Nobody would suggest that Silicon Valley is doing poorly. But as rents rise in the Bay Area, and immigration policies remain in flux, something is stirring across the Atlantic. A new startup campus in Paris is drawing big names and big attention, with famous tenants and fresh startups working side by side.
Named after the refurbished train station in which it was built, Station F is the largest startup space in the world. Built by a French telecoms billionaire and championed by the French government, Station F is a new beacon for startups and entrepreneurs in Europe and looks set to enhance the country’s business image. Here are just a few reasons why it’s got everyone so excited.
It’s drawing female entrepreneurs
Silicon Valley has a notorious issue with women, both as startup founders and non-HR employees. Europe is leading the way on this front, with 8 of the 10 top countries in the world for female entrepreneurs as of 2015. France is among these, and Station F is another sign of significant progress being made for startup diversity.
The French chapter of global organisation Girls In Tech was spun off into its own organisation several years ago, called StartHer. In October this year, they hosted Europe’s largest startup competition for female founders, with 363 applications from 30 countries. 40% of startups in Station F’s Founder scheme are women, and the space’s founder Xavier Niel told French President Emmanuel Macron that the ‘F’ stands for “France, Founders, and Femmes.”
France has had an issue in the past with scaling up businesses, but it’s always been a great place for startups – and particularly women. Strong support for unemployed people and easier access to grants, bank loans, and state investment are all especially useful when leaving an established career to start a business. It also helps that the former Microsoft executive and head of StartHer, Roxanne Varza, is Station F’s director.
Silicon Valley is widely considered the place to be, particularly if you’re a tech startup. But one major inhibiting factor for those looking to break through is the cost. Office space, apartments, and living expenses are notoriously high in San Francisco, to the extent that many businesses have to find investors before they can justify moving there.
Of course, the story is the same in many of the world’s capitals, including London, New York and Paris. Until now, that is. Station F demonstrates that with enough capital from founders and state support, small startups can mix it with the biggest players, and benefit from residing in global business hubs.
Station F is built around the notion of diversity as a positive force in business. As a result its office spaces are subsidised, with several tiers for applicants in different positions. Its ‘Fighters’ programme is entirely free, and particularly targets individuals from under-privileged backgrounds. Meanwhile, its flagship ‘Founders’ programme is only €195 ($226) per desk, an extremely reasonable rate for the heart of a major capital.
It’s made co-working glamorous
Co-working spaces have been a necessary and often thrilling component of startup ecosystems around the world. However, they have also been something of a necessity, and not always a pleasant one. Renowned for their cost-effectiveness in large cities, they can also suffer from inadequate facilities, and a lack of private space for businesses to breathe and think.
Compared to this, Station F is something of a utopian ideal. The enormous building offers numerous relaxation spaces, ‘creativity rooms’ with all manner of games and comfy chairs, gyms, shops and other amenities. Businesses have their own separate pod-like offices, but hundreds of similar businesses are always within reach – be it for coffee, idea sharing or problem-solving.
Starting a new business can be risky, isolating, and expensive. Station F has found a way to make it cool, exciting and affordable. The vibrancy of the working environment, connections to other startups and big businesses, convenience and comfort all make it a perfect environment for creativity – and thereby business – to flourish.
It’s bringing talent together
Positivity and altruism are contagious, and the buzz generated around Station F has brought some famous tenants. Alongside the myriad smaller pods for startup businesses, a number of multinationals have also moved in. Others meanwhile are sponsoring programmes, running courses, and offering opportunities to the smaller tenants.
French cosmetics giant L’Oreal has made Station F the base for its global beauty startup accelerator, taking on up to 20 early-stage startups from January 2018. Apple has committed a small Station F based team to help businesses develop their own apps, while rivals Microsoft have launched an artificial intelligence (AI) startup accelerator.
Facebook has launched a Station F ‘Startup Garage’ to nurture tech businesses, with plans to fund desks for 10-15 startups. Snap Inc, makers of Snapchat, have also opened an office, while French video game giants Ubisoft are hall sponsors, and have invested in five small companies. The project’s cachet is so big that it’s even reached the halls of power in France – as well as being visited by President Macron, former President Francois Hollande has invested in a Station F office, which he visits every Monday.
Station F has set the bar high for startup campuses everywhere and should inspire some copycats in major cities around the globe. But it’s only one element of an ecosystem that’s presenting serious competition to Silicon Valley. Similar initiatives are well underway in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere, with deals and funding increasing year on year.
The U.S. still has the upper hand when it comes to the biggest multinationals, and the influence they have on entrepreneurs and talent acquisition. But with Silicon Valley fighting rent pressures and a rocky political climate, countries like France are ideally positioned to spread the wealth that little bit further.