PARIS -- Tensions were high as finalists gave their final three minute presentations last week to a jury of top innovators. At stake? A 2,000-euro award to help launch a startup, the prize offered by the Google Pitch Contest at the HEC business school.
When the winners were announced, Globalise Me, which took the top prize, said it will use the money to help launch its online video platform to share images and information about study-abroad locations with potential students. The contest, in its second year, is a way to stimulate students at one of France's most prestigious schools to think outside the box and launch their own projects.
It is also part of a wider effort by Google to woo the Continent and engage more deeply with its culture after several missteps in Europe a few years back, such as legal issues in Germany due to Street View images and French disapproval of digitizing books a few years back. The company opened its Paris office in 2011 amid a flurry of controversy around issues such as copyright, privacy and antitrust concerns in its effort to win over Europeans.
The HEC, recently ranked the best school in the world for business executive education, is the first school worldwide to partner with Google, according to HEC's student affairs vice president Inès Rekiec. The partnership, dubbed Google@HEC, began in 2012 as a way for Google to contribute further to e-business efforts in France and Europe.
Most recently, in April, the tech giant proposed concessions to the EU commission to remedy a pending antitrust lawsuit. The business has gone to great lengths to seem less imposing, investing in local culture and business projects.
The Pitch Contest is an extension of the collaboration, started by HEC students, that goes hand in hand with Paris's efforts to become a sort of French Silicon Valley, to develop new services, business models and markets. With an increasing number of business incubators helping to launch the careers of new French innovators, the Google Pitch Contest brings together big business and bright minds to start supporting entrepreneurs even earlier in their careers -- while they're still in school.
This year's finalists are developing online platforms for various needs. Jogg,in, for example, looks to bring together runners who want to exercise with others while adding a charity component, allowing runners to monetize their miles. And Sharee is an online platform that allows fans of niche leisure activities to share their hobbies by organizing events centered on their passions. Globalise Me, the winner, is looking to offer a mine of information to study-abroad students worldwide in English, eventually expanding into French and Spanish soon.
The contest uses both Google Plus and Facebook to garner support from the entrepreneurs' networks. Contestants uploaded a one-minute video to YouTube and all entries were posted to Facebook and Google Plus. Finalists managed to acquire hundreds of Facebook likes, but only a few dozen Google Plus mentions, since the network is currently not as widely used in France.
The finalists last Tuesday prepared a short presentation for a jury of leaders in innovation, including an analyst at French venture capital investor Ventech and the co-founder of Price Minister, France's second-largest online retailer. In addition to the cash prize, the winners received the chance to speak with the panel and discuss investment opportunities beyond the competition.
Claire Marx, a founder of Globalise Me said that the presentations were stressful, but rewarding. "Overall, it was a great experience -- meeting fellow entrepreneurs, hearing their ideas, getting some interesting questions from the jury and receiving some useful feedback on our project," she said.
Additionally, the money awarded to Globalise Me comes from KPMG, specialist in global business service, a strategic contact for a startup to make so early on. “The agreement between the student activities office and KPMG is actually an open-ended one,” Rekiec said. “They give us 2,000 euros in exchange for the allocation of these funds towards a project or an event related to innovation and entrepreneurship,” she said, and the Pitch Contest fits such a bill.
Marx said the money will be put to good use to spread the word to help get Globalise Me off the ground. "Thanks to this, we are hoping to hire great interns this summer, invest in new video and photo editing software and part of it will also be allocated to advertising, in order to spread the word about our website," she said.
Google also works with HEC on the Google Creativity Talks, bringing together top names in business and media for a series of talks with students. The corporation holds a class for masters students as well as offering tools to students through Start-Up Weekends hosted on campus during the year. The partnership is just another investment that Google has made in France, with their Cultural Institute sponsoring galleries at both Versailles and the Pavillon de l'Arsenal. They also announced a new 60 million euro Digital Publishing Innovation Fund launched in February of this year.
Photo: Lindsey Kent/Jogg.in team, contest finalists, participating in a charity run in Paris; Video: Globalise Me Winner 2013 Google Pitch Contest