At 34,000 sq. meters, Paris’ STATION F will be largest startup hub in the world when it opens April 2017
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Station F's front entrance rendered. The 1,000-company startup hub opens in Paris in April 2017 (courtesy)

STATION F promises to escalate the pan-European rivalry to be the continental capital of startups

The world’s largest startup hub to be announced last night that it is now accepting applications from early-stage companies to join when it open its doors in downtown Paris this coming April. STATION F will aim to be the epicenter of an ecosystem battling for the title of Europe’s top startup city.

“There are no appointed mentors, no useless partners, no mandatory workshops: we believe in our entrepreneurs’ independence and ambition,” STATION F Director Roxanne Varza said in a press release. The hub will also have the backing of Kima Ventures’ Xavier Niel.

The hub will redesign Freyssinet Hall designed by engineer Eugene Freyssinet in 1929. Renovated by Wilmotte & Associés, the 34,000-square-meter facility will hold 3,000 desks, private meeting rooms, private offices, a 360-capacity events hall, bar, cafe, restaurant and more amenities.

“We will have around 10 startup programs on campus, all focusing on different industry verticals or stages of development so that any startup can find what it needs,” Rachel Vanier, director of communications at STATION F, told Geektime. “We want both French and international startups there. Our openness to the world is of foremost importance. We didn’t implement any quotas right now but just look at our team: all together we’ve lived in 10 different countries!”

“There is no doubt we will make all the efforts necessary to welcome foreign entrepreneurs.”

The Station F team (courtesy)

The STATION F team with Director Roxanne Varza (3rd from left) and Director of Communications Rachel Vanier (3rd from right) (courtesy)

The €250 million building and remodeling project will house more than 1,000 – yeah, that’s right – 1,000 startups in a work space measured at 58 meters wide and 310 meters long, dimensions STATION F compares to the Eiffel Tower lying on its side.

The whole project is being financed by Xavier Niel, founder and majority shareholder at French ISP Iliad as well as co-owner of major French newspaper Le Monde. Neil bought the building in 2014 and started the project in October of that year.

Xavier Niel (CC BY 2.0 leweb3 via Wikimedia Commons)

Xavier Niel (CC BY 2.0 leweb3 via Wikimedia Commons)

“Startup growth will be leveraged by an unprecedented network effect and fostered by croissants – because yes, it’s going to be in Paris, France,” the station’s website read, at least before they updated it mid-day Monday.

From the second floor (courtesy)

From the second floor (courtesy)

In what might be an omen of dormitories to come, an extension of apartments that could hold 600 people will open in 2018. Between the three living towers will be 100 apartments, a sports center, another cafe and in pure startup fashion, another two bars.

Facebook, TechShop, vente-privee.com will all base their French operations out of STATION F. TechShop will operate a prototyping lab on campus and vente-privee.com, a major French e-commerce startup whose business is built on the flash sales model of limited-time, online offers, will run its own program.

The business school HEC Paris will move its incubator to the facility while VCs like Kima Ventures, Ventech, and Daphni will also open offices at the Paris hub.

Inside (courtesy)

Inside (courtesy)

When STATION F opens its doors in April 2017, desks will be going for €195 per month. Their Founders Program accepts early-stage startups that have a proof of concept or have met some level of their KPIs, and any companies wishing to enter the space or its programs can apply beginning today (December 5) through February 5, 2017

The place will be decked out: supposedly unlimited Wi-Fi (we’ll see how they handle 3,000 residents), access to printers, coffee, and snacks and the ambiguous promise of “loads of other surprises” according to the website, something which is only worth mentioning in this article because they mysteriously ask in parentheses, “Do you want a pony?”

If there are indeed ponies, you can bet Vermin Supreme will show up (CC BY 2.0 Marc Nozell via Wikimedia Commons)

If there are indeed ponies, you can bet Vermin Supreme will show up (CC BY 2.0 Marc Nozell via Wikimedia Commons)

Very few cities aspire to have this much startup activity consolidated under one roof, but it’s not unprecedented. Chicago’s 1871, neighbors with healthtech hub Matter, together housing over 600 startups on the same floor downtown in the Windy City.

Still, this would be a massive statement by Paris which has fallen behind London, Berlin, and Stockholm in terms of startup reputation. Despite that, Compass ranked the Parisian tech scene 11th in the world in 2015, behind the British and German capitals but far ahead of Scandinavian cities, Moscow, and Amsterdam.

“We visited places like the Factory in Berlin or Second Home in London,” Vanier tells Geektime, contrasting their project with that of other locations. “They are smaller and not 100% startup-focused but already do a great job at gathering players in one space.”

French tech means Paris tech according to Tech.eu, but there are other cities with tremendous potential (image, Tech.eu)

French tech means Paris tech according to Tech.eu’s 2015 report on French startup funding, but there are other cities with tremendous potential (image, Tech.eu)

Reputations sometimes precede entrepreneurs and their hometowns, whether or not they’re earned. In the case of Paris, the city deserves a second look by industry observers if they are unaware of the scene. With Brexit already giving people hesitation to expand to London and cities like Berlin and Dublin resurgent, we could be looking at a much more even playing field for the title of European startup capital by the end of 2017.

Paris is indisputably the capital of France’s startup ecosystem. While cities like Toulouse, Marseilles, and the northern village of Lille are definitely contributing to the French tech scene, none rival the capital. Stars of the French ecosystem include Spotify competitor Deezer, hardware company Parrot, video website Dailymotion, and European ride-sharing leader BlaBlaCar (which raised €182 million in 2015).

Halle Freyssinet under construction (courtesy)

Halle Freyssinet under construction (courtesy)

Of the €1 billion raised by French startups in 2015, €770 million of it was Parisian (though Tolousains will point to Sigfox’s €105 million round to get itself on the scoreboard).

Vanier believes strongly that Paris is the place to be, and that the startup world is about to face some big surprises coming out of the City of Light.

“STATION F will clearly shed the light on Paris as a place to be for startups, and it should: there is more and more capital available, the ecosystem is booming, startup culture is taking over. It’s a great time to build a startup in France. The city has been a great partner in this project!”

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