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Mentoring by Stéphane Roecker

As part of its X-Up program, the École Polytechnique startup incubator and gas pedal offers each startup the opportunity to be accompanied by one or more mentors.

A mentor is a person who, thanks to his or her experience, is able to offer guidance, insight and advice. He or she does not give answers, but helps to find them, can sometimes just be there to serve as a role model, can set an example through his or her career, relationships, experiences in general, etc. To conclude, he is there to inspire and help entrepreneurs discover their challenges

To better illustrate this role, Stéphane Roecker talks about his role as a mentor.


What were the key steps in your career path to reach this expertise?

When I left business school, I was simply carried away by the opportunities that presented themselves. After a VSNE (Volontaire du Service National en Entreprise) in Germany with Clemessy (Eiffage Group), I quickly became financial director and then deputy general manager of a company of 300 people. Finally, I stayed in Munich for more than 8 years and then joined the automotive supplier VALEO.

A turning point in my career was my return to school at the age of 36 to take the Executive MBA at HEC Paris. I realized that I was applying good practices in an intuitive way.

Throughout my professional career, I was lucky enough to participate in two LBOs (leveraged buyouts) with investment funds: in the first as CFO, in the second as CEO.

Before creating my own consulting business in 2015, I was a member of the Executive Committee of Knauf Industries, a world leader in packaging with €300 million in sales and a business scope of 48 plants and 2000 employees worldwide.

I tend to say that I am a financier who went wrong: I went from finance to operations and then to strategy.

Today, my activity covers mainly consulting to entrepreneurs on business aspects, search for financing as well as accompanying executives in boards.


What are the obstacles and challenges you have had to face throughout your career?

I have evolved in very demanding and rapidly changing sectors. The main challenges I faced were essentially of 2 kinds:

  • Designing and implementing ambitious strategies
  • Getting the teams to adhere to and succeed in increasing their skills; alone, you are not much.


What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

For me, entrepreneurship is associated with the idea of creating wealth and jobs: creating new technologies, new products and services.

To do this, it is necessary that people initiate, lead and are ultimately responsible for the failure or success of a project: they are the entrepreneurs.


What kind of entrepreneur are you?

I have invested in 13 technology companies and I was the President and founder of an investment fund with 35 business angels. I've been lucky enough to meet "visionary entrepreneurs": these are the entrepreneurs I support on a daily basis. I consider myself more of a managerial entrepreneur.

There are strong similarities between startups in the scaling phase and the LBO situations in which I have participated, with the difference that in the LBO phase, you act under the primary constraint of having to pay back your bankers.

 

What entrepreneurial advice would you give to entrepreneurs and what advice do we usually hear that you would disagree with?

First of all, I strongly encourage entrepreneurs to surround themselves with a dream team early on, both at the executive and non-executive level.

I also encourage them to go as fast as possible in the deployment; beware "the world never sleeps"!

Too often I hear generic advice on specific topics, what I call "bar-room talk". While they can be useful to unravel complex issues, they can unfortunately also reinforce certain cognitive biases in entrepreneurs to the detriment of their project.

One does not become an expert, one becomes one essentially through practice and experience.


Do you have any significant experience to share with us?

In my professional capacity, I was particularly marked by my experience at DEMAG where we increased sales from 600 million to more than a billion euros in 4 years and ended up with an IPO.

We were in lean startup mode with brilliant teams and a close collaboration with our reference shareholder, the investment fund KKR. I have fond memories of that.


What advice would you give to start-ups in their relations with corporations?

I think you have to combine high standards and professionalism: high standards with respect to corporate clients and professionalism with respect to yourself.

To do this, you should only enter into relationships on a sound basis, ensuring that interests are aligned. This is often a point that is not sufficiently addressed by startups.

Don't hesitate to seize opportunities by being aware of the value of what you bring!


What are the missions of a mentor, in your opinion?

I would say that the primary mission is to contribute to the achievement of the entrepreneur's goals.

To achieve this, the mentor must be able to challenge, expand the field of possibilities and make the teams work to their maximum capacity.

In my business, and because I work with partners from various sectors, I also act as a connector of concepts and technologies.

The objective is not to make you dependent but to make you independent.


Have you ever been a mentor or mentee and what are your feedbacks on this subject?

I myself was mentored in an MIT Bootcamp project on hyperactivity treatment for several months.

I was pleasantly surprised by the direct and delayed effects of the discussions with our mentor. In particular, he was able to make us aware of possible improvements in our value proposition and give us the tools to move forward.


Have you ever participated in an incubation program? What advice would you give to startups to optimize this path?

I live vicariously through my clients' incubation programs, including the HEC incubator, ICM at (StationF) and Wilco in Paris.

I think that the opportunities for each entrepreneur are significant, both in terms of customers, industrial and commercial partners and talent recruitment.

There is a subtle balance to be found between voluntary activities within a program and the progress of one's company.


What do you think of innovation in France?

I think there is a gap between the scientific excellence of French research and its insufficient contribution to the economic and societal worlds. I still see too many entrepreneurs who, in order to scale up, go abroad or have to seek funding outside Europe.

However, I am optimistic because things are moving in the right direction, in France but also at the European level.

 

What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about the current transformation of the world, the new possibilities discovered by visionary entrepreneurs and how they are shaping the world of tomorrow.


Is there a leitmotiv that drives you on a daily basis?

When it comes to the future, it's not about predicting it, but about making it possible.  - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry