After Thomas Jonas (H.93) and Agnès Pannier-Runacher (H.95) in 2022, and then Éric Lombard (H.81) in 2023, the HEC of the Year Award was presented to Alexandre Prot (H.06), co-founder of the neobank Qonto, by Valérie Pécresse (H.88), President of the Ile-de-France region, at the HEC Gala on May 29th.

The HEC of the Year Award crowns an incredible success story, as in just eight years, Qonto has become the European leader in financial management for businesses. This fintech startup is now one of the French unicorns, having raised 622 million euros from major global investors since its inception, bringing its valuation to 4.4 billion euros.

But behind these staggering figures, the story of Qonto, like many great successes, is above all a human adventure. An adventure initiated by two former high school friends who had lost touch and met again one evening in 2012 at the 30th birthday party of a mutual friend.


A business of friendship

On one side, there is Steve Anavi, who started at Deloitte and then managed operations for Groupon. On the other, Alexandre Prot, who after studying at HEC and INSEAD, was a strategy consultant at McKinsey, before launching the French subsidiary of Wimdu, Airbnb’s main competitor. As they reconnected and shared drinks, the two friends realized that their paths were somewhat similar: passionate about innovation, curious about everything, and driven by the same desire, after years in consulting, to start their own business.

They decided to join forces to launch their own company. After a few months of reflection, they concluded that the two main obsessions of the French were weight loss and the desire to quit smoking. The latter caught their attention, and they launched, the first connected electronic cigarette, which allows users to measure nicotine consumption and help smokers quit. At a time when everyone was talking about connected objects and electronic cigarettes, it was quite clever to combine the two, and this venture lasted a little less than two years before the company was acquired by a major player in the tobacco market.


An innovation fueled by experience

From this experience that got them started, the duo drew positive lessons, such as the pleasure of working together and the certainty of partnering again someday. But there were also disappointments, including all the frustrations entrepreneurs face daily: often nebulous financial management, billing systems that are not always suitable, sometimes complicated relationships with traditional bank advisors, and so on… This frustration with administrative burdens that consume so much time and energy, they turned into a strength by asking themselves: why not solve these problems and simplify entrepreneurs’ lives?

Alexandre Prot and Steve Anavi then envisioned the service they wished they had at the time. And so Qonto was born in 2016. A solution that would completely revolutionize financial management for SMEs, small businesses, and freelancers.


A new approach to banking services

Qonto is indeed the meeting of two worlds: traditional finance and support, with a whole range of daily management solutions from invoicing to VAT declarations or expense reports… So many services that free up time for what really matters: business, products, and customers. It is the integration of these two approaches that gives Qonto its strength as a “neobank.” For Alexandre, this foray into the banking sector is also a family legacy, as his father Baudouin Prot (H.72) is remembered for his management of the BNP Paribas group during the financial storm. In 2016, when Alexandre presented his project to him, he took no part in the venture but expressed his complete confidence. He was not mistaken.

Qonto now has 450,000 clients in four markets in Europe: France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, where Qonto recently acquired its main competitor. The media coverage of fundraising, combined with communication campaigns, has helped to make the company known and also to multiply hiring. With 1,400 employees, Qonto was ranked second in the FrenchWeb ranking of tech companies that attract talent. At each new hire, the two founders make it a point to be present and introduce the newcomers to the rest of the team.

Involved in the network for a long time, Alexandre Prot has managed to devote time to the HEC Startup Launchpad program, despite his booming business and family life, with three children to raise. He is a mentor and chairman of the jury of the HEC Paris Startup Launchpad, which allows students to create their startup in just eleven weeks. The 150 students of this 2024 edition will not soon forget his warm welcome and valuable advice.

Beyond entrepreneurial success and a taste for innovation, it is also these strong values of commitment, exchange, and transmission that earned Alexandre Prot the HEC of the Year Award in 2024.


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