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Inspiring Best Practice 14 August Aug 2017 1100 14 August 2017

Station F, in the innovation game, France beats Italy

Paris has just opened the world’s largest business accelerator. A sign of a country that invests in innovation despite the crisis

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Over a thousand startups, 60 meeting rooms, a 370-seat auditorium, 4 kitchens and 2 coffee bars open 24-7, a fablab and a tennis court on the roof: this is Station F, the largest incubator on the planet, and it opened in Paris on 29 June of this year.

Created by Swiss magnate Xavier Niel, the campus takes up the entire 34,000 square meters in the ex-railroad deposit Halle Freyssinet, a building form the early 1920s designed by the architect Eugène Freyssinet. “We called it Station F as in “Stazione Francia”, “Station Femmes”, “Station Founders” or “Stazione Freyssinet” – because Freyssinet was a great architect and a great entrepreneur,” explained Xavier Niel to President Macron, during his visit to the campus.

In 2016, France invested 2.7 billion into creating new businesses: fifteen times the amount invested in Italy.

Directing the project is the 32-year-old Roxanne Varsa, who managed to involve the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and Vente Privée in this project. According to Varsa, this is France’s golden opportunity to establish itself as a global reference point in the field of innovation. The timing is perfect: External factors such as Trump’s presidency, high prices in Silicon Valley and Brexit have pushed a large number of startups into France, explained Varsa, who also said that specific strategies were not needed to take advantage of these circumstances. “We simply want the great entrepreneurs from all over the world to come to our campus because they want to.”

Aside from Donald Trump and Brexit, this impressive move of France surprises people up to a point: everyone knows that setting up a startup in France takes the least amount of time and money. It is also one of the countries with the most financial incentives and fiscal exemptions. In 2016, as an example, they invested 2.7 billion in the creation of new companies: a whopping fifteen times the amount of Italian investments (170 million). This is blatant proof that France has truly believed in the startup economy and did not reduce it to a mere business trend for unemployed millennials.

They are trying in Italy, the Industria 4.0 plan in the latest stability law involves, for example, relief from tax duty stamps for new companies and higher incentives, up to 30%, for investments in startups and small and medium-sized companies. However, the incentives are not enough to make up for the lack of people taking advantage of them. To create a truly favourable ecosystem, they would need a better developed liquid financial market, a venture capital system that can handle more risk, or the right combination of public investments and contribution from private companies such as the system that made Tel Aviv into one of the world’s most advanced innovation centres.

In Italy, the approach is still too timid. Instead, it would be necessary to throw ourselves into the adventure with much more conviction and courage: the great project of Station F is telling us that we can’t put it off any longer.