Making Waves: Female entrepreneurs having an impact in 2022

Around the world, there's never been an easier time to go into business and make dreams a reality.

Making Waves: Female entrepreneurs having an impact in 2022
Judit Ills and Nathalie Gourevitch went on to found innovative enterprises following their time at ESSEC. Photos: Supplied

In 2022, the diversity of entrepreneurs is expanding rapidly and one of the fastest-growing demographics is women.

In partnership with French business school ESSEC, we spoke with two trailblazing women entrepreneurs about their journeys to business success, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Judit Illes 

Nobody could ever accuse Judit Illes of standing still. She says: “I grew up with a travel documentary filmmaker father and started exploring the globe before I could walk.” 

Beginning her journey in Budapest, Hungary, Illes began working and learning within the luxury brand and hospitality spaces from a young age. Internships at Marriott, Louis Vuitton and Nobu were paired with studies at Budapest Business School. Later she would work as a luxury travel designer, drawing on her long experience exploring the globe. 

Throughout the many stages of her career, one constant has been yoga, which Judit found to have many benefits in her life. After discovering the practice in 2008 while in New York, and becoming a certified Vinyasa teacher, she’s not only made it a part of her daily routine, but also the foundation of her business ventures. 

Judit first started developing the idea of a yoga-centric venture for her Entrepreneurial Project, part of her Executive Master in Luxury Management & Design Innovation (EMiLUX) at ESSEC. After her studies, Judit relocated to Dubai, where she founded Avidya Retreats – a company offering meditation and yoga retreats across the United Arab Emirates. She states: “My assignment became a profitable business!”

She’s not stopping there, however. Having applied her studies in luxury management at ESSEC to founding her first tourism venture, she’s now approaching the startup space. 

She says: “At the moment, I am co-founding my third company, a mindfulness-based app for children and parents. The details are coming soon!”

Learn the skills that took Judit Illes from Budapest to business success leading yoga retreats in the UAE. The ESSEC Open Day is coming up on June 18. 

One of the beautiful locations in the UAE where Judit Illes leads her Avidya yoga retreats. Photo: Avidya Retreats

Nathalie Gourevitch 

You might say that native Parisian Nathalie Gourevitch is cool under pressure – but more on that in a moment. 

Over the last decade, Gourevitch has worked in a number of sales and communication roles, in both the private and public sectors. This has included time at the French Ministry of Education, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and online lifestyle magazine FemininBio. 

In 2020, Gourevitch began her EMBA at ESSEC, where as part of her Entrepreneurial Project, she was introduced to an innovative area of the food industry – the production of freeze-dried foods. 

She told us: “I didn’t know anything about freeze-dried food, but since I like everything related to food, I thought I would find it interesting. Honestly, I was amazed by cold dehydration technology – it allows an optimal quality of food conservation.”

As she sees it, this technology can be applied to specific societal needs: “At a time when global warming and political conflicts are drying up our resources, it seems to me to be a priority to develop and democratise this method of preservation.”

Gourevitch’s first venture is still under wraps – the product is still in the research and development phase. However, what prototypes and designs have emerged have already generated excitement and interest among a variety of potential investors, both in France and abroad. 

Discover your new business passion, like Nathalie Gourevitch. The ESSEC Open Day is approaching on June 18 – learn more, no matter where you are 

Freeze-dried food has the potential to revolutionise food conservation, as Nathalie Gourevitch discovered. Photo: Getty Images

Learning to lead 

Both Illes and Gourevitch have advice for those who wish to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps. 

Gourevitch says: “Starting a business is a succession of challenges as there are no typical days. It is up to you to set daily goals and stick to them. There are also periods when everything is fluid and your actions are successful and others when it’s like a desert crossing. 

“Staying motivated in these conditions sometimes requires taking a step back and remembering all the good reasons that motivate you.”

Illes stresses the need for preparation: “I learned the importance of thorough research and execution, pitching my idea several times in different countries in front of investors. Many of them are still supporting me with valuable advice.”

Both are effusive in their praise for ESSEC, their alma mater. 

Says Illes: “I wanted to earn my executive master’s from ESSEC, a strong business school. It turned out to be the best decision. It not only deepened my academic knowledge and supported me with practical tools as an entrepreneur, but I also became a member of two powerful alumni groups.”

Gourevitch highlighted the experiences she had while completing her Entrepreneurial Project: “Not only was I able to find my entrepreneurial path, but the fact that I was able to carry out my project in a privileged setting like ESSEC gave me the confidence I needed to pursue further adventures in business.”

Since 1907, ESSEC has been giving entrepreneurs from around the world not only the skills, but the courage to lead and achieve their goals. With a long list of celebrated alumni, including French and global leaders, it has consistently achieved excellence in business education.

A view inside the ESSEC Paris campus. Photo: ESSEC

In 2022, ESSEC not only offers MBA programs for people with different level of experience – the Global MBA or Executive MBAs for instance – but also ones specialized in Luxury management (EMiLUX) and Hospitality Management.

Each of these courses prepares the business leaders of tomorrow using real life practical assignments, as well as the input and thought leadership of guest lecturers and leading lights sourced from across the global business community.

Interested individuals can follow in the footsteps of Illes and Gourevitch on June 18th, when ESSEC opens its doors with a ‘hybrid’ open day, combining online and on-site activities – no matter where you are, you’ll be able to register and attend events. Potential students can speak to alumni who have made the journey, as well as professors and other admissions consultants, who will help you to choose a course that’s right for you. 

The business world is changing, and trailblazing women leaders are playing a big role. ESSEC is a supportive and inspiring environment making that change happen. 

Ready to make some waves as an entrepreneur? Find out more about ESSEC Open Day, featuring info sessions, masterclasses and more, on June 18. 

For members


Ask the expert: How students can remain in France after finishing their degree

France is keen to attract international students, but if you studied in France and want to stay here, there are also several routes tailored towards keeping qualified graduates in the country - specialist immigration lawyer Maître Haywood Wise explains more.

Ask the expert: How students can remain in France after finishing their degree

France has set itself a goal of attracting more foreign talent to universities, and the government is also keen for these highly qualified graduates to stay and become part of the French workforce.

Students who have an EU passport can stay with minimal paperwork, but non-EU students will need to change their student visa to ensure that they have the correct documents to live and work in France.

This is neither simple nor paperwork-free (of course) but there are several routes that recent graduates can take in order to stay.

Immigration lawyer, Maître Haywood Wise, who practices in the Paris area, explained some of the options:

Recherche d’emploi et création d’entreprise (RECE) – Job Seeker/ New Business Creator

If you did a vocational degree or masters level (or above) the ‘job seeker’ residence permit might be the best bet for you. 

The goal of this card is to allow you to “have a first professional experience or start a company in a field that corresponds to your training.”

On this residence permit, you will be allowed to search for and hold a job in connection with your degree or research for one year. 

According to Maître Wise, there are several “advantages” to this residency permit. You are permitted to work full-time while on this titre, in contrast to the part-time requirements of the student visa.

Maître Wise explained that the benefit of this permit is that while on it you “do not need a work permit” as a foreigner, as you have the legal right to work while on it – making you instantly more attractive to employers who are spared the burdensome task of security your work permit. 

In order to qualify, you must have received one of these degrees, and during your studies you must have held a student visa (VLS-TS):

  • a Licence Professionelle (vocational degree),
  • a master’s degree or equivalent (such as an engineering degree, a degree from an institute of political studies (IEP), the higher diploma in accounting and management, a veterinary diploma, etc
  • a Specialised Master’s degree
  • a Master of Sciences (MSc) accredited by the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles

Keep in mind that this also applies to researchers who completed their research in France (meaning you previously held the residency permit: “Carte de séjour “passeport talent – chercheur”)

If you are worried that the above-criteria might not apply perfectly to your situation, Maître Wise explained that the legal code regarding who exactly qualifies is “rather ambiguous,” and that you might still be able to consider applying for this permit even if you do not come “directly under the terms of the legislation.” However, it is recommendable to seek legal advice in this scenario. 

