The French government's plan to give Paris its own Silicon Valley is gathering pace.
Towards the end of last year, when Fleur Pellerin, France's minister for the digital economy, announced a plan to stimulate the country's digital economy. The plan, which appears to be largely inspired by one outlined a few years earlier by the previous government, rests on two key planks: the continued rollout of super-fast broadband in the country, and transforming Paris into a new digital innovation hub — and a haven for start-ups.
The plan would see Paris become a brand new French Silicon Valley — prompting criticism that the government isn't investing in the Silicon Valley the country has: the hub in Saclay, 30km to the south-west of Paris, may be rich in research labs and high-profile universities, but it's considered too far from the capital and lacking in good public transport links to be a serious contender.
Consequently, Pellerin now wants to set up a separate hub dedicated to digital start-ups closer to Paris — something like London's Tech City — known as the 'Paris Capitale Numérique' (Paris Digital Capital) project.
Earlier this month, the government launched a consultation to gather the opinions of stakeholders on the proposed project. It's hoping to get comments on the hub from bodies including entrepreneurs, local communities, private funds, universities and consultants, who have until 1 April to respond.
One more project
The aim of the hub is to "bring together all those involved in the digital sector to stimulate France's digital economy, but also to highlight its momentum and the global talents that are part of it to the world", according to the consultation.
There seems to be a real need for such an initiative: according to a study published last year by Startup Genome, Paris is ranked as the 11th hottest city for start-ups globally, and second in Europe, behind seventh-placed London.
But is there room enough in Paris for a new digital district of some sort? The city already has two government approved digital clusters, Cap Digital and Systematic (Saclay does not have the same governmental nod), and counts no less than nine start-ups incubators.
The city's also home to the non-profit association Silicon Sentier, which brings together digital economy stakeholders and offers a co-working area, La Cantine, and a project incubator, Le Camping.
In January, Silicon Sentier announced the creation of a new area in Paris dedicated to digital start-ups: Glii, a 1,500 square metre building in the city's second arrondissement. Glii, which stand for 'Grand lieu intégré d'innovation' (large integrated innovation space), is to receive at least €2.6m in funding: €1m from Google over three years, along with €1.6m from the Région Ile-de-France, the municipality that includes Paris and its suburbs; the city of Paris, Silicon Sentier and private investors will also contribute.
However, according to Nicolas Leroux, the Région Ile-de-France's advisor for development and innovation, Glii won't compete with the government’s digital hub project. In an interview with the French newspaper Les Echos, he claimed that the two initiatives would "complement each other". Paris Capitale Numérique "isn't intended to host companies' headquarters nor to compete with incubators. The sector needs all the strengths it has," he said.