Entrepreneurship is on the rise in France. And especially since the Covid storm... In 2020, the number of business start-ups broke all records. Many of these working people of all ages have taken the plunge, having had their daily lives disrupted.
The health crisis could have deterred the most cautious, encouraging them to take refuge in the often more comfortable status of employee. However, according to INSEE, almost 850,000 businesses were created in 2020, 35,000 times more than in 2019... Moreover, according to the 2021 barometer of the French desire to undertake carried out by OpinionWay, 21% of French people say they want to create or take over a company. One third of them even say they have a well-prepared project in the short term. This represents nearly 7% of the working population who have an entrepreneurial project ready to start within two years. "Covid, teleworking, the loss or illness of relatives, stress... all of this leads many employees today to reflect on the meaning of their work," observes Flavie Bâtisse. A business creation advisor at the Lyon Metropolitan Saint-Etienne Roanne Chamber of Commerce and Industry, she has noticed an unusual influx of potential business creators and buyers over the past year. "Everyone has been led to work in a different way: this has helped to trigger the minor change that may have been lacking until then," she adds.
One in two French people surveyed by Indeed in early 2021 felt that this was a suitable period to consider new professional projects. But if the pandemic has triggered additional vocations in recent months, it is clearly not the only catalyst for the thousands of entrepreneurs who have taken the plunge, or are preparing to do so as soon as possible. We like to talk about the young, successful start-up entrepreneurs who have raised huge amounts of money. However, people in their forties and fifties are also succeeding in finding a new path in entrepreneurship. Moreover, according to INSEE, the average age of company founders in 2020 was 36. As regards business takeovers, the average age rises to 45, according to the 2019 CRA National Observatory of the transfer of VSEs/SMEs.
Destiny in control
Why then do all these neo-entrepreneurs quit their jobs as employees after 10, 15, 20 years (and more) of career? In a few words: taking their destiny into their own hands. The variations are numerous and obviously manifold, depending on each person's background. However, they almost all revolve around the same theme: getting back into the ring to give a new direction to one's life. For some, it is more specifically a question of turning towards values that are more in line with their desires. "This often happens following changes in the company or mergers/acquisitions. The new management no longer necessarily has the same way of conducting development and this may no longer be appropriate, or even cause significant frustration," says Flavie Bâtisse.
Career development coach Isabelle Cham (Sparklife Success) points to other moments of awareness, such as the onset of significant or serious events. This is exactly what Julia Néel Biz did. The thirty-year-old had the desire to create her own company since her days at Essec, where she had learned what would become her profession: strategy consulting. She left this desire for entrepreneurship in a nook of her head, until the day at the end of 2018 when she lost someone close to her. "I then thought about the meaning I wanted to give to my life. This period was extremely difficult but it made me aware of the importance of mental health and the potential for innovation in this sector. A few months later, I started to talk about my desires and ideas. I quickly joined forces with a friend from Essec and two work colleagues," she recalls.
At the beginning of 2021, Teale was born, a digital platform that supports companies in their efforts to promote the mental health of their employees. "Of course, not everything is always good, but the feeling of contributing something useful to society really helps me to accomplish something," says the thirty-year-old.
It is with this same desire to be more responsible and to build in accordance with their values that other entrepreneurs take the plunge. This is the case, for example, of Jacques Berger and Guillaume Lecomte, aged 56 and 47 respectively. Having had careers in industrial SMEs or ETIs, they now want to move on to a new stage and have been looking for a few months for an industrial SME with more than 30 employees to take over in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. After scrutinising more than 10,000 companies on the takeover market, they are currently engaged in detailed discussions with six of them. They hope for a rapid conclusion. "As managers, we make decisions... But not necessarily according to our values, because we were not really in control," insist the two men, explaining that they now seek greater freedom.
