There are relatively few young entrepreneurs in France measured against the European average. And young women entrepreneurs are are even less likely to be found. But they do exist!
One of a rare species: business woman Séverine Zaoui, 26
Séverine Zaoui refused to be put off by the odds and made the leap into self-employment. Since November last year the 26-year-old from Orléans has been head of Comfy Dance, a company dedicated to making ballet shoes more comfortable.
"Everything actually started in a café," Séverine Zaoui explains with a smile. She was sitting talking to her friend Clotilde Echard – about ballet as always. Clotilde, who has been dancing ballet since she was a child, was complaining yet again about sore feet. "Why does such a wonderful dance have to hurt so much," asked Séverine Zaoui.
She thinks her new product "Tip-Toes" can help. Tip-Toes is a kind of shock absorber for the toes. The elastic rubber stockings are pulled over the front of the foot, offering more support in the crucial toe area so important to ballet dancers, and thus reducing pain and injuries. At least, that’s what it says in the brochure.
Simple idea – complicated process of implementation. First of all, Séverine set about developing the Tip-Toes in co-operation with orthopaedic specialists. The shape of the toe-protector was changed again and again, new details added and optimised. But the most difficult aspect was the technical implementation. Séverine Zaoui’s marketing degree helped her with the project development but she had absolutely no production experience. That was somewhat of a problem considering the right material had to be developed, a material that was elastic, tear-proof and also soft to the touch.
In order to be able to mass produce the stockings, she had to find a specialist company to produce the moulds. The mould was too complicated for ordinary metalworking firms. But despite all the difficulties, Séverine Zaoui was determined. Fortunately, she had already won a number of innovation awards complete with prize money to keep her company ticking over.
Now, she’s almost there and can proudly display the latest prototypes. "I’ve worked on this for almost two years and I did the last tests in February. The actual production is due to begin in April. The Tip-Toes will then be available for sale in shops in France and Europe."
Initially, Séverine Zaoui is ordering 5,000 pairs of the toe protectors, all of which which she hopes to sell this year if things go well. She’s also taken on the job of finding customers herself, which means regular cold calls to dance equipment shops, displaying her product and patiently answering potential clients’ questions – for instance about the cost. She’s hoping the Tip-Toes will retail for 35 euros – strawberry aroma included! "I don’t have any firm orders yet," she says, "but after all my product doesn’t hit the shops until April."
There are certainly plenty of ballet shoes out there waiting for their own shock absorbers – an estimated 13,000 pairs in France alone.