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From Hardware to Heartware: Julien Salanave's Journey of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Education

Interview by: Conan Gan


Julien Salanave is a serial startup founder and venture capitalist who has studied and worked on 3 continents (Asia, Europe and North America). He then decided to commit his time to education with a transition inuo academia. 

He joined ESSEC Business School as Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Director of ESSEC Ventures APAC to develop entrepreneurship education and support students in their entrepreneurial ventures.

  • Julien, you’ve had an impressive international career, starting in Europe, then moving to Hong Kong, and now Singapore. Any personal experiences or stories from your journey that have shaped your perspective in your career?

Just like any entrepreneurial journey, I did not have a carefully laid out plan but being able to work from any location I chose was more important to me than any financial considerations in guiding my career decisions. decided to switch from my initial lucrative venture capital to the much more financially speculative founder track exactly for that reason. 

The decision to settle in Asia was partly driven by the strong commercial traction I got there with my last hardware startup but mostly because I believe Asia was the last major continent where we could still be optimistic about the future.

  • You founded Orée in 2012, a digital brand that designs unique computer peripherals and mobile accessories using premium natural materials. What inspired you to start Orée, and what were some of the most rewarding experiences you had during your time as CEO?

    After two successful self-funded startups in the consulting space, I yearned to do something in the physical product and consumer space. The start was very exhilarating because the idea was singular and earned strong initial traction from customers, media and investors alike. But soon after, I learned why hardware is hard to scale.

  • What do you think is the most important for scaling a business? Money, advice or connections?

    The  challenge I faced at Oree and repeatedly observe in startups is to try to scale too early. If you have not really achieved product market fit and go to market fit, pushing growth is a distraction from the meticulous work required to achieve those fits.

    Successful scaling begins with a market pull for the product or service, a rising tide which the startup successfully amplifies and rides.

  • Given your background in corporate innovation and strategy, why do you think there is a gap in support for startups transitioning from initial success to sustainable growth?

    The paradox of scaling is that whatever successfully got you to product- and go-to-market fit – isn’t what will take you to scale.

    The ways you achieved these fits then need to be challenged and reinvented.

    This often requires you to take a step back, and the support and guidance you receive to be updated.

  • After 15 years as a serial technology entrepreneur and VC, what inspired you to shift your focus towards education and helping students develop entrepreneurial skills?
    It was actually the strategy I devised to scale my own impact!

    Rather than doing one more startup project or investing in a few, I am now fortunate to groom over 500 students every year who will be the next generation of entrepreneurs. 

  • Rather than staying in a classroom, you are out there curating TEDx events, organising workshops and hackathons without profit. What inspires you to dedicate your time to the entrepreneurship community?

    You can’t really teach entrepreneurship in classrooms but you can learn it through guided practice.

    All those activities are ways to create more opportunities for my students and other aspiring and accomplished founders to try, fail, learn and try again.

  • On a light-hearted note – If you were reincarnated as a plant, what would you be?

    An Italian basil for its fragrance and flavor.


Together with ESSEC, Vidacity has launched a fellowship program running this September to November, 𝑺𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒈𝒚 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝑺𝒄𝒂𝒍𝒆 & 𝑰𝒎𝒑𝒂𝒄𝒕, for Southeast Asia-based entrepreneurs working on impactful products, services or solutions designed to help them (re-)establish a strong foundation for long term global growth. 

Professor Julien Salvane, with his experiences, joins us as the lead facilitator.

Apply by June 30th here: