By Mathieu Rosemain and Gwénaëlle Barzic
PARIS (Reuters) – Paris is now fully equipped to attract more innovative companies than London and dominate Europe’s startup scene, billionaire Xavier Niel said on Thursday as he opened the doors of a startup mega-campus in the French capital.
“It’s something that is achievable in the coming months,” Niel said in an interview with Reuters on the site, dubbed Station F, which plans to house 1,000 start-ups under its 1920s glass arcades. “We’re of course helped by Brexit,” he added.
Paris and Berlin are vying to displace London’s lead in the European start-up scene, while other cities including Dublin, Amsterdam and Frankfurt are also promoting themselves as alternative tech hubs in the face of uncertainties caused by the British vote to leave the European Union.
Station F’s 34,000 square meter (366,000 sq ft) site in Paris makes it the world’s biggest startup incubator.
It will shelter early stage companies, venture capital funds, a post office, a round-the-clock restaurant, a tax center and will offer 26 programs to help out entrepreneurs, Niel said. It will also have 3-D printing labs and bars.
U.S. giants Facebook <FB.O>, Microsoft <MSFT.O> and South Korea’s Naver <035420.KS> partnered with the project, as well as French bank BNP Paribas <BNPP.PA>, defense company Thales <TCFP.PA> and French online retailer vente-privée.com.
France’s startup scene has been gaining traction lately thanks to booming investments and high expectations for a business-friendly government under new President Emmanuel Macron, who has said he wants to transform France into a “start-up” nation, via a mix of business-friendly reforms and the launch of a 10 billion euro ($11.4 billion) dedicated fund.
“We have an environment that serves us well because foreign leaders are either old or they do not make young people dream,” Niel said. Thirty-nine-year old Macron is the youngest leader in France’s modern history.
The French president was guest of honor at a formal opening ceremony for the center on Thursday.
“This word ‘entrepreneur’ …is a French word, very French, which the Anglo-Saxons stole from us,” Macron said jokingly to a laughing audience at Station F on Thursday.
Niel, a telecoms maverick who transformed France’s mobile sector via the company he founded, Iliad <ILD.PA>, wholly funded Station F, investing 250 million euros in the project. Venture capitalists invested in 590 French startups in 2016, putting the country ahead of Britain (520 deals) and Germany (380), according to research firm Tech.eu.
It was a record year with a total of 874 million euros invested in venture capital in France, up 15 percent from 2015, according to the industry lobby Afic. This remains below Germany, with investments of 937 million.
(This version of the story was refiled to add dropped word in paragraph 10)
(Editing by Ingrid Melander and Adrian Croft)