(Bloomberg) -- French billionaire Xavier Niel wants thousands of technology entrepreneurs, investors and inventors to base themselves in the Station F mega-campus for startups he’s building in downtown Paris -- and he’s starting his search for them in London.
The 34,000-square-meter (366,000-square-foot) venue opens in spring next year but Station F executives are already out to convince startups and businesses to choose it as their headquarters. They will host entrepreneurs at an event in London on Tuesday, with the U.K. an obvious seduction target amid Brexit uncertainty.
“We asked hundreds of startups what they need, like or hate, and we built a space to reflect that. It’ll be a big, crazy and busy space that’ll put Paris on the global tech map,” Roxanne Varza, previously the lead for Microsoft France’s startup activities and now Station F director, said in an interview. “The French startup ecosystem has been grabbing attention as investment grows. Meanwhile the U.K. situation is a bit up in the air with Brexit.”
Facebook Inc., Vente-Privee Inc., business school HEC Paris and VCs Daphni and Ventech have already agreed to base some staff at the facility. Facebook will detail the extent of its presence and contribution to Station F at a later date, Varza said.
One of France’s richest people, Niel spent 250 million euros ($268 million) to transform a former freight station into an incubator area, with some 3,000 desks for rent and a bunch of hangout areas. At Station F, renting a desk will cost you 195 euros per month, Varza said. That’s welcome space in a city where rents have become costly in tech district “Le Sentier”, though Station F is a bit farther south from the city’s epicenter.
Niel has played a key role in helping shape France’s growing startup ecosystem, as one of the country’s prominent technology entrepreneurs at Iliad SA, as a business angel investor, but also by backing projects like tuition-free coding school 42. His investment fund Kima Ventures will also have a team at Station F.
“It’s made France visible already,” Varza said Tuesday in a Bloomberg TV interview. “This has everyone in the same location -- that’s attracted interest from all over.”
For now, the campus is still a construction site, which hasn’t stopped Varza from showing politicians, businesses and investors around, in between the hundreds of workers molding cement floors and hauling glass panels across the 310-meter-long dusty space. Work is due to finish sometime in January, but one self-proclaimed geek can already be seen lurking around in construction boots and a helmet practically every week -- Niel himself.