Back in 2000, EHL launched its Student Business Project (SBP) module as an integral part of the final Bachelor year program. Its aim: to give students real-life, hands-on, practical experience of what it means to set up and run a business from every possible angle, in conjunction with the requirements of a business partner who has enlisted their help, insights and know-how.
SBP and Social Corporate Responsibility
For the past 20 years, entrepreneurs have been trusting our young professionals’ advice in order to confirm, enhance or find new development strategies for their business plans. Today, EHL hosts between eighty and a hundred projects per year, with many companies returning, session after session, to benefit from our students' expertise and creativity, and quite often offering them positions within the company upon graduation.
Since April 2019, one SBP per semester has been dedicated free of charge to the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility, an important priority at EHL that enables students to contribute and give back to their community. This article looks into the recent creation of the ARC Bar – a catering and gaming bar concept, inclusive and adapted to people with disabilities in the Lausanne region. The six students, their EHL coach and their business client recount their experiences and learning curves during the 9-week SBP process and beyond.
Jean-Sébastien Rahm, Lea Stalder, Michael De Kalbermatten, Islin Ntongo, Benjamin Mathieu, Sofia Bedonni & Florian Wuarchoz.
1. Why did the ARC project appeal to you as an SBP?
Originality. The ARC Bar breaks the rules of traditional F&B concepts, not only because of its target clientele, but also in terms of decor and service. Our concept is innovative because it emphasizes a hyper-digitalized service, privileging technology and eGaming in a futuristic setting.
Another reason why the project appealed to us was that we had to start everything from scratch: market research, creating a concept, building the business model and business plan. Combining an F&B concept with video games while adapting it to people with disabilities felt like something that hadn't been tackled before. Imagining this type of service scope of the future really took us out of our comfort zone.
2. Describe the particularities of ARC
ARC aims to facilitate a joyful and interactive social life for both the able-bodied and disabled. Inclusivity is the key word and a long overdue concept. Bearing in mind that there are only 3 official restaurants in Lausanne listed in info-handicap.ch that offer access to people with disabilities, I think we have more than nailed a niche market. (In reality, there are actually more than 3 restaurants in Lausanne that are accessible, but it’s more a referencing problem as it’s complicated to find the appropriate information listed).
The venue will combine appropriate access, cutting edge games and easy F&B ordering options. The gaming bar industry is opening up worldwide but is still relatively small in Switzerland. We aim to create a truly new and exciting atmosphere thanks to an original cyberpunk decor with a variety of ‘zones’ that our clientele can choose from: a cozy sofa & TV area, tables dedicated to board games, a Virtual Reality corner and a wide range of cutting edge video game spots. The menu will be largely based on practical finger food options that can be ordered from a tablet/QR code on each table and then delivered by waiting staff.
3. In CSR terms, what is the most important aspect of this project?
During this project, emphasis was placed on the social aspect. The aim was to create a place where able-bodied and disabled people could mix and share good times, removing the stigma of disability and thus creating an atmosphere of inclusion. Through our research, we realized that people with disabilities are too often marginalized, that they feel excluded from society especially in their teens, and that the facilities in Lausanne are lacking and poorly adapted to their needs. The mindset of able-bodied people towards people with disabilities needs to change and we believe that the creation of ARC could be a first step in this direction.
4. What's the current stage of development for the group and ARC
Our business client, Mr Patrick Segu, has invited our group of 6 EHL students to become shareholders in the company. This is quite a rare occurrence in the history of SBPs, where graduates sometimes get offered a job, not shares! Four members of the team have accepted, truly believing in the success of this venture. The remaining two are committed to supporting the development of the project as external members. We are currently revising our business plan and looking for investors, as well as a venue in the city center.
From a more personal point of view, we think it will be a real challenge, especially given the current COVID situation. But despite the strong impact that the health crisis is having on the restaurant business, we think it's also a great opportunity to bring a new form of digital entertainment to Lausanne.
The EHL SBP coach: Stefano Riboni
1. How did EHL come across the ARC project?
Every semester, EHL offers a business client a CSR SBP, (see here). Mr Patrick Segu wrote to the school and his ARC project was selected by the EHL ad-hoc commission.
