5 Questions with Raphaele Leyendecker, Managing Director of Paris Techstars Accelerator

Nov 19, 2021

Raphaele Leyendecker is the Managing Director of Paris Techstars Accelerator. Raphaele is a sustainability and digital entrepreneur, startup board member and early stage investor. She is also versed in strategic innovation and venture building, working with 55+ corporations such as Engie, Suez, Schneider Electric, L’Oreal, Nespresso Unither Pharmaceuticals or Kiloutou over the years. 

01. What are you looking for in startups for the Paris Techstars Accelerator?

I’m looking for purpose-driven entrepreneurs willing to build a better future. The Paris Techstars Accelerator will be an ambitious program, since we are looking to accelerate 24 startups in 2022 and Techstars has always had a strong commitment towards ESG. Taking this role was a unique opportunity for me to focus my investment thesis on sustainability. We are keen to work with startups within the energy, food, agriculture & land use, industry & manufacturing, transportation, waste management, water and buildings sectors, as well as startups building solutions in the climate tech, cleantech and circular economy spaces.

We welcome applicants of all races, ethnicities, cultures and genders from across France or from across the globe with a willingness to implement in the French market. Candidates will have to demonstrate a strong team of resilient and passionate people. Their ability to learn and focus on execution will be key. Revenues are not mandatory if traction can be demonstrated. 

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars MD? 

I used to be a competitive horseback rider and I like to compare it to entrepreneurship: both are schools of humility where we should learn continuously. It might be because I started my second company in a SportTech incubator - Le Tremplin in Paris, with my friends from AirFit and TrainMe - where walls were covered with motivational taglines from champions.

Back in my riding days, I would wake up on weekend mornings to do something I was passionate about, in the pouring rain or on sunny days. Sometimes I would win, sometimes I would fail badly but learn so much. Even when I got on the second march of the french championship for young seniors, I knew that I would still have to prove myself for every single day. As per the entrepreneurial journey: you can have a great exit and then fail at your next adventure (at least I have experienced that scenario).

Working as a Partner for Venture Building, I also know that being focused on execution from Day-1 is critical. As an entrepreneur, I could relate to the common mistakes one can make from the start - not being close enough to end users, focusing on the brand rather than the product, having a weak Tech team when you are building a Tech company, lack of definition of the V in MVP. As an investor, I also understand that the best way to accelerate talented startups is to enable founders to focus on what matters, connecting them to the right people, at the right time. 

And finally I think that loyalty is a quality that pays off. Many talk about the ‘fake it until you make it’ approach. I support this notion only if the company remains honest to its users and respects its promises (doing by hand at first something that can be automated in the future for instance).  I believe in the power of Give First and I have seen how it can make sparkles. This works with loyalty and the love to give back to the community.  

03. What is your favorite thing about the Paris and French startup scene?

Paris is a thriving startup ecosystem. Since the start of the French Tech, Paris has evolved into a mature startup scene, founder friendly and welcoming for growing teams. We already account for 20 unicorns and France aims at 5 more during the next 4 years. More and more VCs have settled in France with high ambition. For instance, the Nordic fund EQT opened a venture arm in Paris not long ago. 

Paris has also become one of the international leaders of sustainable cities with tangible actions to reduce carbon footprints in the city and new facilities for a better living. With France’s 2030 plan, President Emmanuel Macron made it clear to invest in the ecological transition. 

With these two components, timing couldn’t be better to create impact with startups. Entrepreneurs just need to secure a fast start. 

04. Describe a situation with a startup founder or team where you felt like you made a difference. 

I especially like the history I have built with Jean-François Eggericx, the founder of Elax Energie. He came to meet me to pitch his technology and the big ambition he had to take over the energy management market. He is a very technical founder and I barely understood a thing in our initial conversation, but digging into the subject I understood the impact he could have on this huge sector piloting electric devices in a decentralized yet cheap way. 

Like many tech founders, he had a lot on the table when it comes to potential PoCs, but few tangible paths. The most difficult part for him was to decide which vertical to focus on to elaborate a business case. When we invested in his company, it was clear that we needed to validate an entry point to the market and to recruit a business cofounder.  

For several months, I acted as interim CEO and ran email campaigns to validate his B2B assumptions. We improved it together. Building a comprehensive story for Elax Energie and creating space on the cap table to welcome new co-founders was key for the future of the company. They are now a complementary team of talented founders turning water boilers into a powerful tool to decentralize energy management. Hats off to Jean-François for being so humble.

05. What does diversity mean to you?

I come from a little village near Metz in the east of France. While growing up, other kids at the schools I attended came from many places and nations, since this region has always been a land of immigration. When I moved to Paris after graduating, I was shocked to discover how tough it was to make your own space and that it was harder to meet people coming from different circles and backgrounds. I truly believe that the startup ecosystem can help talent to thrive no matter their origins. The Paris Techstars Accelerator will reflect that.   

Being a woman working with decision makers taught me that biases can be really strong. To reach parity in our program would be a great accomplishment since too few companies are led by female co-founders. During the last 4 years, I have interviewed more than 400 entrepreneurs to build corporate ventures. Less than 5% were women. I want the Paris Techstars Accelerator to inspire more women to take the lead and build ambitious ventures.