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“Reinventing Paperjam”: this was the business challenge offered to some 60 high school students aged between 16 and 18 who took part, at the end of February, in the 20th “Innovation Camp” organised by Jonk Entrepreneuren Luxembourg. It was at the first independent media company in Luxembourg, Maison Moderne, publisher – among others – of the economic and financial magazine Paperjam.

“It is very invigorating to see so many young people from 17 different high schools agreeing to devote a whole day to such a project, and to take up the challenge offered to them with enthusiasm, by being in small working groups without necessarily knowing each other”, explains Mike Koedinger, founder and chairman of the board of Maison Moderne. “It is always said that young people are not interested in anything. But there is a real entrepreneurial dimension in their approach that is impressive.”

The Innovation Camp is one of the 11 programmes organised by Jonk Entrepreneuren Luxembourg. The association, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, raises awareness among young people about the world of economics and entrepreneurship. It’s done through various projects organised and adapted to each level of Luxembourg education (basic, secondary and higher education).

Its initiatives make it possible to strengthen the links between the world of education and the business world, and to develop and enhance the sometimes underestimated “entrepreneurial culture” in the country.

Unfiltered

“Two or three times a year, a company welcomes these young people for a whole day, which can sometimes last a good ten hours,” explains Stéphanie Damgé, the director of Jonk Entrepreneuren Luxembourg. “When they arrive in the morning, they discover the ‘challenge’ that is offered to them. At the end of the day spent working in small groups, supervised by representatives of the company, they present their solution to the proposed problem, in front of an audience and a jury. They have to integrate in their reflection the business aspects, but also creativity, innovation and communication. For the company, this represents an opportunity to get the young people’s vision of a problem that interests them”.

In the case of Maison Moderne, the exercise was not easy, because it was a question of young high school students projecting themselves ten years or so down the road. They have to imagine a magazine aimed at students at the end of their studies or job starters. “What was great with these young people was that their comments and opinions were spontaneous and unbridled. They didn’t hesitate to tell us, for example, that this or that article was too long, or that it was only aimed at the elderly. It’s humbling,” says Koedinger.

This “unfiltered” side is also what marked Laura Star, Communication & Public Outreach Officer at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, which hosted an Innovation Camp last November. The theme proposed was to imagine the creation of a start-up using voice as an indicator of the state of health of patients, as well as technologies for diagnosis and prevention tools. “These young people have a lot of ideas and they don’t limit themselves. They sometimes push their thinking very far, which opens doors we may not have thought of,” explains Ms Star, who followed the high school students throughout their day at LIH. “They are also very comfortable with communication technologies and this has really been a gold mine for us.”

It was obviously a difficult exercise in such a sophisticated medical-technological field. “We didn’t expect to get such concrete results in a single day’s work. It’s impressive to see how much these young people have invested themselves and were able to come up with ideas that were well thought out and presented with a very high degree of detail,” says Frank Glod, Chief of Scientific Operations at the LIH. “From an educational point of view, it was a great exercise.”

Source of inspiration

The advantage of youth was also evident at another Innovation Camp held in July 2019 with real estate developer IKO Real Estate, around the project to rehabilitate and redefine the Rout Lëns District in Esch-sur-Alzette. For these young people, it was a question of imagining how they saw themselves living, working and having fun there and how to integrate the various functions (housing, offices, leisure activities, etc.). After all, the generation that will live there tomorrow is theirs…

“We were thus confronted with the real expectations of these young people and the way they saw their way of life,” says Éric Lux, CEO of IKO Real Estate. “Beyond the quality of their presentations, I took great pleasure in seeing the enthusiasm they showed. There were a lot of ideas that were expressed and that we will integrate into all the groundwork that we have been doing around this project for the past two years. We are going to make a synthesis of all this, which will serve us to finalise the master plan that will be presented to the public at the beginning of the summer”.

The interest of these Innovation Camps is also there: it is not just a simple, one-off event, but a source of inspiration, even a source of challenge for the host companies. “As we know, the media industry is currently going through a crisis, but is also faced with tremendous opportunities with cutting-edge technological challenges to respond to changing consumer habits,” explains Mike Koedinger. “We are now facing a generation that is ready to pay for valuable content, whether it’s music, movies or TV series. 10-15 years ago, with the explosion of pirated content and peer2peer platforms, there was little room for fair valuation of quality content. This is all the more encouraging when this observation is made on a sample of 60 high school students from 17 different schools.”

The next Innovation Camp of 2020 is already scheduled by Jonk Entrepreneuren Luxembourg with Banque et Caisse d’Epargne de l’Etat and ArcelorMittal. “But for 2021 and the following years, we are obviously open to any business proposal wishing to organise such a session with us”, says Stéphanie Damgé.

(Stéphanie Damgé, the director of Jonk Entrepreneuren Luxembourg)

Photos: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne, Jonk Entrepreneuren Luxembourg

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