Musings on VC internships in France

Dec 2, 2014
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career_springboardLast Friday at the office we held the pôt de départ (farewell party) of one of our interns. Although this young man was not working directly with me, I know that my colleague greatly appreciated this intern’s contribution for six months. This was my colleague’s first experience of recruiting a VC intern in France, and he’s now convinced of the value. Anyway, the whole celebratory send-off led me to reflecting about my own luck in having so many brilliant interns working for me over the past decade.

I’ve long been a strong proponent of hiring interns. Perhaps it’s a little personal, as my own break entering the VC industry came in 1999 from a magnanimous partner at a VC firm in the U.S. who took me under his wing as an intern after I sold my third startup. I’ve recruited and managed at least 11 interns in my time as a VC in France, and with perhaps only two exceptions a long time ago, every intern I’ve known has been absolutely amazing.

My philosophy in recruiting interns — and I suspect every prior of intern of mine will confirm this — could be best summarized as follows:

  • For new graduates, the internship is not a trial period for a subsequent permanent position. I believe that to be a truly effective VC, you must have significant operating experience in a startup.
  • Accordingly, the candidates that view the internship opportunity as a learning experience and as a springboard into other operational roles find the most fulfillment from the job.
  • I believe that every intern brings substantial value to the role. Even if fresh out of school, or coming from a sector without much business or financial training, the intern’s opinion counts. (One of my recent interns blogged an excellent explanation of this).
  • Finally, I feel it’s my obligation to give the intern exposure to everything possible. This usually includes evaluating business plans, performing excel models on cap tables or exit proceeds distributions, participating in sensitive negotiations, and joining board meetings.

People often ask me where I recruit my interns. The answer is that I have no restrictions or elite school requirements (merely that the candidate possess the legal authorization to work as an intern in France). To date, my interns have come from the following schools:

  • HEC – my best recent experiences all involve interns from the HEC MBA or graduate masters program. My current intern hails from one and is extraordinary (he will blush in his humility upon reading this). Additionally, my three prior intern heroes were HEC MBA grads (and to make them blush, I learned Friday that our seasoned CFO had a crush on each of the three, though not in a Hall & Oates Man-eater kind of way, of course). In contrast, my anecdotal experience with HEC undergrads (i.e. grande école students) was that some kind of ingrained sense of entitlement hindered them from being of much use in a VC fund setting.
  • ESCP – also outstanding. Perhaps it’s the international emphasis of the school’s program, or perhaps the curriculum’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurship plays a role, but the candidates from this school have consistently ranked among the most broadly talented and best-prepared for an internship in VC.
  • ESSEC – Essec business undergrads were my original favorite when I first started recruiting interns. They tended to bring all the skills of top HEC grande école students but with less arrogance and a more open mind to learning. Regrettably, I’ve essentially stopped recruiting at Essec now because the school’s internship recruitment procedure is lengthy and time-consuming.

Other schools where my experiences are mixed: Ecole Centrale (good but the administrative process is too clumsy), Polytechnique (making simple things too complicated), EM Lyon (generally positive).

I’m pleased to see that most of my interns move on into operational roles at VC-backed startups following their time with me, if not outright creating their own companies and raising venture capital themselves. I believe that an internship within a VC firm can be an excellent stepping stone for aspiring company-builders in a country whose educational system does not traditionally value entrepreneurs. For those that pay attention to rankings, Venture Capital Monthly recently published its ranking of top universities for producing VC-backed entrepreneurs. With the important disclaimer that no rankings should be taken too seriously, it is revealing to observe that not a single French school made the top ten.

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