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HEC Students Tackle Climate Change Through Creative Destruction Lab-Paris

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HEC Paris MBAs partnered with the Creative Destructive Lab (CDL) to tackle one of society’s most pressing issues: climate change. Through CDL-Paris, MBA students and independent mentors are matched with highly scalable startups and entrepreneurs. Twenty-five startups begin the program each year and CDL-Paris helps them commercialize their solutions, all of which target climate change challenges. Read on for the story of CDL-Paris’ recent pilot year with HEC Paris.

The HEC Paris MBA Student CDL Experience

hec paris mba cdl
Professor Thomas Astebro

The CDL Certificate is a nine-month program, running from September to May, in addition to MBA students’ regular coursework. Professor Thomas Astebro, the head of the Paris site explains, “You get hands-on consulting experience with a real company in its early stage. It’s not a well-defined, cookie cutter kind of exercise or assignment. It’s open ended consulting.”

Pradeeba Jega, HEC MBA ’21, shed more light on the student side of the certificate program. He was matched with Shiok Meats, a cell-based seafood start-up in Singapore. He says, “As a student, there were two key value propositions that attracted me to the program: a low-risk environment to explore start-ups and, secondly, exposure to seasoned entrepreneurs. Typically, for MBA students, start-ups represent a high-risk endeavour that few decide to venture into. However, the CDL removes that risk by allowing students to explore and gain the experience of working with early-stage start-ups in a safe, risk-free environment and under the guidance of mentors.”

hec paris mba cdl
Dr. Pradeeba Jega, MBBS, HEC Paris MBA

Jega continues, “The second value proposition is exposure to highly seasoned and successful entrepreneurs and investors who are the mentors in the program. Many of these mentors have built and sold companies worth hundreds of millions if not billions, across a variety of industries and geographies. They have a wealth of knowledge that they freely share with the ventures, and as a student, you are privy to these conversations and these insights – the likes of which you really cannot put a price on. So, for someone like me who lacked start-up experience but was keen to explore the entrepreneurial world, joining the CDL program was really a no-brainer.”

hec paris mba cdl
Jonathan Chew, HEC Paris MBA ’21

For Jonathan Chew, HEC MBA ’21, the CDL Certificate offered a chance for hands-on experience to prepare for management consulting.  He shares, “We were dropped into an environment where we’re not familiar with the technology, the markets or the customers, or even whichever segment [the venture is] supposed to be and we have to figure all this out. I thought that was a pretty interesting challenge.”

MBA students are true doers through CDL-Paris. Professor Astebro notes, “The mentors deliberate about what advice to give, but then the MBA students help the founders to execute.”

Working with the Ventures

Professor Astebro, who also interviews and reviews potential participating ventures, says, “These ventures have very clear views on what they want to do with respect to climate impact. And they have very detailed ideas about how the [business/product] they’ve developed can lead to de-carbonization or other types of beneficial changes for the climate and the environment. And I hope it will have an impact.” He adds, “I’m also very proud of the ventures that got through the program. They keep updating me on LinkedIn about what’s happening; they’re getting awards and contracts and so forth.”

Chew, who used to be a project manager for General Electric Power before attending HEC, worked directly with a water venture based in Sweden through CDL-Paris. He talked about his project, noting, “The first thing I did was set up a meeting with the founders. We went through a masterclass on what their technology is, how they’re competitive, what problem their solution solves. After that, we went through a series of objectives with some of the venture mentors, starting with understanding who our customers were. They asked us to look at our value chain and, basically, define the market. Then, we moved on to a lot more tangible stuff like engaging customers and figuring out where the water solution would fit–do we do an outright sale of the equipment? Or is it like a rental in a subscription?”

As start-ups, participating ventures can run into a common problem: Funding. Chew, knowing his CDL partner relied on limited university funding, took the extra step to pitch to venture capital funds. “At that time, I was in Singapore. And one of the things that Singapore really needs is water. They’re an island. There’s no way they can get fresh water, unless it rains. And this technology really just fits into what they need. So I started adding venture capital firms on LinkedIn and after I started talking to them, I thought, why not just pitch?”

Working with the CDL ventures can also create unexpected opportunities. Jega, who has a background as a physician, turned his consulting work for Shiok Meats into an internship, and then the internship turned into a full-time job. Through CDL, he began with simpler tasks such as identifying customer segments, then getting to more in-depth responsibilities, such as developing an internationalization strategy for the venture. Now, as Program and Innovation Officer at Shiok Meats, his role includes working closely with the COO to oversee the operational running of the business, identifying key partnership and collaboration opportunities and working closely with the C-suite on business development strategies. He says, “Due to the pandemic, there were many missed opportunities in the MBA program. However, the CDL certificate was able to provide us with incredible opportunities that previous years and other business schools did not have access to. I am therefore thankful to the CDL program for partnering with HEC Paris, to provide such great experiences for us at such a time.”

The Student CDL Application Process

The application process for the CDL program involves two stages. Applicants need to submit their CV and a one-minute video addressing what they could add to the CDL venture and why they are interested in the program. Professor Astebro and Charlotte Martin, the staff at CDL-Paris, then interview interested candidates. With only 25 spots available to over 300 HEC Paris students, admission is competitive. Students can express and rank their interest in participating ventures, but the venture founders ultimately choose their student partners.

HEC Paris officially became the 8th university in the world to become part of the CDL network when a partnership accord was signed in 2020. Learn more about CDL at HEC Paris here.

Interviews about the HEC Paris MBA CDL have been edited for clarity and content.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.