EPFL strengthens its support for student entrepreneurs

student entrepreneurs at The Station working on their startup projects © Aurelie Schick

student entrepreneurs at The Station working on their startup projects © Aurelie Schick

EPFL has a long history of fostering startups, with its students and alumni regularly making headlines for the innovative solutions they bring to the Swiss and international markets. The EPFL startup ecosystem is constantly evolving, and we met two of its most earnest players to learn more about what makes it work and what the future holds for entrepreneurship at EPFL.

Maurice Gaillard and Melis Ataol both work at EPFL’s Vice Presidency for Innovation (VPI), the university’s body that, among building and maintaining relationships with industry partners, aims to promote entrepreneurship and business-creation at EPFL. Despite wearing similar hats, Maurice and Melis tackle slightly different facets of entrepreneurship:

  • Maurice is helping students with existing projects get their ideas out of labs and classrooms, and into the market,
  • Melis is promoting the new “Future Leaders” initiative, which is a bid to foster innovative thinking among the student community.

“There are different levels of maturity in terms of entrepreneurship”, explains Melis. “We want to show students who have no prior experience in entrepreneurship that the door is not closed to them”. Through a set of tailored programs and by providing students with a space to develop their entrepreneurial spirit, creative thinking and imagination, the Future Leaders initiative aims to give the tools for students to realize their full potential, both in university and in the industry. A core element of this new initiative is the Changemakers program, where students are taken through a 12-week journey to help turn their ideas into starter projects.

It’s really all about empowering students to create their own future, be it in the startup realm, in existing companies or in another medium that they want to create for themselves

Melis Ataol, Program Coordinator

For Maurice, who works a bit further along the entrepreneurship pipeline, the daily routine is more focused on helping turn budding student projects into fully-fledged companies. “My job is to foster entrepreneurship and startup creation among students, but also to deliver concrete results”, explains Maurice. “This means creating companies and helping EPFL entrepreneurs bring out tangible products and services to the market”.

With a strong track record of industry-disrupting spin-offs launching from its campus in the past several decades, EPFL has continued investing in its startup support programs. A notable example is the startup accelerator blaze, launched in 2021 and now welcoming this Autumn its 6th cohort. During the 3 months tailored accelerator program, students are coached by experts on a variety of skills from finance to communication, given access to a wide business network, and provided with up to CHF10’000 of non-dilutive funding.

The goal is really to help the startup deploy to the market and fully leverage the EPFL startup ecosystem. And you get the chance to be surrounded by people in the same situation

Maurice Gaillard, Program Leader

In addition to creating new support programs, EPFL has worked to make it easier for students to combine their studies and their entrepreneurial ambitions. A prime example of that is the “Master Project in your Startup" (PDM), where motivated students get the opportunity to work on a business idea with a strong technical background during their master’s thesis, under the supervision of a laboratory and a business coach.

“If you wanted to launch a startup before and work on it full-time, you basically had to wait to finish your studies”, points out Maurice, who also manages this program. “The great opportunity with this program is you can start launching your venture while still studying. There’s really nothing to lose: if the business opportunity doesn’t pan out, you still graduate! It removes a lot of the risk associated with launching startups”.

Melis Ataol, Program Coordinator and Maurice Gaillard, Program Lead at the Station
Melis Ataol, Program Coordinator and Maurice Gaillard, Program Leader at the Station © Jule Bols

With backgrounds in finance and marketing respectively, Maurice and Melis traded their careers in large corporations for a position at the forefront of innovation, in close-knit teams working tirelessly to turn students’ ambitions into reality. What keeps them going is the knowledge that they can have a deep impact on the future of students, and that the innovations that come out of the university play an important role in society.

“What I see more and more from the market is that corporations look to our students, researchers and entrepreneurs for the latest in what technology has to offer”, explains Maurice. “It’s important for EPFL students to understand this and to not underestimate their disruptive potential and see that what they are creating can have a huge impact”. And when they are empowered to take their future into their own hands, students can have a significant influence on existing companies: “Intrapreneurship is also highly expected from EPFL graduates when they join companies, be it a small startup or a large corporation”, says Melis. “That is why our Future Leaders workshops help students explore their own leadership identities. The joy of seeing them grow in confidence and purpose is really what keeps me going”.


The Changemakers program, a core element of Future Leaders, offers students a 12-week pathway to help them turn their ideas into start-up projects.

The accelerator program blaze is designed to forward leading student startups up to a successful market launch with personalised support, a business network and up to CHF 10,000 in funding.

The Master project in your Startup (PDM) offers students the opportunity to carry out their Master's project in their own startup, even if it has not yet been set up.