Founded in 2015 by Moussa Camara in Cergy, the Les Déterminés association wants to give everyone the opportunity to do business, including those in the suburbs and rural areas. On the programme: A free 6-month training course that has made it possible to educate more than 10,000 young people in entrepreneurship since its inception. Moussa Camara, founder of the initiative, explains how he managed to make the designer an essential institution for French technology.
How did you come up with the idea of creating this association?
Musa Camara: I grew up in the Croix-Petit district of Cergy (Paris) and before the end of the baccalauréat profesionales around the age of 21 I created my first association. It was an initiative called Agir Pour Réussir, which aims to initiate civic and sporting actions and bring forgotten populations closer to institutions. At first, I didn’t really want to start my own business, but I soon understood how difficult it was for a young man from the neighborhood to enter the world of professional work. I met a technician who made me understand that I could set up on my own.
Pregnancy was very difficult because I didn’t know anyone around me who had previously embarked on entrepreneurship. I didn’t know the administrative procedures to follow but my persistence prompted me to go there and learn from my mistakes. Today, people often want to take me back to my past, even though my life has changed dramatically: I no longer have the same difficulties because entrepreneurship allowed me to get there and develop skills without going through studies.
Was it this path that then led you to create Les Déterminés?
poison: When I created Les Déterminés, I realized that young people from the working class and rural areas often have a very strong desire to do, but no project on their part will last more than 3 years. I understood that this could be a lever of liberation but it was necessary to channel and structure this desire to lead to success. We succeeded in making these young people understand that you have to be determined to succeed and especially to recover from setbacks.
We must not give up on that, show strength of character to fail statistics, and above all move beyond the notion of social determinism that would make these young people vulnerable to failure. At Les Déterminés, we are now a team of about fifty people, and we are touring France to bring forth a generation of entrepreneurs who aspire to excellence. In 8 years, we’ve supported and trained over 1,200 people for free, creating over 700 businesses – 64% of which are run by women.
Are the barriers to accessing work in working-class neighborhoods still evident? Is access to entrepreneurship a way to circumvent it and overcome the shortcomings of the meritocratic model that has been promoted for several years?
poison: There are always mental barriers to overcome because many young people who have a good project still don’t feel legitimate even today. Recently, I took 7 neighborhood entrepreneurs with me to New York to meet French business leaders who have been successful in the United States. This helped show them that it is possible to succeed and boost their optimism. We also met with investors, and we were even received at the White House, the French Embassy or the Chamber of Commerce.
I remember in 2013 when I first started talking about neighborhood entrepreneurship, I didn’t feel like listening to much. Subsequently, we increased our awareness of different companies and ecosystems to help create projects and our mission began to be taken seriously. Our role is to enrich the technology sector by finding talent wherever they are. It became clear and I wouldn’t be surprised in the next 10 years to see unicorns spring straight from our lands and neighborhoods. This is even more true today considering that young people are all connected to each other. They use technology every day, they train online, and we are here to support them further.
We must not calm down for a second on these subjects and make the economic world understand that some of these talents can satisfy their needs. This is absolutely necessary in the current context of talent shortage and we must continue to build bridges.
In an interview with Noa Khamallah, founder of Don’t Quit Ventures, the latter explained that only 1.4% of venture capital funds go to minority projects… Do you also see these persistent obstacles to a more inclusive distribution of funds?
poison: There is still a big problem in France: there are too many efforts on the support side but access to international finance and development is still very limited for many young entrepreneurs, even though they are making turnover. More and more investors are contacting us to find solutions and create investment vehicles together. For our part, we accompany our talents for 6 months in studying their market and developing their entrepreneurial attitude towards the financial world. The numbers are generally scary, but you have to go through that financial, business, and marketing education to keep going. An entrepreneur who does not know his market inside out will not be able to impress investors.
How do I explain to any young man that entrepreneurship can be done for him without giving him false hopes?
poison: It is human to be afraid of failure when embarking on an entrepreneurship. And in France, it is true that failure is often dramatized when taking risks that can allow you to step outside your comfort zone. You have to get out of this negative condition to function and create your opportunities. To achieve this, we must also move away from that rhetoric that makes entrepreneurship shine especially with “the little miracle that finds a revolutionary idea in its corner.” This gives a biased view of success to our youth and does not make it possible to appreciate the inclusion in French technology.
For my part, I was trusted even if I did not have the required diplomas. And last year, Emmanuel Macron dedicated the first trip of his term to people of determination. Knowing my background, it’s very unusual for me to come up with this. And now I’m multiplying my interventions in schools to share my experience and show that it is possible to succeed from scratch. This year, we received over 2,000 applications and only 25 projects were selected at the end of the race. Once these young people entered our program, they were no longer seen as people from suburban or disadvantaged rural backgrounds.
For example, we have supported Radoine Ayourjil with his startup Mon P’tit Lait (selling dairy products in short circuits), Yasmin Iamarene with Midi Pile (delivery service offered by 50% women) or even Amadou Dabitao with Banlieusard Nouveau (media To promote success in biology). The Designed acts as a starting point for these young people: it does not guarantee success but provides years of development. We also organize several master classes – recently with Alexandre Mars, Frédéric Mazzella, Steve Moradel and Guillaume Lacroix – not only to glorify success but to understand how a project is achieved and how it can be successful.
At the same time, we also support employability in our neighborhoods through partnerships with key groups in the hotel, transportation, logistics and technology sectors. They express a strong need for employment and many of our youth simply want a job rather than embark on entrepreneurship. My advice to young people: Don’t forget that economic intelligence is not enough, surround yourself well, don’t be afraid of failure and go for it!