Started in 2002, Numa, a Paris-based startup accelerator and innovator community, today is present across different parts of the globe. YourStory had a chance to chat with the Founder and CEO Marie-Vorgan Le Barzic and discover her journey.
It was the year 2001. The world as we knew it had changed. Media around the globe were showing just one shocking and painful image – the attack and destruction of the twin towers. Along with the loss of human lives and families crumbling around, the financial world took a massive hit. The repercussions of the hit changed Marie-Vorgan Le Barzic's world in Paris.
Marie was working in an admin role at a startup. At the age of 25, she went on to become a part of the HR team and had over a 100 people reporting to her. But the world had changed and suddenly she found herself out of a job.
Marie, Founder and CEO of Numa, says,
“I think I lost my world. The startup bubble in France had burst, I had lost years of hard work, lost friends, and my world was truly crumbling. It was during that time I felt that there needs to be something that built the startup ecosystem and was strong enough to hold any change.”
Daughter of farmers from Brittany, Marie was pushed towards another change in 2001. It was then that she got thinking that if she had to exist, she had to do something. Without a strong educational backing, it was at a startup that gave Marie wings of freedom and growth.
Not backing down
“It was incredible work and a truly amazing way of living and being. It was a startup that had given me meaning and a way of life. I saw the future with startups. And when it stopped in 2001, I thought it just cannot be the end.”
With a purpose in mind, Marie met people she knew who were a part of the startup world, urging all to do something. Identifying two inactive non-profits, she merged them and began Numa in 2002, as a startup event organisation. It was formerly called Silicon Centire, which resonated with pushing towards what had happened in Silicon Valley.
For two years, Marie had to ride against the tide. Most people who Marie approached scoffed at her. So while holding a day job, Marie began towards finding the right people and team.
Pushing through rough times
She says that when you want someone to work with you on building something, it is important that you find people for the right reasons. Marie had learnt this the hard way. She had begun working with people who were engaging themselves to be a part of an organisation for their own gains and benefits. This hurt the organisation in the long run. It was a difficult time for Marie. She says,
There were days when I would wake up in the morning and wonder what is that I am doing. And wouldn’t think I could do this. But then you push yourself. The first two years, from 2002 to 2004, were tough. Everyday you had to motivate yourself, you just have yourself and there is nobody else. It is a lonely ride. And it was tougher because there were two problems – I didn’t have a degree from a big university and I am a woman. But it is the way you become strong.
Shattering the glass ceiling
The first 20 events were tough. There would be five people in the audience. Marie would’ve invited speakers, but there were hardly anybody to listen. It was just 18 months back when she started raising funds, Marie realised the fact that it would be a tough ride being a woman entrepreneur. In early 2015, Numa became a for-profit organisation. Most people asked her two questions - Where did you graduate from? And are you really running the operations?
Marie believes that most people find it difficult to believe that women would run and manage a business successfully. “Many people told me that I would never make it big.” Today, Numa is open across different parts of the Globe – Paris, Bengaluru, Moscow, Barcelona, and Mexico City to name a few. Everybody in France and across the world is looking at startups as the future.
Focus on the future
Over the past 15 years, Marie has seen a slew of startups grow and evolve. She says that today startups are also different. Earlier, only the strongest and the most resilient survived. While now, everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. “Today, there are more wantrepreneurs than entrepreneurs. There’s also new expertise like growth hacking that just didn’t exist,” says Marie.
The ecosystem is stronger, and there is also more support. The relationships between people are more dynamic now. In the past five years, since they started their accelerator, Numa has seen 15 exits. Numa also has a strong presence in Bengaluru and now it is focused on ensuring that all startups get global exposure. Marie says,
“Indian startups are fast growing and it is booming ecosystem and entrepreneurs here are more open to taking risks. My only advice to all the founders is ‘think big and innovate for the world.’”