French Tech Billionaire Sees Paris Rivaling Silicon Valley

Updated on
  • New giant incubator aims to draw investors and inventors
  • French capital jumps from No. 10 to No. 3 and aims for No. 2

French billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel sees Paris rivaling Silicon Valley as a technololgy hub. He speaks with Bloomberg's Caroline Connan on 'Bloomberg Markets.' (Source: Bloomberg)

French billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel aims to put Paris on par with Silicon Valley for technology investment and innovation and has built a gleaming startup incubator in the city to host those ambitions.

“People think in France it’s complicated and tough to create startups and become successful,” Niel said in a Bloomberg TV interview Thursday in the French capital. “It’s why we need this kind of initiative, to create cases which can help our country to become the biggest country for tech in the world. We hope we’ll have the next Facebook here.”

Niel’s push to encourage entrepreneurs echoes supportive talk from France’s newly elected president, who has called to make the country “a startup nation.” Making an appearance at Station F, a 34,000-square-meter (366,000-square-foot) former freight station Niel spent 250 million euros ($269 million) to transform into a startup campus, President Emmanuel Macron encouraged his citizens to “shake things up and make your country change. France has to be a country where anyone can be successful."

One of France’s richest people, Niel wants to attract thousands of technology entrepreneurs, investors and inventors to his 3,000 desks for rent and numerous plush hangout areas in the glass-and-concrete complex near the Seine. Companies including Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and video-game designer Ubisoft Entertainment SA, as well as venture-capital firms including Daphni and Ventech, have vowed to make staff available at the campus to advise and accompany entrepreneurs.

After making his fortune by creating low-cost phone operator Iliad SA, Niel has played a key role in helping shape France’s growing startup ecosystem not only as a business angel investor, but also by backing projects like tuition-free coding school 42. Britain’s exit from the European Union may give him an opportunity to boost Paris’ profile on the global tech scene.

“We used to be the 10th biggest city for tech in the world, now we’re No. 3 behind London and we should become No. 2,” Niel said.

For more on Niel, check out the Decrypted podcast:

(Updates with comments from Macron in third paragraph.)
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