A SMALL French city facing difficult economic times is turning to an Australian university for innovation ideas to create jobs.
Châlons-en-Champagne, about 165km east of Paris, has invited the University of Adelaide from South Australia to help establish a business-mentoring program.
EChallenge is similar to the popular television shows Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank. It gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists in the hope of attracting an investor.
It comes at a time when the city of about 50,000 people in the famous Champagne wine region is in need of an economic lifeline following the closure of a major French Army barracks there last year.
eChallenge Program Manager Zrinka Tokic said the 2000 job losses caused by the army’s departure had created the need for economic development, particularly through start-up businesses and innovation.
She said the transition program allowed the best ideas to enter ThincLab Châlons where they would continue to develop their concepts into working models.
“eChallenge is a 12-week program where we provide mentoring and support for every team. The top 10 teams will compete for about AUD $100,000 in cash and prizes,” Tokic said.
“It is an entrepreneurial program that gives the person entering ThincLab help to put together a business plan and gives them basic information.
“They will have access to a full online platform with videos, PowerPoints, and any extra information that they need to help their business grow.”
The best proposals from eChallenge are also invited to attend ThincLab Australia as well as ThinkLab Châlons.
The University of Adelaide will also hold the finals of its very first Australian eChallenge France competition in Châlons-en-Champagne this week.
Eleven teams from across France, including students from French universities and business schools, are vying for a share of a total prize pool of more than AU$97,000.
The program will also bring five Australian companies to establish a base in Châlons and enter the European market in a bid to create jobs in the region.
Mayor of Châlons-en-Champagne Benoist Apparu signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with University of Adelaide Deputy Vice Chancellor Pascale Quester on May 25.
Apparu said the partnership enabled Châlons-en-Champagne to embark on a daring endeavour that that would ultimately benefit the region.
"We have many assets to sell, and the French way of life is important to our city. We understand we must innovate and collaborate, and the University of Adelaide will provide the impetus for that," he said.
South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three long-standing public universities, Flinders University, University of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.