Interview: Catherine de Vulpillières, Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder of EvidenceB

Educapital
5 min readMar 27, 2024

Catherine de Vulpillières is the Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder of EvidenceB. This former literature professor and member of the external jury for Modern Literature aggregation now works alongside her husband Thierry de Vulpillières and serial entrepreneur Didier Plasse to develop new adaptive and differentiated learning modules through AI and cognitive sciences, for the benefit of all education systems.

How does one go from teacher to EdTech entrepreneur?

Indeed, I was a literature teacher for a significant part of my professional life, teaching students from 6th grade up to preparatory classes. I also wrote my thesis while also engaging in textbook publishing activities. Through all these experiences, it’s true that I gained a deep understanding and experience within the national education system. But before that, I completed a scientific baccalaureate.

Why did you choose literature?

With a bit of critical distance, I believe I saw scientific studies as more challenging at the time, which discouraged me from pursuing that path. It was in the 80s, and biases certainly influenced my choices. Although, even today, we can see through the numbers that things haven’t evolved much at that level. I’ve always been passionate about literature but also about science. In fact, it’s fundamental for me today to work towards real inclusion, regardless of gender. When it comes to basic knowledge, the personalization we offer with EvidenceB involves differentiated pedagogy, which allows the inclusion of all students, girls and boys. It matters to me that girls feel empowered to pursue scientific studies.

You mentioned your passion for algorithms and interactions with researchers in your team?

I’ve always had a strong interest in business and operations. I worked for two years in a consulting firm shortly after completing my studies, focusing on change management. It’s not surprising that I now lead innovation at EvidenceB. This company is somewhat the conjunction of both Thierry’s (company co-founder) and my careers. In 2017, when we founded the company, I came with my expertise and knowledge of the education sector, and of the difficulties faced by teachers, students, parents, etc. He was finishing his adventure at Microsoft, focusing on digital missions related to education and research. We felt it was the right time to embark on another adventure, this time an entrepreneurial one.

Was there a particular teacher who left a lasting impact on you?

I belong to the first generation in my family to pursue higher education. In fifth grade, one of my teachers advised my parents and convinced them to enroll me in a different middle school than the one near our home. Looking back, this teacher really wanted to make sure that all her pupils had a chance. It really stuck with me. And I know how difficult it is as a teacher to individually support each student to the best of your ability. That’s what we do with EvidenceB. We support teachers in deploying differentiated pedagogy and ensure nobody gets left behind. It’s crucial that as many children as possible benefit from it worldwide. We’re currently experimenting in the New York district with a million students, half of whom are at risk of dropping out. Technology isn’t an end but a means.

Have any women inspired you throughout your professional journey?

Yes, I think of Sheryl Sandberg and her famous “Have it all.” I have three daughters and I’d love them to be able to say that they can have it all, one thing at a time. Even if we can be extremely happy without children, for those who choose to become mothers, there is still a definite time for it. And career time is undeniably a man’s time. It’s not made for women. Once they’re more available, they’re often considered too old. We need to advocate for more role models beyond the age of 50. For women, the reassurance that other women thrive and have beautiful careers at any age is crucial. It comforted me a lot, especially when I was dealing with diapers, sick children, etc., to know that I still had time afterward to realize myself professionally.

What role have women played in your career?

To be completely honest, I often found that women were very tough on each other. And I can understand, it takes a lot of generosity to look with kindness at other women doing what we haven’t done or having what we haven’t had. But I recall a former inspector general. I had my four children, was simultaneously doing my thesis, editing textbooks, and teaching in secondary school. I thought I was capable of changing levels and teaching in preparatory classes. The inspector in charge of evaluating my position change opposed it. During our interview, he asked me if having four children was compatible with this desire and explained how complicated it would be. I had alerted some associations at the time. A few years later, another inspector was appointed. She had heard about my story and was outraged. She did what was necessary for me to change positions.

Over the years, have you noticed any changes in this area?

Perhaps a bit, yes, but I also notice, especially in the entrepreneurial environment, a sort of injunction towards modesty for women. It’s believed that if their company is profitable, that’s enough, and maybe there’s no need to raise funds or grow even more. I’m not saying that fundraising is mandatory. Talking about a path doesn’t mean everything is lost if you choose not to take it in the end. But you should have the choice. The discourse on growth remains very gendered. Behind it, still lies the idea that the activities of an expanding company are not compatible with the personal lives of women. And it’s true that women may ask themselves these kinds of questions. But it should be true for men too. Both men and women have choices to make at different stages of their lives.

Do you think you’ve been able to convey this message to your own daughters?

One of my three daughters is studying engineering. When she was in preparatory school, she came home one day outraged. Out of her class, only two girls, including herself, signed up for the Polytechnique entrance exam, while all the boys in the class automatically registered, regardless of their level. She was revolted and didn’t understand. At that moment, I thought, well, I haven’t completely failed (laughs).

Catherine de Vulpillières’s Proust Questionnaire

Your favorite professional task?

Testing my product.

Your number one quality?

It’s also a flaw, but it’s perfectionism.

The quality you seek in others?

Goodwill, using the term in an old-fashioned sense: problem solver, ultimately.

The technology that fascinates you?

Of course, Artificial Intelligence.

The one you hate?

None, I believe. Technology is a tool, so it depends on how it’s used.

The street missing from your favorite city?

I can’t think of one, but I love the fog street (rue du Brouillard) in Montmartre.

An object that inspires you?

I think of 17th-century landiers in an old house with a fireplace. It doesn’t make any sense, but it inspires me to escape to something.

Interview by Zoélie Adam-Maurizio for Educapital

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