From Private Equity Pro To AI Entrepreneur

Photo ©Vincent Fournier from the Man Machine series

“I remember we were in London for the module located at LSE,” Nacson shares. “We were in one of the coaching sessions when the coach asked what our ideal job would be. What would we love to do in our lives if we had the choice?”

“My thought was, I’m 40 years old. To me this is not a relevant question. I’m doing this MBA, but more than likely, I’ll still work in some kind of finance job.” Still, Nacson says he decided to play along. “Since I had to answer, I said I would love to do something creative and I’d love to work in robotics. But I’m not trained as a creative. I’ve been working in finance the last 20 years and I’m not a robotics engineer so the chances of fulfilling my dream were pretty slim.”

‘MY JOURNEY IS A SERIES OF COINCIDENCES’

Be that as it may, a year after graduating from TRIUM, Nacson found himself quitting his job in private equity and doing something creative: furniture design.

“I didn’t train at all to become a furniture designer. I got selected for an exhibition in Milan for the Salone del Mobile and decided to quit my job and concentrate my energy there.”

That led to Tokyo, Japan where he went to spend some time on work related to his design activities. As he’d always been intrigued by tech and artificial intelligences, and the extreme fears associated with robots being super destructive machines set out to replace humans, he visited the Miraikan Museum, one he’d been longing to visit since its opening in 2001.

Photo ©Vincent Fournier from the Man Machine series

“I found it extremely interesting to understand it a bit more and soon started to get into projects that were doing good for humans and using new tech to counterbalance this whole fear.”

“I’m from Paris — born in Africa — but I’m French. For Europe and the U.S., the culture we have is not very geared towards interaction with robots and AI. The way we look at those things — on the contrary to Asian countries like China and Japan — they become used to interacting with robots since they’re very young. It’s embedded into their own culture, but not ours.” Nacson says this is what prompted him to create a worldwide competition that will favor and promote the positive innovations for humans in different sectors.

“For 20 years I worked in investment banking and Private Equity, then suddenly a furniture designer, then that experience brings me to travel to Tokyo. That’s when I decided to spend more time in this museum I was dreaming of going to for a while. It was just a line of coincidences. A year before I had no idea I’d be quitting my job, no idea I’d be doing furniture design, then no idea I’d end up where I am now. My whole story is a series of good coincidences.”

BUSINESS SCHOOL AWAKENS ENTREPRENEURIAL THINKING

A series of coincidences indeed, but Nacson credits his B-school experience for awakening his entrepreneurial spirit. “The cohort that I belonged to was very much composed of entrepreneurs and people who had gone through the entrepreneurship experience in different fields. That brought my attention to the excitement and interest already embedded in me,” he says.

“With 59 people from 32 different nationalities, I remember the scope of exchanges and quality of exchanges with people from around the world and really senior level in their own fields. Taking the time to drop out from your day-to-day life and be challenged intellectually in a different fashion than your day-to-day job opens windows of thinking and approaching things from a different angle. It’s a classic way of describing things, but this really was the case for me. It made me think, ‘This is what I really want to do. I really want to be an entrepreneur.’ But at the time, I had no idea. It ended up being a series of coincidences and being able to grasp opportunities that had been placed before me.”

As many B-schoolers often do, Nascon has since been able to tap into his alumni network. Working alongside him on the Robot of the Year challenge are two HEC Paris MBA alumni he met outside of his cohort.

Nacson tells Poets&Quants there are 30 projects that have been submitted for The Robot Of The Year and he hopes to have 150 by the end of September. Winners will be announced in Paris on the 26th November with financial support of up to 2 million euros awarded to the best ethical AI and robotics projects.

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