La French Tech – How Station F Leads France’s Startup Ecosystem

Jo Goodson

Silicon Valley and London aren’t the only hotbeds for starting tech businesses – Paris is working hard to build its own tech ecosystem. Successful tech companies have emerged in France in the past, such as Deezer and Dailymotion. Now, founders in France want to recreate these successes on a larger scale, boosted by a government-backed body called La French Tech. The centre of this movement is Paris’ Station F, the world’s biggest startup incubator. With uncertainty surrounding Brexit, could the City of Lights overtake London as Europe’s start-up capital?

What is La French Tech?

La French Tech is a government-supported organisation designed to promote France as a great place to start a tech business. It also aims to keep tech businesses based in France once they have scaled, rather than move to London or the States. La French Tech promotes investment in native startups and puts on events all over the world to get people talking about France. Owing to these efforts, La French Tech has become a nickname for the French tech ecosystem, from bioscience to online marketplaces and everything in between.

While La French Tech is generally seen as a good thing, some people question whether promoting startups is a good use of public money. This is especially pertinent when private investors are happy to take the reins, as with Station F.

What is Station F?

Station F is the biggest start-up hub in the world and the epicentre of Paris’ tech ecosystem. Some Station F facts:

  • Founded in June 2017
  • Station F measures 366,000 square feet and growing
  • Currently home to more than 1000 start-ups
  • Facebook and Microsoft run incubators at Station F
  • It costs €195 per desk per month to base a start-up at Station F

Station F was founded by Xavier Niel, the billionaire French telecoms entrepreneur. Niel invested €250 million in Station F, aiming to set up a place where French startups have everything they need to grow. Station F is a destination for Silicon Valley titans too, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Sam Altman, who come to speak at Station F when in Europe.

The launch of Station F was not entirely smooth, however. Its opening was delayed by flooding and when it eventually opened, many of its operations were not ready.

Station F, Paris. Jeff Koons Sculpture. Copyright: Sharon VanderKaay.

Station F Success Stories

Startups based at Station F are already finding success. The biggest headline involved recast.ai, a chatbot builder based in Microsoft’s AI incubator at Station F. Recast.ai was acquired by SAP in January 2018 for an undisclosed amount. Hundreds more start-ups at Station F are completing big funding rounds.

Start-ups are finding success at Station F because a true community has sprung up there, where businesses realise they are part of something bigger and are happy to support each other. If a startup founder at Station F encounters a problem, it’s likely someone sitting a few feet away has faced that problem before and can help them overcome it. This sense of community is invaluable: it’s what has made Station F the place that every startup in Paris wants to be.

The successes and positive image of Station F are inspiring founders and would-be founders all over France. A recent survey found that 60% of young people in France had ambitions to start a business.  

The Future For La French Tech

The future looks positive for Station F. It is planning extension projects, including restaurants, bars and even apartments. Entrepreneurs won’t ever have to leave Station F if they don’t want to! Station F is also looking at extending to other countries via a franchise model.

For La French Tech as a whole, the future is also bright. French startups are attracting more investment than ever before. France’s rival for startup supremacy in Europe, the UK, is going through a massive period of uncertainty because of Brexit. On the other hand, France’s economy is facing its own upheaval. The recent ‘yellow vest’ protests have shown that change is difficult to implement in France.

There will be challenges ahead for La French Tech, but Station F Paris is undoubtedly leading the way for a more entrepreneurial future for France.

Jo Goodson

Managing Director

Over the past 25 years, Jo has founded, led, advised and invested in tech companies – shaping them into industry disruptors in the internet, gaming software and entertainment sectors.

She now provides the leadership and structure that enables Hampleton’s dealmakers and their teams execute multi-million-pound transactions for their clients across borders worldwide.

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