Society gears up to plan its 2017 4th Global Forum on the theme of entrepreneurship, the Council Community interviews entrepreneurs in the various member school countries for insights into how they live the adventure

Emile Elie

Emile Elie

This second interview with Anglo-French entrepreneur Emile Elie, Marketing Director at Business Class, focuses on entrepreneurship awareness initiatives in French schools

Tailoring learning to the entrepreneurial mindset

And that was how the story began...

And that was how the story began…

When asked if entrepreneurship should be taught in schools and how, Emile Elie places emphasis on the collaborative aspect of being an entrepreneur. The main problem in the French school system, he states, is that they don’t teach you to collaborate. You always pass the exams alone. But when you arrive in the working world, the most important thing is communication and being able to collaborate with the team. Indeed, he cites the most important skill in Entrepreneurship as being the ability to collaborate with others. His recommendation focuses on the need for group-based examinations at school that could be based on group projects.

In school they ask kids what job they want to do, he asserts, emphasising that being an entrepreneur isn’t a job but a mindset. In Elie’s view, ‘an entrepreneur wants to change the world: there is a problem that nobody is taking care of, and you have the drive to do something to solve this problem.’ So if you want to promote entrepreneurship, he concludes, we need increased links between local companies and local schools, and we need to promote problem solving and value creation.

Helping the wider perspective: innovation with the future generation of would-be’s

This way for the adventure

This way for the adventure, folks

Elie and his company take part in an annual event within the framework of the Journée Nationale des Jeunes (National Youth Day). We asked him to describe the initiative and highlight any lessons to be learnt from this.

Every year sees Elie giving up his free time with the CJD (Centre des Jeunes Dirigeants) to facilitate National Youth Day hosted on the premises of ESSEC Business School. The initiative brings together around twenty groups of eight young people ranging from the middle school to high school age bracket. These young people are accompanied by an entrepreneur with a goal to build a fictitious company. The first objective, enthuses Elie, is to find a business idea – and kids have a lot of ideas! We therefore carry out a brainstorming session, he continues, and the easiest thing to do to find a business idea is to think about your own problems and how to solve them.

Emile Elie’s group of youngsters came up with 2 problems they were faced with in everyday life:

  • Not knowing when the bus is going to pass at the bus station. The kids therefore wanted to create an app to localize their bus so they would know how long they needed to wait.

  • The second issue was that youngsters are impatient to get their results after an exam, and the idea came up to create a tablet app so they could sit their exam on it and have instant feedback and grading.

After approving the idea to retain, the youngsters are required to draft a mini-business plan. Here, they think about who they need to hire to build this company, how much it will cost, at what price they will sell their item, how they will sell it, and who will be their supplier – much in the same way as an adult creator would build his/her start up. The event closes with the youngsters presenting their project to the jury who elects the winner of the day.

Elie states that such an initiative brings huge benefits – both to the youngsters involved and the companies participating. During this day, he states, the kids learn how to collaborate and listen to each other, and it’s a real eye-opener for them because they’d never thought about all the things you need to think of before creating a company.

Training the teachers too?

Thinking outside the light bulb

Thinking outside the light bulb

In addition, the CJD nationwide strives to promote entrepreneurship by facilitating workshops in schools, adds Elie. The CJD provides a framework and a visual support and the rest is up to the individual entrepreneur. Within this context, in early 2016, Business Class Managing Director, Daphne Chisholm-Elie, gave a talk to a class of 11-year olds in a local school. According to her, it was a great experience, with the class highly interested judging by the level of participation. However, the disappointment was the class teacher’s attitude, states Elie. She seemed against the idea of explaining the role of the entrepreneur, saying that the children were too young to understand. And when it came to brainstorming alternatives to describe the word ‘entrepreneur’, the teacher’s instructions to her pupils was to use the word ‘boss’. In Elie’s view, such an attitude only serves to strengthen outmoded thinking and encourages the ‘them and us’ ideology that still governs certain sectors of French industry. We need teachers who have an open mind, he concludes, and who can develop skills in children that will help them be fulfilled and responsible adults.

About Emile Elie and Business Class

business classEmile Elie, born of Franco-British parents, is Marketing Director and Co-founder of the successful SME Business Class located in the western suburbs of Paris. After studying economics at UCP and a mind-opening Erasmus study period in Oslo, Elie completed a Master’s in Entrepreneurship in Bordeaux (INSEEC). He then emigrated to South Korea for several years where he started up his first company, BSE Consulting with an aim to create a Microsoft ERP integrator for foreign companies based in Korea. Returning to France in 2013 saw him join the family company he had co-founded in 2003. Specialised in training solutions in soft skills and language and communication strategies, Business Class operates mainly in Paris and the greater Paris region and has recently developed reach on a national level. A successful organisation, having moved from a one-employee outfit to a team of 40 full-time employees and associate  trainers, Business Class is the epitome of French small business operations: the going is tough – very tough – but the obstacle course provides a challenge from which only the best, and fittest, may remain. Emile Elie answers, at times with no punches pulled, to the Council’s questions on the entrepreneurial environment in France today.

Useful LINKS

Written and edited by Tom Gamble from an interview with Emile Elie

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