If there’s one industry Emmanuel Macron has sought to tie his political fortunes to since storming to victory in France’s presidential election last May, it’s technology.
Barely a month after he entered the Elysee Palace, the world’s largest start-up incubator opened its doors on the other side of Paris, bringing hi-tech buzz to the French capital.
Station F, created by telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel, an ally of the president, had long been in the works. But the timing of its opening — and the fact Macron attended it — has created a connection between the two.
So after a year in office, has Macron, a 40-year-old former investment banker and self-confessed tech champion, managed to breathe new life into French entrepreneurship?
Roxanne Varza, a 33-year-old Iranian-American whom Niel put in charge of Station F, is quick to emphasize that France’s start-up scene didn’t begin with Macron. But she acknowledges that the president’s youth, energy and enthusiasm have raised its profile, stimulating the flow of ideas and investment.
“It’s not something that changed from one day to the next as soon as he arrived,” said Varza, a fluent French speaker and former start-up adviser at Microsoft France.
“(But) we’ve definitely seen a lot of international funds, international entrepreneurs, starting to get more interested in coming to or coming back to France to create their business,” since he took office, she told Reuters.
“We’ve really seen him send a pro-business message, and a lot of investors have taken hold of that.”
Since its opening last June, Station F, occupying a vast train depot in the edgy southeast of Paris, has taken in around 2,000 start-ups, with entrepreneurs from the United States, Britain, China and India, alongside France.
As well as providing an environment for ideas to percolate and grow, the incubator houses venture capital, private equity and other early-stage investors, and makes room for corporate partners such as Facebook and Microsoft, too.
The aim — ambitious as it may sound — is to have 10,000 start-ups pass through Station F in the first five years, with the hope that the next Uber or Spotify will be among them
Since coming to office, Macron has talked about wanting France to be a world leader in artificial intelligence and ‘deep-tech’, and several of the world’s biggest tech firms have announced plans to invest with that goal in mind.