French government reveals plans to build “world-class” incubator for 1,000 startups in Paris

Mar 8, 2013
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In what seems to be a never-ending trickle of announcements from the government about their digital agenda, Fleur Pellerin announced in an interview this week with Liberation that she wants to create a ‘world-class’ incubator in Paris.  The incubator would have space for 1k startups and would be located either in the Hall Freyssinet in the 13th district (currently owned by SNCF and now being used as an event space) or in a suburb ‘close to Paris’.  The project would be financed by a group of French investors (no word yet on who these would be) and, possibly, the Caisse des dépots or others. Liberation posed a very interesting question during the interview, specifically asking whether this announcement is not just an attempt to throw additional support behind Anne Hidalgo’s campaign, Bertrand Delanoë’s heir apparent to succeed him as mayor of Paris.  Of course, Pellerin denied this charge and hailed Hidalgo’s and Delanoë’s ‘remarkable’ efforts on advancing innovation and digital technology in Paris.

The announcement does give a bit more clarity on what her Paris Capitale Numérique vision entails and, more specifically, where the heart of it will be. Although there’s a much bigger question as to whether the French government really has the capability, means, and responsibility to create a large tech hub, a lot of the debate has focused more around the location. There have been rumors that it would be in Ivry, just outside of Paris, or in Saclay, the future home of the government’s other big tech hub project. She has said previously though that she sees Saclay and Paris’ tech city as two separate but connected efforts that will ultimately work closely together.  Perhaps this announcement is also in response to the initial feedback she’s getting from her public call for input on the project, which is most likely encouraging her to locate Paris ‘tech city’ in Paris proper.

One big question still unanswered is what will happen to the current center of Paris’ tech ecosystem, Sentier, as well as all the organizations helping to nurture it that are also located there (e.g. Le Camping, Silicon Sentier, the new Microsoft Spark incubator, etc).  If the project ends up going ahead, does she expect that they’ll relocate?  Would the Sentier area be relegated to ‘mini-tech hub’ status?  Will there be an effort to connect the ‘old’ tech hub with the ‘new’?  As we’ve talked about many times here, it does seem like they’re forcing the issue.  As the saying goes,”‘if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it”. Sure Sentier is constrained in terms of space, but it’s evolved into the physical and psychological epicenter of Paris’ tech community, which would be very difficult to replicate somewhere else.

While it is admirable that Pellerin wants to keep people up-to-date on the government’s progress on its digital agenda, it might have been better to have worked through some of the more pertinent details before putting too many random ideas and messages out into the public sphere which seem to have created confusion.

If you haven’t already, take a look at her interview in Liberation (here, available in french only) where she offers quite a bit of insight on the situation with Free, why it makes sense for the new ‘tech city’ to be in eastern Paris or nearby suburbs, the failures of the right (specifically, Sarkozy and members of his administration) in regards to tech efforts in France and why the left will do better, and her bold plan to create 15 ‘tech cities’ across mainland France.