Startup hub re­flects Macron’s chang­ing French econ­omy

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

FOR a glimpse at Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s vi­sion for the new French econ­omy, look no far­ther than Sta­tion F.

En­trepreneurs don vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles and share ideas with busi­ness an­gels in this old Paris train sta­tion­turned-startup in­cu­ba­tor.

The buzzing busi­ness cen­ter founded by tele­com ty­coon Xavier Niel hosts over 3,500 peo­ple, all hop­ing to see some of the 1,000 star­tups based here bloom into a global firm ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing with Sil­i­con Val­ley be­he­moths.

It’s part of what Macron hopes is a fun­da­men­tal shift in the French econ­omy, which con­firmed this week that it’s back on the up­swing af­ter years of stag­na­tion.

Niel, who rev­o­lu­tionised tele­coms in France in the early 2000s, says young startup en­trepreneurs look at Macron’s me­te­oric rise to the pres­i­dency and think: “You can be pres­i­dent when you are 39 years old. You were no­body two or three years ago. ... can’t I cre­ate the big­gest startup in the world by start­ing now? A guy can be­come the French pres­i­dent so can’t I cre­ate some­thing big, alone, when I’m 25 or 30 years old?”

With the sup­port of Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo and then-pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, Niel founded Sta­tion F in 2017 to bring to­gether young and ea­ger startup man­agers, fi­nan­cial play­ers and key pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions in an ef­fort to de­velop France’s bud­ding tech ecosys­tem.

The vast space hums with en­ergy and elec­tronic de­vices, as its mostly youth­ful workers take breaks around multi-colored so­fas, or bounce ideas off each other in shared meet­ing rooms.

Sta­tion F in­cludes peo­ple from mul­ti­ple coun­tries. Niel is notably keen to at­tract tal­ented peo­ple look­ing to leave Lon­don as Brexit looms, and is among a group of startup en­ter­preneurs and tech fig­ures trav­el­ing with Macron on a trip to Africa this week.

“We need to cre­ate - we need th­ese star­tups to build to­mor­row’s big com­pa­nies and to do that we need to at­tract tal­ents from as many places as pos­si­ble,” Niel, CEO of Iliad and founder of cod­ing school 42, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Among en­trepreneurs thriv­ing off Sta­tion F’s at­mos­phere is Gil­das Dus­sauze, who founded vir­tual re­al­ity so­cial plat­form Vir­tuoz just un­der three years ago and spends most of his wak­ing hours in search of clients and cash to fi­nally start pay­ing his staff of six.

“The com­bi­na­tion of Sta­tion F and Macron, yes, it has turned France’s im­age up­side down, in a good way. It’s an im­age of au­dac­ity, youth, en­thu­si­asm,” he told The AP.

Not ev­ery­thing is per­fect. Dus­sauze said France’s bank­ing bu­reau­cracy “is not in sync with star­tups.”

But Sta­tion F in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from French in­sti­tu­tions like the pub­lic postal ser­vice La Poste and em­ploy­ment of­fice Pole Em­ploi, in an ef­fort to make star­tups a more in­te­gral part of the na­tional econ­omy.

Dus­sauze says they are “have com­pletely changed the way they talk to us and have adapted to our needs.”

Macron’s elec­tion last May, his re­lent­less pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign to put France back onto the world map of in­no­va­tion and a chang­ing busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment have fu­eled a quick shift in the coun­try’s im­age.

France’s econ­omy grew 1.9 per­cent in 2017, its high­est level since 2011, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased Tuesday. That’s partly be­cause of Macron but also be­cause of an im­prov­ing cli­mate Eu­rope-wide and mea­sures taken un­der his pre­de­ces­sor.

Still, Macron has boosted in­vestor con­fi­dence. The state sta­tis­tics agency’s busi­ness con­fi­dence in­di­ca­tor hit its high­est point in a decade in De­cem­ber, across mul­ti­ple sec­tors.

The startup sec­tor re­mains a rel­a­tively small piece of the French econ­omy but Macron, Niel and the res­i­dents of Sta­tion F are bank­ing on it to grow.

Macron is notably try­ing to shake up la­bor laws that had fa­vored big, tra­di­tional firms and made it dif­fi­cult for small busi­nesses to set up, hire and lay off workers when mar­kets shift. He also abol­ished the wealth tax, to the joy of ty­coons like Niel and anger of the left-wing op­po­si­tion.

“Dur­ing the cam­paign, he was re­ally pro-star­tups, pro-busi­ness and by hav­ing him as pres­i­dent it helps this ecosys­tem we have in Paris,” Niel said. “Now, from a global point of view and in any coun­try you can go, peo­ple are al­ways talk­ing about Macron be­ing elected and how it’s a big change for France.”

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