Published by Ronan Bryan on January 5, 2018, 6:21 pm in Promotion, Blog post
If you are interested in innovation, entrepreneurship and changing the world - and want to be inspired - then book a trip to Paris and visit the extraordinary STATION F as soon as possible in the New Year. If you are also interested in renovation, regeneration and architecture, you'll be in for a real treat.
Station F is a converted railway station in Paris (13° arrondisement, 40 minutes' walk from Notre Dame) that opened in June 2017 as the “biggest startup campus in the world”. How big? Well, lie the Eiffel Tower on its side and you’ll get an idea of the length. Then imagine enough space for 3,000 start-up desks, lots of open space, a “makerspace” with 3D printers and prototyping machinery, lots of space for meetings, events and networking and you’ll begin to get an idea of the breath-taking scale. On the other hand, railway stations in world-leading cities tend not to come in small packages...
Did I forget to mention space for eating? In the coming months, an Italian-themed restaurant – Mamma F – will open at Station F with 1,000 covers, tables in 4 vintage train carriages and will be open 24x7. It’ll be the biggest restaurant in Europe. When I visited 3 weeks ago I snacked more frugally at Station F, but still stylishly of course, at The Station Café: as much coffee, cakes and cereal as you want in 60 minutes for €5.
As a business eco-system with powerful investment, academic and government links – and with 100% focus on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship - Station F will become one of the most potent symbols of a French economic renaissance under President Emmanuel Macron. But impressively, it's even more ambitious than that.
Station F founder and visionary Xavier Niel is a self-made billionaire entrepreneur and investor that grew up in the tough banlieues of Paris. Welcomed enthusiastically by the French establishment – although it still has a surprisingly low profile amongst Parisiens – Station F is categorically not a bastion of inward-looking French elitism. Diversity and an international outlook are at its core.
Each start-up applicant has to choose from 1 of 3 “F” programmes: Founders, Fighters or Fellowship. The “Fighters” programme is for entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds, is free of charge and requires a 1 year commitment. In an interview with Business Insider, Mr. Niel said: “[It's for] people who are not — how do you say it — classic, white, Catholic. We ought to have a lot of diversity in this place, to have more diversity in Paris."
The Station F Director, Roxanne Varza, 32, is an Iranian-American - born in Palo Alto, California - and previously the head of French Microsoft start-up activities and the editor of TechCrunch France.
In August, Ms Varga wrote: “for just 1 of the 26 programs at Station F, we received 2,300 applications from over 50 different countries. The top countries included the US, the UK and China — in that order (and India was a close 4th). ....other locations as well ….Nepal, Jamaica, Senegal, Uzbekistan and more.” She added that the Founders programme Selection Board, “is made of up 100 experienced entrepreneurs from 21 different countries and …all of our 26 different programs accept startups from around the world. For example, …Shakeup Factory (foodtech) and Vente Privée’s Impulse Factory (fashiontech). …we also have some programs entirely dedicated to international startups.”
Later this year Station F will open a housing extension with “co-living”, affordable, accommodation for 600 entrepreneurs in 3 towers, each with 100 appartments, that is 10 minutes away from the campus. All of this to "provide entrepreneurs from all around the world an all-inclusive access to Station F's campus".
Even the street address of Station F sends an international message: 5, Parvis Alan Turing - in honour of the World War II Enigma code-breaker and father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence - which only just beat “Rue Steve Jobs” in the final vote a year ago.
In comparing this Parisian project with London projects in terms of scale and ambition, Station F is probably somewhere between the stunning and huge 30-year Kings Cross regeneration project and the FRANCIS CRICK INSTITUTE for biomedical research and innovation next door to it – but driven by one man and dedicated to multi-sector startups and innovation.
The internationally-recognised TECH CITY idea in London (see DZ article MARKET: Startup Successes to Tech Nation) was a government-sponsored branding campaign, rather than a meticulously planned economic development project. “Silicon Roundabout” - a grass roots business revival on the fringes of the City of London, driven by cheap rents for internet start-ups - got the ball rolling. Government encouragement for Facebook, Google and investors to join in certainly added real value - once the party had already started.
As a stand-alone engine for growth and renewal, Station F is very different. It includes: the infrastructure and community in 1 single location; a vision for a new business eco-system; multiple strategies to provide what entrepreneurs really need; partnerships with large corporates, investors, academics and government; and an international focus from day 1.
Xavier Niel bought the Halle Freyssinet railway building in 2013. In just 4 years, a demolition-ready ruin was transformed into an iconic blueprint for worldwide enterprise and innovation.
In terms of national sign-posting, the UK has grabbed world attention with Brexit. France has offered Station F (as well as, bien sur, Macron and En Marche). Arguably, the 2 signs are pointing in different directions, but by 2028 we’ll be able to judge the positive effects of both. I know which one I’d put my money on.
Ronan Bryan, CEO, Directorzone.
PS We'd be interested to hear from UK companies based at Station F, to hear how you are getting on. To reach us, please click here.