2. Where there new parameters for you to take into account?
Not for me as a coach, but definitely yes for the students. In most SBP projects there is some kind of ‘target customers/market’ to consider, but here the span of potential future clients of ARC was much larger than usual. Usual market segmentation is based either on age or on social/economic criteria. Here the students had to understand all the various types of disabilities and to define a concept that would include most of them.
The students also had to adapt to the many facilities included in the offer: bar, eatery, gaming center, cyber meeting place for everyone. But it is quite often the case, a hotel is rarely just a hotel, it can include a restaurant, bar, spa, etc. Multi-functional concepts are becoming more and more frequent, and in that sense this project has been an excellent way for the students to discover what a multi-dimensional project can be.
3. The students have been offered shares in the company, how usual is this?
This is indeed unique! Normally, 20% - 30% of SBPs result in a job offer for one or maximum two EHL students. But we’ve never had this type of proposal for the entire team. The fact that 4 have accepted and have now started working on the implementation and launch of the project, (with no definite salary for the next 9 to 18 months), confirms their sincere implication in ARC and the depth of their social-oriented values.
This proposed formula also confirms what the word “philanthropy” really means: "friend/love of mankind". Mr Segu is promoting and funding this initiative with no other objective than public goodwill and the desire to improve the quality of life of the young disabled. I have been extremely impressed by Mr Segu, not only as a brilliant and successful entrepreneur, but as someone particularly rich in humanistic values.
The business client: Patrick Segu
1. How did the idea for ARC come to you?
My daughter was born with motor problems on her left side caused by a genetic disease. Even though the disease is not degenerative, our whole family's future fell apart in seconds in front of the MRI images. Despite the illness, she has an incredible joy for life and a prodigious determination in the face of adversity. A determination I have seen in all children with disabilities, (even the most physically and mentally successful athletes fail to achieve a fraction of what they are capable of doing each day).
However, I have seen that this resolve erodes during adolescence and that disabled children gradually enter a phase of withdrawal where they are confronted with their differences. It’s hard enough for able-bodied adolescents to establish themselves at this age, just imagine being in a wheelchair or unable to feed yourself. Disabled teens can become withdrawn and isolated. At the end of schooling, given their low employability, specialized institutions are the only places that ensure a minimum of autonomy and prepare them to enter sheltered workshops until retirement age. They lack a whole phase of interaction between other young people: fun, going out, making friends - in short, being able to live like the others.
It is in this context that I proposed a meeting place accessible to everyone by public and private transport in the center of Lausanne. The idea is to allow able and disabled people to meet in a friendly and inclusive place. The second underlying idea is to offer multimedia activities, especially in virtual reality, so that physical boundaries fall away and they find themselves at the same level as the able-bodied. They can fight like knights, drive cars or play soccer like their favorite stars.
2. Did the EHL students suggest ideas that you didn't expect?
- Promoting finger food. Cutlery adds complexity to an already difficult situation for the disabled.
- Suggesting that institutions in charge of young disabled people bring them by minibus with their companions during off-peak hours. Not only do we compensate for the non-remunerative periods, but we take the time to welcome them in all serenity with facilitators who transport them, help them get settled and bring them food and drinks. Think of the parents, the heads of institutions and those accompanying them, what it feels like to find these young people upon their return, recounting their adventures with great joy and laughter?
- An amazing sense of maturity and hope. When I received the extraordinarily comprehensive and relevant SBP report, I, who am an EPFL engineer and who frequent other universities a lot, was amazed at the maturity of the 6 graduates who carried out this work. At the end of our first meeting, the students wanted to partner with me to transform this vision into an entrepreneurial project. This proves that EHL not only trains managers, but also entrepreneurs ready to take on the market with new ideas.
3. What are your ambitions for ARC?
Initially, I had wanted to create an association, but in the end we thought it was better to create a company so that the profits could be used to start other franchised cafes. Indeed, if we are profitable, more disabled young people will benefit in other locations. Our primary goal is to create a happy, playful environment, but we are also studying the therapeutic benefits of gaming with regards to grip, reflexes and cognitivity.
To end on a positive note, I’d like to mention my daughter who has made tremendous progress in her spatial awareness since playing a horse game. She is now guiding us on the roads, not the GPS.