Nikoletta Belkheiri and Vincent Vidal are incubation project managers at EDF Pulse Incubation, the EDF Group's entrepreneurial programme. They support the incubated projects’ teams throughout their time at the incubator. They explain their missions and take the opportunity to offer a few tips to entrepreneurs.
What is the role of an incubation project manager at EDF Pulse Incubation?
Vincent – The very first task of the incubation project manager actually starts before the projects enter incubation: it's all about sourcing. When a team comes to us with an innovative idea, we have to check that it matches the criteria for entry into incubation, and in particular the EDF Group's raison d'être. We're also interested in the candidates' profiles, their motivations and skills, and what EDF Pulse Incubation can contribute to their personal and professional development within the Group. Because incubation is above all a human adventure.
Nikoletta – Then comes our main task: supporting the projects during their incubation period. Our role is to challenge and question the project from every angle, to check that there are no blind spots, to identify the most impactful elements and to ensure that the team deals with them. We also play the role of facilitator between the project teams and the support functions, both within the Group and externally, to give them all the keys they need to make their project as robust as possible. The aim is for them to be able to quickly identify their market, the value chain in which their solution is positioned, and their added value compared with the competition. Without losing sight of the ultimate ambition of creating new businesses for the EDF Group, in order to achieve Net Zero as quickly as possible.
Vincent – Our job also has a human side. Our aim is to help the team grow and transform the employees of a major Group into true entrepreneurs. We also listen to them and support them as best we can in this emotionally-charged adventure.
Nikoletta – Long story short, I would say that the incubation project manager's job is like that of a control tower. We do our utmost to guide them in the right direction.
What kind of support do you offer incubated employees at EDF Pulse Incubation? What tools do you make available to them?
Nikoletta – We offer genuine 360° support. Teams can draw on a range of methodologies and a roadmap with clear objectives set every three months to de-risk their project. They benefit from the critical eye of EDF Pulse Ventures investors on their business plan, and financial resources for their initial developments. We also provide them with internal resources, including support functions such as marketing, legal and purchasing, as well as other specialised business skills.
Vincent – We also give them access to an external ecosystem that enriches them, enabling them to be as attuned as possible to their market. This involves putting them in touch with friendly prospects who can challenge their offerings, as well as getting them to interact with external incubators and startups to help them get a better grasp of the entrepreneurial adventure. Finally, we work with coaches to help them grow, firms with tried and tested methods, and venture builders to give them access to key skills.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs to ensure their incubation at EDF Pulse Incubation is a success?
Vincent – To be a successful entrepreneur, you certainly need to have convictions and know how to defend them. But you also need to know how to listen to the market and to advice, and how to question yourself without pivoting at every new opinion. Follow your intuition, and make sure you find the figures to prove you're right.
Nikoletta – Being good at what you do is not enough to make your project a success. Success also depends on the tenacity, motivation and resilience of the team. You need to be open-minded, patient and positive. Above all, you need to want to work as part of a team, because when you join the incubator, you join a big team.
What is the most difficult part of your role as incubation project manager?
Nikoletta – When projects come to an end. We spend a lot of energy supporting the incubated teams, we invest a lot in the projects, so obviously when there's a NO GO, a whole rhythm comes to an end for us too. We're there for the project leaders at these moments, which are not the easiest.
Vincent – The most difficult thing is to distinguish between the empathy we develop for the team throughout the project, and the objective analysis of a market that may or may not work. Our role is to know how to stop a project that has no future for the Group, even if we are attached to the team.
What is your greatest source of pride?
Vincent – The launch of the Oklima subsidiary. I joined the incubator at the same time as the project teams. We've grown together, me in my role as incubation project manager, them in their role as future managers of Oklima. Seeing the project come to fruition as a subsidiary and seeing the team stand on its own two feet is a real source of pride for me.
Nikoletta – It's very gratifying to know that the energy I put into my work enables me to create concrete solutions to help the planet and the EDF Group. I'm also happy to be able to help my colleagues experience the entrepreneurial adventure in the best possible conditions. It's a dream that some of them might not have dared to realise on their own, outside the Group.