Based in the former railway depot, nestled in Paris’ 13th arrondissement with more than 3,000 desks, Station F is the ultimate destination for blossoming French tech companies. The pit stop, a project funded by telecom billionaire Xavier Niel with a €250 million investment, has already played host to more than 1,000 start-ups and gives companies a workspace for a fraction of the cost of its competitors.
Desks in the incubator cost around €195 a month, which Station F’s director Roxanne Varza says is about half of the rent anywhere else in the French capital. Before Station F, Varza supervised Microsoft’s start-up interests and activity in France. Prior to that, she advised Silicon Valley firms setting up operations in France and was the editor of TechCrunch France.
Between 20 and 25 percent of the people working under the accelerator’s roof are from overseas, hailing from over 50 countries. The project was officially opened by French President Emmanuel Macron in June 2017 as part of the attempt to take the crown of Europe’s start-up capital from London.
The country already sits above Germany and the UK with regards to investment volume and the influx of business activity. Names like Facebook, Microsoft and L’Oreal moving under Station F’s roof have brought an increase in property value to Paris’ 13th arrondissement located in the southeastern part of the city.
The beauty of the project is that those who are working in it will be surrounded by people going through the same experiences. As Varza said in an interview with Forbes, “With the volume of startups we have, any problem they have, there’s someone sitting 5 feet away from them that have encountered the exact same problem and they can help.” It is similar to the culture that is encouraged within Google Campus in East London.
The start-up incubator has already drawn big names like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Argentina President Mauricio Macri to experience the ins and outs of the biggest start-up incubator in the world.
The operation has been running for less than a year but it has already had success stories unfold within it. A Parisian chatbot business named recast.ai was already snapped up by SAP from Microsoft’s AI Programme in January 2018. Start-ups working at the location have also raised funds to continue their development because the accelerator has brought them to the attention of the sorts of investors they are trying to appeal to.
Varza recounts that innovators in France have historically been “small and scattered,” and with Xavier Niel and her team, she aims to bring the most promising businesses in the country together under the same roof. There are already plans for expansion with a co-living residential space that can accommodate 600 entrepreneurs already in the works and due to be ready in 2018. With only a year under its belt, Station F’s has the potential to soon be both the biggest start-up campus in the world and the best.