Bouncing back from the unexpected
Rémi Agrain is younger, 34 years old, but he too decided to take the bull by the horns. In 2015, he created Neoabita, which has a staff of four. It is based on the construction of timber-frame houses. The entrepreneur discovered the idea during a trip to London. "I had a background in construction and a lot of experience. I told myself that there was probably an opportunity to be seized," says Rémi Agrain. However, shortly before, I had decided to move away from the construction industry because I observed far too many problems and poor organisation there. Now it's different. I organise my business as I wish. "
There are also those who have had to bounce back from the loss of their jobs. Christelle Linossier, for example, decided ten years ago to create an industrial company following the closure of her company. "The American group to which we belonged had decided to close the site. I was the director at the time. I couldn't bear to let all this know-how slip away. "So in 2011, at the age of 40, she founded Mac 3 with partners (former colleagues) and an employee to manufacture air compressors for the construction and industrial sectors. A decade later, the turnover is growing steadily (6 million euros in 2020), with a staff of 30. I'd had this desire to be an entrepreneur for quite some time, but I was having fun in my job, I had a certain comfort level," admits Christelle Linossier. And then, one day, life gives you a kick in the butt and pushes you in the right direction... "
Entrepreneurship can also sometimes represent the only possible option for seniors who have seen the world of salaried employment close its doors to them. Emmanuelle Fylla Saint-Eudes, 59 years old, has had bitter experience of this. After having to leave her previous position, she had no other choice to earn a living than to start her own business. Four years ago, she created a ready-to-wear brand: Efyse. "At 55, it was extremely complicated to find a salaried job, nobody wanted me. Today, I'm happy, I earn my living thanks to my company", she shares.
And then, of course, there are all those who, after a good start to their career as a salaried employee, wanted to be guided professionally by their passion. Eric Cordelle (an engineer) and his wife (a lawyer), left everything 7 years ago to create their own artisanal whisky distillery in the Vercors. "I had always been fascinated by the distillation process," recalls the engineer turned artisan.
But is there a right age to start? Frédérique Génicot, coach and author of the book Adieu salariaire, bonjour la liberté! is categorical: age is certainly not a barrier to entrepreneurship.
In fact, she believes that each age has its own qualities and assets: "Young people are often more uninhibited and flexible because they have not yet experienced the mould of salaried employment and the company. On the other hand, when you are older, you have more networks and more skills: the project can go faster and be easier. "Olivier de La Chevasnerie, President of Réseau Entreprendre, agrees: "With experience, you acquire real professional maturity in terms of business development, management, and relations with partners. This can give more confidence to financial partners, but also to customers. "
This is indeed what Julien David has seen. In 2016, the entrepreneur created Fabrikathé, an artisanal tea and infusion assembly workshop. Starting out alone, he can now rely on a team of 14 employees, with significant annual growth. He had previously spent part of his career as an export salesman in industry. "I had built up a large network in Asia, which I can now rely on to buy my raw materials," he says.
However, one should not imagine that starting a business after 35/40 years old is an absolute panacea. "The risk when you are older is that you fall asleep in your comfort zone. Many creators and buyers, ex-managers of large groups, do not realize that they have been formatted by their past experiences with the habit of relying on logistics and teams. In order to succeed, they absolutely must have kept a certain flexibility, be able to start again and recreate a new model, to face what is called the loneliness of the leader, to be ready to do everything from A to Z, from logistics to secretarial work, including when you were a major executive with an army of assistants," warns Eric Angelier, co-founder of GreenPact, a start-up studio focused on the ecological transition. All the more so, he points out, as these older neo-entrepreneurs take more risks than young graduates by leaving jobs that are often well-paid, despite having to take out financial loans, pay school fees and rethink family life. It is therefore even more important for this group to prepare their project well.
Take the time
Isabelle Cham, the career development coach, has some valuable advice for those who might decide to drop everything and rush headlong into their project: "It is not useful to drop everything overnight. It's better to take the time to prototype your project and to quietly assume the role of leader. "Because many questions will arise: what sector do I want to work in? My field of expertise or a reconversion? How to carry out this project: alone, with partners, independently or as a franchise? Should I start my business from scratch or should I take over a company and develop it? And then, what means should I use?
Obviously, it is impossible to get all these answers with a wave of a magic wand. It is therefore recommended to exchange with entrepreneurs, members of one's network, to test one's idea, to go to trade shows to gather good practices. Finally, it is by undertaking that one becomes an entrepreneur. All the more so since French legislation is rather favorable with possibilities for a smooth start: for example, the leave for business creation, the Accre or, less specifically, the conventional rupture.
And if there is no miracle recipe for becoming a successful entrepreneur, support is an essential key, as Olivier de La Chevasnerie for Réseau entreprendre and Patricia Lexcellent, the new general delegate of Initiative France, point out. "The figures prove it: projects supported by the networks have a much better chance of passing the three-year test," she says.
Are you itching to be an entrepreneur but waiting for the idea of the century to launch your business? You'll have to find another excuse. "Innovation is always a good thing, but it is not essential. An idea in itself is worthless. It's the implementation that counts. Facebook, for example, emerged as a super leader when several people had the same idea at the same time. The most important thing is to find the right positioning: doing the same thing but better works very well too! "insists Eric Angelier, the innovation specialist. So are you ready for the big jump?