Are French startups founded in France?
Paris opens the world's largest start-up campus
For decades, freight trains were loaded and unloaded in the huge hall. The "Halle Freyssinet" built in the 1920s near the Parisian train station Austerlitz was once a landmark for logistical efficiency and architectural elegance. Today, however, goods are no longer transshipped here, but ideas for setting up companies. The "Station F" officially opened its doors on Thursday evening. According to the organizers, around 1000 start-up companies are housed there. This makes the hall the largest start-up campus in the world. Of course, the French President Emmanuel Macron carried out the inauguration himself. The start-up companies are supposed to be the symbol of France's awakening.
The French telecom entrepreneur Xavier Niel is behind the project and is committed to promoting business founders and training young people. With the establishment of the telecom company Free, he became a billionaire and now works largely as a patron. For example, he founded the “42” school in Paris, which primarily trains computer programmers with a new educational concept without a teacher. A ten-minute walk from Station F, Niel will soon inaugurate three apartment blocks in which the entrepreneurs can live not far from their place of work.
At 34,000 square meters, Station F is the largest and newest campus with which Paris wants to push itself to the fore in the international start-up scene. There are around 50 so-called incubators in the capital, reports Deputy Mayor Jean-Louis Missika. There are many more all over France. "Is France the world champion in creating incubators?" Asked Etienne Krieger from the HEC management school last year and referred to the "Colbertist tradition" of France in relation to the mercantilist minister Colbert from the time of Louis XIV. The state development bank BPI now finances 3,800 start-ups, more than double what it was three years ago. What counts is undisputed success, says Vice Mayor Missika. “We are also attracting more and more companies from abroad.” In Paris, the founding companies usually benefit from cheap office space and advice, for example, for drawing up a business plan, establishing contacts with investors, partners or auditors. The start-up centers have names such as Cargo, 104, Tremplin, Agoranov or La Ruche and some of them specialize in individual industries. Some also call themselves “Accélérateur” (accelerator or gas pedal) because they offer more intensive care. Private-sector models such as the providers The Family or Numa are also available to support start-ups, but in return require participation in the capital.
A number of funding programs are intended to fuel the start-up fever. The city of Paris finances around four-week stays by German and other foreign start-ups in Paris. Conversely, the city of Berlin and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry are bringing French start-up companies to the German capital. This is how the energy system provider Aelectra from Berlin got to know Paris over the past four weeks. Matthias Zeller, Head of Strategy and Foreign Marketing, heard from external speakers how to address investors in France, how to deal with the media, how to find staff and customers. He is convinced of the usefulness of such initiatives, especially since apart from travel and accommodation expenses, they were free. As a supplier of electric heating foils, France is an interesting market for Aelectra because the French use many electric heating systems. The company with its ten employees now wants to expand in a targeted manner on the French market. “France is a high-tech country. There is a real spirit of optimism here today. The French start-ups have a lot of potential, ”says Zeller.
In Station F there are also established companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Vente-Privée or the HEC management school. They also want to feed the founding companies and at the same time be inspired by them. There is also a special support program for people from the socially strained neighborhoods. Even the former President François Hollande has opened an office there for his newly established foundation, which is supposed to promote "the social and solidarity-based economy".
The head of Station F is the Palo Alto-born American Roxanne Varza. The 32-year-old manager is convinced of France as a location. “It's getting tight and expensive in Silicon Valley,” she says. Donald Trump is also not the best location advertisement for America, and on top of that, Brexit is driving the founders out of London. The rental costs in Station F are attractive: 195 euros per month for a workplace. The initiator Niel is said to have invested 250 million euros in his campus. “It may be an investment that isn't quite as idiotic as giving the money to my kids. Because they are probably just doing stupid things, ”said Niel.
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