If you completed an undergraduate degree in France, unfortunately this will “most likely not work” for the ‘job seeker’ permit.

READ MORE: Visas and residency permits: How to move to France (and stay here)

How much does it cost?

For students, the cost is €75, for researchers, the cost is €225.

What rules should I be aware of? 

You are not obligated to do this directly after graduating – in fact, you can apply for the ‘job seeker’ permit up to four years after completing your degree. 

How long does it last?

This residency permit is valid for 12 months – even if you get a permanent job during this period, there is no need to change the permit until the 12 months are up.

At the end of the 12 months, if you have found a job (in your field) or started a business in France, then you must switch onto a different titre

When switching onto the next residency permit, if you’ve set up your own business or set up as a freelancer, you can look into the “temporary residency card: entrepreneur/professional.” For those who were offered a job, the next residency card will depend in part on your salary and field, as shown below courtesy of French government website Keep in mind that exact salary amounts may differ from year to year, so it is best to check with official government websites.

Advice from French website

Carte de séjour: salarié/travailleur temporaire – Employee or temporary worker

If you did any type of higher education in France, you can apply for this visa once you have been offered a job in the field you studied.

The employment contract you must have been offered for this work is either a CDI (permanent position) or CDD (temporary position), but cannot be a stage (internship) or as a pigiste (casual worker).

Normally people getting this type of permit also need a work permit, for which employers need to demonstrate – among other things – that there is no local candidate who could do your job. However if you switch onto this permit type from the RECE card, demonstrating this is not necessary, assuming you meet the other requirements (the job meets the income threshold and is in your field of study). 

You will still need to have your employment contract validated by the DIRECCTE (the Regional Department of Competition, Consumption, Work and Employment) when applying for an “employee” or “temporary worker” residency permit.

You’ll likely also need to provide proof of your current residency permit, your passport, proof of residence, three passport compatible photos, and your autorisation du travail (work permit). 

How long does it last?

The first time you apply for this residency permit it is valid for one year (12 months). It is renewable, and can be renewed for a period of up to four years. 

Passeport talent : carte de séjour pluriannuelle d’un étranger en France – Talent Passport

This residency permit is aimed at highly qualified candidates and for recent graduates it is issued based on your study field and salary level, and there are several different categories within it. 

It’s less common for students, although some researchers qualify for it. For someone who has just finished their studies in France, you most likely would fall under one of these categories: “qualified employee”, “artist” , or “creation of a company.”

If you’re applying as an employee (rather than freelancer or business start-up) you need to have graduated from a professional degree or a Specialized Master’s/Master of Science (accredited by the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles) or at least equivalent to a Master’s degree, and have been offered an employment contract with a gross annual salary of more than €39,494 or more (as of 2022).

You can find the other requirements HERE. Keep in mind your employer will need to fill out a Cerfa form to request that you fall under the ‘passeport talent’ category.

How long does it last?

This is a multi-year residency permit, and also allows you to bring a spouse and/or family members with you.

Final tips

Check official government websites to see when you must begin the application process for a ‘changement de statut’– sometimes this varies by préfecture, and if you are still waiting on your diploma certificate from your French university you can ask them for a provisional letter attesting you have met the graduation requirements and passed your grand oral (if that applies to you).

Maître Wise recommends the RECE permit if you qualify for it: “Stay on this titre de séjour until its expiration,” he said, adding the reminder that  “each préfecture works differently. Some of these applications are easier in Paris.”

According to the immigration law expert, it is best to take the residency permit process “extremely seriously, particularly because the préfectures lack transparency and are not functioning well.”

His final tip is to “get on it in advance, and be prepared for confusion regarding how you’re going to get employment. If you have an employer, solutions are easy. If you don’t then it’s not going to be so easy.”

Basically, do your homework before going and be prepared for a potentially bumpy ride. If your situation is complicated or atypical, it might be best to spend some money on legal advice.

* Maître Haywood Wise works for the HAYWOOD MARTIN WISE law firm. They offer consultations in English and French. You can find their website HERE