Written on 17 February 2020.
Baptiste Mourcel (EDHEC Master 2012), on the left in the photo, has followed an unusual path for an EDHEC graduate, teaming up with an architect to create DUMBO, an architectural firm whose ambition is to break down existing silos and clichés by working on unique and astonishing projects with a penchant for audacity and aesthetics.
It all started with a phone call 2 years ago! François, a childhood friend who was working in Montpellier at the time in a major architectural firm, called me one evening to catch up and share some thoughts he had about his profession. Here’s roughly how it went: “In a sector that is experiencing massive changes and facing ever-greater constraints, architects are increasingly struggling to hold their position in certain markets and fulfil their many obligations. Their value is not always recognised by their clients and partners, and many agencies are economically and legally vulnerable.” Before setting up his own firm, he wanted to get the opinion of someone from outside his profession about all of these issues.
It resonated with me straight away. It seemed to me there were real problems – and solutions to be found. I’ve worked for major companies (Danone) as well as smaller structures (Angage), and back then I was working as project leader for Beaumanoir (an international textile company that specialises in fashion retailing). But I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship. Our friendship and the complementarity of our two profiles convinced me to pursue that desire more seriously and consider an entrepreneurial adventure with François.
After a year of research, encounters and fascinating discussions, last year we decided to launch DUMBO: an enterprising, open-minded and innovative architectural firm. Through our network, we were lucky enough to be able to quickly get started on our first project: a complete overhaul of a restaurant.
Restaurant by DUMBO
First of all, it’s an experience we share, so in human and intellectual terms it’s very rich. We’re both very curious by nature and have an appetite for entrepreneurship and a determination to change things, but François and I are also very different yet highly complementary. I draw on my education and work experience to contribute business administration methods and ways of tackling projects that are unusual in our sector. We also hope to bring others on board this fantastic adventure!
Second, this adventure has added a new dimension to the way we take on responsibilities, face risks and make decisions, compared to my past experience as an employee. Entrepreneurship is synonymous with sharing, success, surprises, moments of joy and discovery, which is very gratifying.
That’s actually an aspect that motivates me considerably: constantly learning new things. Two years ago, I knew very little about architecture, construction or real estate, sectors that span professions and markets the general public often knows very little about, with complex but fascinating realities and organizational structures.
Lastly, and this is a very important point, architects have an incredible role to play in our lives. They can (and should) use their skills, sensitivities and actions to create spaces that satisfy the aspirations and well-being of their users, as well as the challenges and issues at stake in contemporary society. For example, we are currently working on several individual housing units that will be part of pleasant living spaces, with high-quality services, bio-sourced materials and improved thermal comfort. Not only that, but they will be sold at affordable prices!
Houses by DUMBO
The first thing that comes to mind is the advantage of having a diverse skillset. When you study at EDHEC, you look at all facets of business (from finance to marketing, from human resources to procurement, etc.), even if you specialise. I had the opportunity to do an exchange in Chile last year, specialising in corporate finance. That, combined with various internships, allowed me to develop a strong capacity to adapt.
During my first two years, I served as treasurer of the student association TEE, which promotes entrepreneurship in all forms and runs a competition for start-ups. That was a great introduction to the world of innovation and business plans.
More recently I was lucky enough to have several discussions with Jean-Michel Ledru (Director of the EDHEC Incubator and Director of the MSc in Entrepreneurship), who offered us invaluable advice as we were starting off. I also met with Antoine Leurent (EDHEC 1996, ambassador of the Rennes club), who has an ambitious project for a sports facility and with whom we are now working to develop a new-generation wake park. Beyond the professional opportunity this represents, it has also been a fantastic human encounter!
Wakepark by DUMBO
DUMBO celebrated its first birthday at the start of February. Our initial assessment of our first year is highly positive from both a professional and personal perspective. We have met dozens of fascinating people, some of whom went on to become clients or partners. We are working on several different projects (housing, a store, sports facilities, offices), and we hope to nurture this diversity in our approaches.
Indeed, if I had one piece of advice for others from EDHEC looking to become entrepreneurs, it would be to nurture such diversity and the openness that we are encouraged to adopt early on in our education. François and I are often surprised by the potential power of simply being curious, a brief chat with somebody or a positive encounter that we didn’t see coming.
Our priority is to see through our current projects with a high level of performance (quality, costs, turnaround times) to satisfy the ambitious objectives of our clients.
We would also like to find new clients and projects to expand further: housing, offices, facilities, stores, hotels, restaurants, cultural or sports centres, health care units, etc. Each project is unique, irrespective of its end usage or scale. We are passionate about architecture, and what we produce is intended to be at once aesthetic, ethical and pragmatic.
We need to recruit new staff, initially for our core business (we are looking for an architect with significant expertise in technical drawing and worksite supervision). We also expect to need some help over the coming months with business development, project management, marketing and communication, most likely through an internship at the start, with more long-lasting opportunities going forward!
Guest house by DUMBO
We have just launched our brand new website, where we showcase our projects and their end users. We communicate on a weekly basis via our LinkedIn page (at the time of writing, DUMBO has just under 700 followers, but it should be easy to reach 1,000 with a little help from the EDHEC community, right?) and on a monthly basis via our Newsletter, where we talk about our views on architecture, the progress made on our projects and life in our company.
And if anyone from EDHEC simply wants to chat about these issues or anything else, they can feel free to contact me directly. Our community is an invaluable asset.