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Talent Unleashed – Startup City #8 Paris

Vive la revolution!

Incubé, Innové, Exité

A revolution is sweeping the streets of Paris. Whereas Robespierre and Danton put the ancient regime to the guillotine – today’s tech visionaries are putting the business establishment on notice, as a wave of entrepreneurs and innovative ideas run riot in this city of extreme passion.

Traditionally, France has not been gratefully receiving of outside tech. Up until 2012, it had its own version of the web, Minitel. This mindset, however, is quickly changing thanks to a few powerful advocates of technological advancement.

city scape view of Paris

Cityscape view of Paris

Pillars to allow a start-up ecosystem to flourish? Oui, oui, oui!

French President, Emmanuel Macron, could not have timed his entrance better. A major proponent of the tech and startup sector, he rallied local and central government support to promote Paris as a startup hub. This mirrors efforts of venture capital firms and wealthy individuals, who are collectively establishing the different components required for a tech ecosystem.

While Macron worked on this before he was elected, he has increased the intensity of his efforts since becoming president. For example, the Macron Law was established to simplify labour laws and remove the complexity of hiring talent. Then there’s La French Tech, an accreditation initiative created by the government to promote the start-up scene in French cities. French Tech Ticket is another government-sponsored initiative. The competition gives entrepreneurs from around the world the opportunity to create their start-up in France. Winners are given financial support, resident permits and access to networking, mentoring and coaching sessions.

Perhaps the most defining act is Macron’s aim to reduce corporate and capital gains tax rates – a historical pain point for France when it came to inviting investment. This alone would encourage more investors to fund companies in France.

French Revolution – 2.0?

Supporting the president’s effort are France’s own start-up superstars, such as Xavier Niel, who are looking to give back to a cause they’re passionate about. Niel’s Station F opened in Paris last year. It is now the world’s largest start-up incubator with the capacity to accommodate up to 1,000 start-ups and corporate partners. In fact, Facebook operates Startup Garage within the space and hosts up to 15 data-focused start-ups on a six-monthly cycle. Station F also hosts Microsoft’s incubator programme, which is aimed at AI based start-ups (appropriate given that France leads the deep tech space after the UK). This year Station F will launch its co-living extension that will house an additional 600 entrepreneurs.

station f paris

Outside views of Station F

But Niel isn’t stopping at Station F. Ecole 42 is a nonprofit and tuition-free computer programming school funded by the French billionaire. It is merit-based and aims to liberalise the education system by offering a free education to successful applicants, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Opened in Paris in 2013, another campus opened in Fremont California in 2016.

ecole 42 building
Inside the modern Ecole 42 building

The fruit of Macron and Niel’s labour is paying off. Paris came second to London in the number of venture capital deals in Europe over the last three years, with investment totalling $2.7 billion. In 2016, the city had the largest number of capital raising than any other European country and future projections show continued improvement. With Brexit in full motion, Paris is set to take out its European rival, London.

A major factor in Paris’s favour is that it is already a hotspot for Fortune 500 companies, many of which are now keen to get involved in the start-up ecosystem. This further improves opportunities to access capital as a start-up.

These recent changes all point to one thing – Paris is likely to become the home of more billion-dollar “licorne (unicorn) startups” like BlaBlaCar. It looks like the Talent Unleashed Awards might need to launch in Paris to give French start-ups the opportunity to show what they’re made of!

Croissants, cheese and startups, we say!

arc de triomphe

The famous Arc de Triomphe of Paris

France fun facts

  • If you’re ever in the mood for reading, then you’re in the right place. Paris has more libraries than any other city in the world – 830 in total.
  • If you also like baguettes, you can read and eat at one of Paris’s 1,784 bakeries.
  • Beneath Paris lies a dark, subterranean world, known as the Paris Catacombs, that hold the remains of six million of its former inhabitants. The catacombs are a network of caves, quarries and tunnels, lined with the bones of the dead, that stretch hundreds of miles. Spooky!
  • Want to climb the Eiffel Tower? Go for it, but be warned, there are 1,665 steps. Might want to take the lift instead.
  • The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum. It’s no surprise, then, that it would take you 100 days to view every piece of art if you spent 30 seconds at each.
  • Tourists have been attaching “love locks” to the Pont des Arts since 2008. Turns out there was more love than the bridge could handle – the weight of the locks causing concern to city council and locals, who have since started a campaign to stop the romantic gesture.
  • Entrepreneur is a French word literally meaning ‘to take from the middle’. Until the recent tech boom, it was generally associated with more suspect and shady business activities (think Delboy from Only Fools and Horses). Of course, it is now a badge of honour worn by many.