In 1978, as a journalist and an entrepreneur, Danielle wrote a book telling the stories of entrepreneurs, which led her to discover the hidden landscape and creativity of small businesses across France. She was struck by the commonalities between entrepreneurs’ needs and struggles; a reality which contrasted sharply with their isolation and the absence of programs adapted to their needs. Danielle gathered a group of over 2,500 inspired entrepreneurs to a national event in Lille in 1979 and began to experiment with the practice of entrepreneurship, advising in what she later called Management Shops (RBGs)—open boutiques where entrepreneurs can “shop” for management advice.
From this experiment, Danielle and her peers counseled hundreds of entrepreneurs-to-be and helped start-up entrepreneurs overcome the hurdles during their first few months and years. In a concerted effort, they designed a well-structured program and adjunct tools to equip the new profession with EAs, to assist at every step of the entrepreneur’s lifecycle. The program encompasses individual counseling, design and specification of the entrepreneur’s business idea—from idea, to steps, to creation—through the preparation of a business plan and viability strategy, access to capital, and counseling during the first months of launch. It pairs the expertise of EAs with of the know-how of specialists in other fields. Also opened were the first independent business incubators (i.e. outside of universities and companies R&D departments), which were recognized and subsidized by the government. For entrepreneurs benefitting from such support, it has been proven that failure levels decrease and access to capital increases by 40 percent.
Until 2001, Danielle strived to replicate RBGs across the country and to improve their service offerings. Today, the network includes over 400 RBGs, which welcomes over 70,000 would-be entrepreneurs and supports the creation of 15,000 companies each year. It employs nearly 1,000 professional and 750 volunteer entrepreneurship advisors. Since the mid 1980s, several citizen organizations (COs) and networks were formed under the RBG model. In the early 2000s, after systematized public funding for entrepreneurship support became available, private entrepreneurship advising companies entered the market. Together, these stakeholders support 12 percent of business creations each year.
From early on, Danielle focused on supporting the needs of the most isolated entrepreneurs and those with the lowest levels of training and experience. With the first waves of massive unemployment striking France, she saw entrepreneurship as the best tool for individual empowerment. Danielle took advantage of the 1983 government anti-crisis plan to obtain public funding, which allowed her to support marginalized and at-risk entrepreneurs without charging for services. Today over 75 percent of people supported by RBG were previously unemployed, including beneficiaries (30 percent) of the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion, the minimum income for those completely excluded from the job market.
Danielle is strategically making entrepreneurship support accessible through outreach, and in some areas with free hotlines. These venues offer the initial opportunity to think entrepreneurially about employment opportunities, the individual’s personal strengths, and one’s relationship to work and willingness to take risks. Through group activities, coaching and training programs, Danielle and EA’s lead nearly 100,000 people every year on a path to rethinking their professional identity. At times this results in business creations, while at others, it results in training programs, new professional projects, and employment.
Danielle is indeed breaking the stereotypes surrounding entrepreneurship. She has successfully engaged the government to spread the word through multimedia messages, especially through her annual national competition highlighting the most talented and extraordinary entrepreneurs (Concours Talents), and showing how ordinary people can become entrepreneurs.