This article was published in Otherwise #5. Find the full version here>>
“Transform our country, shake it up, change it. It is your responsibility as much as mine.” President Emmanuel Macron, 2017.
So said French President Emmanuel Macron as he inaugurated France’s Station F start-up campus in the summer of 2017. His words were actually aimed far beyond the buzzing crowd, to urge an entire generation to create their own world by shaping the future. The vast Station F incubator project is a vivid reflection of French ambitions to launch a new wave of entrepreneurialism. The country has already become one of Europe’s top destinations for start-up activity, surpassing Germany in venture capital and funding and closing in on the continent’s leader, the UK. As Macron quipped, “Never forget that the word ‘entrepreneur’ comes from France.”
Indeed, France has been pulling out all the stops to increase its attractiveness to entrepreneurs. Programmes offering loans and grants to fund start-ups and accelerators have been created. Fast-track employment visas, relocation subsidies and free office space are luring foreign talent. New tax exemptions are being proposed for innovative companies. Vive l’innovation!
Based on the site of a former railway depot known as la Halle Freyssinet, the 34,000m2 space is the world’s biggest campus for start-ups, with room for more than 1,000 companies. Some say the “F” in the name refers to the railway station’s builder, Eugène Freyssinet, himself a gifted entrepreneur. Others suggest Station France, Station Founders or Station Femmes to reflect diversity. And soon, a 1,000-people restaurant with four kitchens and a bar will serve the public 24/7. There’s even housing for 600 entrepreneurs opening nearby in 2018. The site features a services and events area with auditorium, private meeting rooms, offices, public services for start-ups, a coffee shop, post office and more. Elsewhere in the building, there are 3,000 desks for start-ups.
The hub is financed by Xavier Niel, who revolutionized the French web and mobile market with his low-cost Free service. His idea behind Station F was to create a space for the ultimate start-up ecosystem, to support and empower young people from all backgrounds, including disadvantaged ones. “The best way to create a job is to create your own company” says Niel.
“We want to create a place where any French teenager can dream of going”, Xavier Niel, Founder of Station F.
Station F has partnered with tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Ubisoft, Korea’s Naver, Japan’s Line, start-up accelerator Numa and leading business schools… including EDHEC Business School.
The school recently opened a new branch of the EDHEC Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) at Station F, complementing its existing centers in Lille and Nice. The school’s incubator programme has 40 desks at Station F for EDHEC alumni with start-ups in the acceleration and/or fundraising phase and for entrepreneurs from the school’s MSc Entrepreneurship & Innovation (MSc E&I) programme.
Created in 2010, EYE provides free support to EDHEC Business School students and graduates for their start‑up projects. Since its founding, EYE has provided resources to 160 companies, generating 1,000 jobs, and helped raise more than €38 million.
The initiative to partner with Station F was spearheaded by a group of EDHEC alumni donors convinced of its importance for our school’s entrepreneurs. Start-ups chosen for further support benefit from Station F’s myriad activities that include thematic workshops, coaching and support in areas such as fundraising, pitch sessions, entrepreneurs’ cafes and co-design sessions.
“The projects hosted on the Station F campus have access to an exceptional ecosystem that is unique in the world and offers start-ups multiple advantages for continuing their development,” says EYE’s Director Jean-Michel Ledru. “We also want to make a proactive contribution to the success of Station F, an initiative that shares our philosophy based on innovation, co-construction, an outward-facing international approach and sectoral diversity.”
EYE is symbolic of EDHEC’s goal to integrate the academic and “real” world and enable initiatives that have a real impact on society: a great match for Station F. “A key part of our strategy for raising student awareness of entrepreneurship involves welcoming educational institutions onto the Station F campus,” says Station F Director, Roxanne Varza.
“We are delighted to count EDHEC, which stands out both for its ambition and the emphasis it places on diversity, as one of our partners.” Station F Director, Roxanne Varza.
EDHEC’s involvement with Station F reflects the school’s longstanding commitment to pedagogical innovation and a learning-by-doing approach. Other programmes that bridge the academic and real worlds include Explora and EDHEC PILab (Pedagogical Innovation Lab). PILab focuses on instilling pedagogical innovation and digital technologies into EDHEC teaching practices, turning previously static courses into dynamic, multi-channel learning trajectories and blended learning solutions. Workshops orient newly hired professors in pedagogical theory, introduce new technological tools and provide methodologies for case teaching and writing to maximize the student learning experience.
“EDHEC builds a real-world approach to getting things done into its programmes and teaching pedagogy and the professors it hires,” says Clare Gately, who teaches entrepreneurship and co‑directs EDHEC MSc Entrepreneurship & Innovation programme. “In addition to arming students with problem-solving, critical thinking and collaborative skills, we want to ensure that students have the ability to take action; that they’re able to take the initiative to lead rather than just talking about or planning what they’re going to do.”
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