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Tycoon launches start-up incubator

Free founder Xavier Niel is putting €200m into what will be the world’s biggest hub for helping small businesses grow

FRANCE is in decline? Not according to billionaire Free founder Xavier Niel who launched work on the world’s biggest start-up incubator this week.

Mr Niel is investing €200million in renovating 30,000 square metres of old railway buildings in Paris’s 12th arondissement to house some 1,000 entrepreneurs and their new businesses.

The plan is to offer cheap rents and all the facilities they need on site in order to run and grow their firms: a post office, a patents office, 3D printers and laser tools, accounting and banking services...

Mr Niel told Le Parisien he had the idea after noticing that there were talented French people in high-tech companies everywhere in the world. “When I see an enormous success story in the US there’s always a French person behind it,” he said.

However, for them to launch their own companies in Silicon Valley is difficult because it is so fiercely competitive, whereas “France is a fantastic place to start your company”.

What is more, said Mr Niel, it is cheaper to hire highly-qualified staff like engineers. France has high social charges to pay for the good social security, but US salaries are much higher.

France is also one of the countries where it is easiest to get financing if you have a good idea, he said.

He added: “Some people say France is dead, Paris is finished – but I don’t know many places where so much is going on... What do I see in reality? People capable of creating world-class businesses.”

And it does not have to take long, he said, pointing out that the application Snapchat is said to be worth $10billion despite being founded two-and-a-half years ago and Google is just 15 years old.

“We’re going to bring up to 3,500 young people here and we’ll give them everything they need to create their firm and make it thrive and grow,” he said.

Click here to read a feature from September’s issue, when we visited Mr Niel’s other new venture, his “hothouse for geeks”, Ecole 42.

Photo: Olivier Ezratty

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