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HEC Incubator Jumps on Station F Startup Train

The much-anticipated opening of the Station F startup campus moved into its operational phase, called Onboarding. In the first week of July it welcomed around 1,000 startups into a transformed Paris train depot known as the Halle Freyssinet.

At the heart of the ambitious project is HEC Incubator, its 73 startups, 180 workspaces and 700m² of open space

It’s been three years coming, but finally the world’s largest startup campus has opened its doors. Next to the backers like France’s Ubisoft and overseas players like Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft is HEC Paris’ Incubator, run by Antoine Leprêtre. This entity - part of the school's Entrepreneurship Center - celebrates its tenth birthday by bringing 73 startup projects to this huge site, one as long as the Eiffel Tower is big, and as wide as a football pitch. Nestled in the heart of the French capital’s bustling 13th  arrondissement, the 34,000m² campus aims at becoming a thriving ecosystem rivalling London, Berlin and the Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit and business innovation. “From very early on, HEC’s Incubator has been involved,”  extols Station F director Roxanne Varza with characteristic enthusiasm. “The reputation of the school’s Entrepreneurship Center made it a no-brainer to have them onboard as a key partner.”

And “onboard”  was the key word in the opening week of the campus. Hundreds of mainly young entrepreneurs invested the three futuristic-looking floors on the opening day, keen to explore a space devoted to venture capital firms, incubators, accelerators and entrepreneurs. And the giant’s share of the initial participants was taken up by HEC startuppers, delighted to discover their new space, three times the size of their previous location near Place Gambetta. “I’m really proud,”  insists Incubator manager Antoine Leprêtre, ”proud not just of our 73 startups, but of our brand, our community. HEC graduates are very present: the heads of Arts et Métiers and Ventes Privées accelerators, for example. HEC graduates are even opening here at Station F a Big Mamma restaurant in January, their seventh in the capital.”

Station F represents the latest stage in a fairytale story for Hafida Guebli. She is a graduate of the HEC Stand-up program designed for women from deprived neighborhoods. The creator of an app designed to bring landlords and tenants closer together, Hafida is the child of an illiterate Moroccan couple who migrated to give opportunities to their offspring they never dreamt of. “Their story inspired me to found Neyb’s,”  she explains. “The app helps to sort out daily challenges my parents faced in their apartment block, like broken elevators, leaks, vandalized letterboxes, rodents and so on.”  Reclining in her open space chair, she looks out at her view of the Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand and the Seine: “And just look at me now, part of a project designed to make Paris one of the start-up capitals of the world. I’m one of 1,000 HEC candidates who applied to this startup project, and one of just three women retained from Stand Up. We’re here to bring new blood and ideas into this digital hub and I can’t wait!”

The diversity of HEC’s Incubator at Station F reflects the multi-textured community founder Xavier Niel hopes to create here: a dozen different nationalities represented, 43% of the startups cofounded by women, pure players, physical products as well as associations, and entrepreneurs as young as 20 and as old as 60. “We’re here to contribute our pedagogical dimension,”  explains Guillaume Le Dieu de Ville, program director at the HEC-Ecole 42 Start Up Launchpad, “and share our entrepreneurial know-how with all of Station F thanks to workshops and meetings. But,”  he continues, “we are also here to enjoy the best of the Station’s ecosystem: the negotiated partnerships with numerous service providers, the daily presence of investors, the project’s  business angels, venture capital firms, experts and the international visibility of this campus.”

“I believe the French authorities are listening to the startup community more and more,”  adds Roxanne Varza. The Iranian American director of Station F was born in California’s Silicon Valley. She is optimistic that this start-up campus in Paris can soon equal if not overtake her former home in both innovation and entrepreneurship. At the June 29 inauguration new French president leader Emmanuel Macron strongly backed her team’s ambitions: “Entrepreneurship is the new France,”  he declared in a polished English, “et ça commence avec vous.