Oh French Startup Crowd, You’re Growing Up!

I thought I would poke my head up into the blogging world again. Clearly, it’s been a while. A long while. I realized this when I attended Paris Startup Weekend at La Mutinerie this past weekend. Honestly, it was the first time I could really see how much the French startup crowd is changing. The teams all pitched in English (and did brilliant, hilarious pitches), they had killer ideas. It made me feel like France’s ecosystem is starting to grow up.

“Hey there, good looking.”

This is probably going to sound a bit like I’m hitting on the French startup crowd. I’ve been living in London since 2010 and even though I have come to France regularly and try to keep up with the local startup news, I have been noticing more and more dramatic differences every time I cross the English Channel. Sometimes I feel like the ecosystem is evolving faster than I am able to keep up. Wow, I must sound like a nostalgic mother when she realizes how fast her baby is growing up.

Accelerators by the dozen.


One of the first things that I noticed is the insane amount of accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces and startup programs in France now. I think one of the first startup programs in France was Bizspark (2008). In 2009 when I arrived in Paris, there were a few incubators and coworking spaces – like Silicon Senter’s La Cantine, Paris Développement’s Paris Incubateurs and the different universities had incubators as well. Startup Weekend arrived in 2009 and Founder Institute in fall of 2010 (or was it 2011?). And Le Camping was more or less the only accelerator program with a physical space when I moved in 2010.

Paris : 18 accelerators, 11 coworking spaces.


When TechList came out earlier this year I was amazed to see just how many accelerators and incubators were popping up all over France. According to Techlist, Paris counts 18 different accelerators and 11 coworking spaces. I do find it a bit odd that Incubateur HEC is listed as an accelerator program and some of the other well-known University Incubators (Telecom ParisTech, Sciences Po, ESCP) don’t seem to be listed. But this just means that there are actually even more than are listed on the site.

The big guys care, too.


One of the big things that happened in London during the time I’ve been there is the opening of Google Campus – a Google space that is really in the heart of the startup community, housing the likes of Startup Weekend, Seedcamp, Springboard and TechHub. The London startup community has really gravitated towards the space. Until recently, the big guys had not really made any similar initiatives in Paris or France, which I found a little disappointing. However, recent announcements have proven that both Google and Microsoft are taking steps in the right direction. Google announced that it will be opening a startup space this fall with Silicon Sentier. And we announced today at Microsoft Techdays that we are opening Spark, a space in the heart of the Paris startup district (Sentier) and launching a 12-week startup program set to kick off in March. It’s nice to see both Google and Microsoft putting in the ressources to support the (rapidly) growing ecosystem. (On a side note, I am *very* happy to see big corporations actually trying to work with startups and provide them with resources – which hasn’t always been the case in France and Europe.)

Yo, what’s with Sparky?

Since I’m clearly involved in Spark, I thought I would take a minute to share the vision with you. I already wrote a short blurb on it here, for anyone who reads French.

Oh là là, Ballmer speaks French.

Given the fact that Bizspark originated in France (as did Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition for innovative students), it is a very natural step for the company to be opening this space. Some 10,000 French students participate in Imagine Cup each year and over 1,300 French startups have gone through the Bizspark program. Yet, until now, Microsoft didn’t have a physical space for it’s growing entrepreneur community in France. This space is therefore a way to support its entrepreneur network and the budding French ecosystem.

The 12-week program.

One of the goals of Spark is to also to cater to the needs of the local entrepreneurs. We are not about forcing any certain technology or services on anyone, and there are no mandatory workshops or mentor sessions.

Ideal for anyone who wants to quickly transform an idea into a prototype, the 12-week program is structured with 3 things in mind :

1. Costs for bootstrappers: all prices are meant to help lean, cash-strapped entrepreneurs put their money where it matters. They should not be paying for expensive space – they should be investing that money in the team and product.

2. Bring your ideas: we do not require that startups come with a working prototype, in fact, they can show up with an idea on a napkin if they like.

3. 12-weeks ONLY: the maximum amount of time that entrepreneurs can spend at Spark is 12 weeks. This is because we are pushing them to build and build quickly.

Naturally, we’re here to listen to the community and do our best to cater. So if you have ideas for mentors, events, workshops, etc., please get in touch and share your ideas. We’d like to make this space for the startup community – the weirder your ideas, the better 🙂

Crawling, walking or running?

While the ecosystem is definitely growing up fast, I can still see tons of room for improvement. But I’ll save this for another post 🙂

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