Welcome to Halle Freyssinet, a former freight depot converted into a giant startup incubator. Re-named Station F, today the 34,000m² premises hosts the young French startups close to Xavier Niel’s heart. Whilst small companies are the building’s lifeblood, they’re not alone. Big businesses have also set up camp in this innovation hotbed. So why are small and large companies alike working together, and what does the digital French Touch landscape look like?
Station F in figures
Do you know how many companies can fit into a 34,000m² space? It’s 1,000. At least that’s what Xavier Niel and incubator director Roxanne Varza have in mind. 200 startups were selected via the Founders Program to join the space on a full-time basis, and 800 more have been accommodated thanks to partnerships between Station F and big business.
The Halle Freyssinet building was bought by the founder of Free in 2013, took 4 years to renovate and cost €250 million. Xavier Niel is the sole owner, as with Ecole 42.
The 3,000 entrepreneurs expected to join the incubator can benefit from 23 accelerator programmes, with vast opportunities in healthcare, tech, multimedia, banking, retail, green tech, and engineering. Of all these programmes, 10 of them are run by large corporations.
An immense business network
Station F doesn’t function by itself. Thanks to organisations covering the major sectors, budding startups can grow their idea within a safe and solid framework. Each large company designs its own programme and guides entrepreneurs in the design or development of their project. As for the partners, you’ll find market leaders such as Vente Privée, Leroy Merlin, Facebook, Airbnb and Amazon. These big names in the B2C world are offering creators infinite testing grounds.
The investment funds are represented by Daphni, Ventech and Kima Ventures, Xavier Niel’s fund. They guide the most promising companies in their technical, commercial, or financial development. Their complementary approaches come together to help companies transition from early stage to internationalisation.
Public players are broken down into two categories: on the one hand, you have the technophiles with the French Tech and BpiFrance, and on the other, INPI or CNIL (for mandatory data freedom reasons). Entrepreneurs have all the help they need to launch their project as early as possible.
A closer look at Facebook’s “Startup Garage”
Station F has scaled up since Mark Zuckerberg’s involvement. The principle of the “Startup Garage” is to incubate around 15 independent startups for 6 months. They can use the time to work on the 80 desks and workspaces, benefit from personalised advice as well as weekly workshops led by industry experts. Facebook is reducing the applications sent to companies looking to develop services that are useful for everyday life, education, transport and healthcare.
What’s in it for the corporations?
The combination of fast growth and a large market is the winning formula in the startup-corporation partnership. When one knows how to innovate, offering the services of tomorrow and evolving as quickly as consumer uptake does, the other gains notoriety, widespread influence and supersonic means.
On the one hand, the alliance allows a startup to test their idea on a concrete market and, on the other, to boost their growth by adding a new string to their bow. As Jacques-Antoine Granjon of vente-privée.com sums it up: “in the digital age, where the competition is no longer between the “small and large” but rather the “slow and fast” players, we are accelerating our open innovation strategy by partnering with Station F”.
With this immense space for aspiring talent, Xavier Niel has made a daring, but well-planned, bet on the future. In an age of technophiles, happy days lie ahead for tool or usage-based innovation. The students from Ecole 42, who we imagine to already be investing in the Halle Freyssinet premises, are unlikely to say differently. The challenge has been set for other corporations to let themselves be tempted by the dawning of new practices.