The Debate: Edinburgh or Paris for an Entrepreneurial MBA? |

The Debate: Edinburgh or Paris for an Entrepreneurial MBA?

By Tim Dhoul

Updated April 12, 2017 Updated April 12, 2017

Tech hubs are springing up all over Europe and each is eager to lure talented young entrepreneurs to join their growing ecosystems. Given that approximately 30% of MBA applicants are hoping to use the degree as a means of furthering their entrepreneurial ambitions and, indeed, the fact that around 50% base their location of study on where they envisage themselves working post-graduation, we thought it might be worth investigating and comparing the appeal of studying in two particular cities.

Here, we’ve chosen to compare cities based in two of Europe’s top destinations for MBA applicants – the UK and France. We’ve also roped in Wendy Loretto, dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School, and HEC Paris professor and academic director, Michel Safars, to tell us more about the entrepreneurial possibilities of their cities and MBA programs.

The case for Edinburgh: Wendy Loretto, University of Edinburgh Business School

Wendy Loretto, dean at the University of Edinburgh Business School
Scotland’s entrepreneurial community is booming. Beyond the well-worn clichés of whisky and shortbread, a dynamic band of SMEs, inventors and innovators are forging a new image for the UK’s northernmost country.

Named ‘Entrepreneurial City of the Year 2016’ by The Great British Entrepreneur Awards, Edinburgh is now recognized as an international tech hub. A fact thanks in part, to being home to the largest number of startups per capita that are valued at US$1 billion or more – known as Unicorns – outside of the US.

In the shadow of the University of Edinburgh’s historic George Square, the city’s Quartermile area houses two of the largest Unicorn companies. In FanDuel - the world’s largest daily fantasy sports game company – and global travel search engine Skyscanner, Edinburgh already had some of the fastest growing, tech brands in the world. But both were subject to billion-pound deals [one a merger, the other a sale] within weeks of each other at the end of 2016, and the city subsequently suddenly found itself with a couple of hundred new deep-pocketed millionaires, with key skills in scaling up tech companies.

With collective action by incubators, universities and governments to support and encourage the people coming out of these companies, the potential for a new wave of entrepreneurial growth is palpable.

But this dynamism is far from new; Edinburgh has long had great entrepreneurial successes. In the 1980s, Wolfson Microelectronics blazed an international trail after spinning out from the University of Edinburgh. By the 1990s and 2000s the baton had passed to Rockstar North [formerly DMA Design]– producers of the global phenomenon Grand Theft Auto video game series. And so it’s gone on, success after success.

Edinburgh: “The potential for a new wave of entrepreneurial growth is palpable”

Sitting at the heart of this innovation – physically located just a few hundred yards from Skyscanner – at the University of Edinburgh Business School, this spirit of entrepreneurship has been woven into the fabric of its MBA. The 12-month program offers a specialist track in entrepreneurship, with key modules like ‘New Venture Creation’ - an intensive, practical course for those who want to develop new business ideas, exploring startup ecosystems, alternative startup business models, intellectual property, and the entire entrepreneurial process.

MBAs at Edinburgh Business School also have access to the Edinburgh Entrepreneurship Club, known as the E Club, an entrepreneurial network of more than 3,000 students, alumni, researchers, faculty and staff from across the university, and people from the wider community who share a common goal of fostering the entrepreneurial spirit.

This network includes alumni like Lilian Lee, founder of Fourth World Art, a social enterprise that sells art from the lesser-developed world and uses the profits to reinvest in communities, and Sam Trett, founder of LoCa Beverages, a new gin-like spirit with fewer calories. In March, the school hosted its second day-long festival of entrepreneurship, featuring founders from some of the city and country’s most exciting companies, including Tens Sunglasses, FreeAgent and the social enterprise, Freedom Bakery

Edinburgh has a lot in its favor, with an attractive lifestyle and cost of living compared to the likes of London and Paris. The past has shown that the city can produce some of the world’s biggest startups, but we still have work to do to help Scotland’s capital rival Stockholm and Berlin for the title of Europe’s new startup capital. Any MBA student thinking about entrepreneurship would find an inspiring home in Edinburgh.

Wendy Loretto is dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School and a professor of organizational behavior. Her research focuses on the intersections between gender and age in employment.

The case for Paris: Michel Safars, HEC Paris

Michel Safars, affiliate professor of strategy and business policy, at HEC Paris
When you think of Paris, you might think of luxury, tourism, or even fine cuisine – but those interested in taking an MBA to help achieve entrepreneurial dreams should also look at the French capital.

The Paris region, with more than 155,000 people working in research and development (R&D) and nine dynamic innovation clusters, is Europe’s leading R&D metro area. Integrated into this innovation fabric is the HEC Paris MBA, which offers an entrepreneurship specialization focused on business creation and real business experience.

In the program, students can create real or fictional startups while working in real laboratories, with real technologies, inventors, professors, coaches and investors. It’s a safe place to experience the realities of starting a business.

We realize that launching a business is a challenge, an exciting but sometimes frightening adventure, and the loneliness of the entrepreneur is a common problem. So, we created the eLab for students to have a unique space dedicated to entrepreneurship, creativity, and team work. A place for exchanges with professors and practitioners from all around the globe. By meeting together, students come to realize that all entrepreneurs are in the same stressful positions that they are and have a lot to share.

Paris: “The city could be home to the next generation of billion-dollar businesses”

HEC Paris is part of the Université Paris-Saclay cluster, a group of 18 institutions that includes giants like the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CRNS), the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA), the prestigious engineering college École Polytechnique and many more, which means that many experts and professors are attracted to the Saclay plateau. Many of them visit or teach at several institutions within the cluster.


Associations with a top-ranked technological cluster like this are rare, and MBA students have access to this community of entrepreneurs as well as funding. Many investors are already very active with new ventures at HEC Paris and, recently, Paris-Saclay Seed Fund was launched to offer an extra €50 million (c. US$53m) to startups founded by students or researchers from the institution. This fund will bring momentum for entrepreneurs and their businesses in the area, so the ecosystem will only keep expanding.

When Paris is creating an ideal environment for entrepreneurs, there are millions of euros of funding available, and there’s a multicultural global network to tap into, the city could be home to the next generation of billion-dollar businesses. That sounds like a great place for an MBA student with entrepreneurial aspirations to be.

Michel Safars is an affiliate professor of strategy and business policy, and academic director for the entrepreneurship module at HEC Paris. Having launched his own startups, he’s been teaching entrepreneurship at the school since 2002.

This article was originally published in April 2017 .

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Written by

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).


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