The Startup Craze
11 July 2019
The word startup is on everyone’s lips in the business world, especially this week with Startupfest in full swing at Parc Jean-Drapeau. We took advantage of our attendance to speak with Marwan Elfitesse, the head of startup programs at Station F, a campus with the largest ecosystem of budding startups in the world.
Startups are trending right now, and yet 90% of them fail. So, have we lost our minds? Young buds sprouting up everywhere like fungi, without the proper ecosystem to support them. Isn’t this all a little crazy?
It all depends on where you look. There are certainly places in the world that have moved too quickly in relation to their ecosystem, and are not yet mature enough to absorb everything that is happening. In France, Station F came at just the right time, in 2017. Ten years earlier, it would not have worked out the same way. Therefore, finding the right moment is crucial. Then, there is a generational aspect as well. In our programs, the average age is 30 years old. Most were executives at large companies and chose to turn their backs on that life, because they didn’t recognize themselves anymore.
The entrepreneurial world has become about self-expression. Today, to express yourself, you can create an association, an information sharing website, or a company. Many startups at Station F are hybrids, a mix between a startup and a non-governmental organization. I think of Konexio, which offers digital classes to the refugee population in France. There is also MeetMyMama (French only), which brings Moroccan, Afghan, Indian women with exceptional knowledge together, especially when it comes to cooking. They are paid to provide catering services to large companies.
Everyone wants the recipe for a successful startup. Does Station F have one?
First, we never assume that those we don’t select will not succeed. It is important to emphasize this, because we base our selections on a file. We also told ourselves before opening that we would never amount to anything alone. So we created some programs from scratch, but we also relied on partners such as Microsoft, Facebook or Ubisoft. We have specialists in AI, video games, data, and cybersecurity in the same place, and each program category brings its own network that others might not know about. Our partners choose their own startups, but must also provide workshops to all of them. Our recipe is this: no one knows everything. Each team is accompanied by the best and they must all be together in the same place.
If you could choose only one startup that best represents Station F, which would it be?
There is no typical profile, but two weeks ago we published the top 30 startups of the year, each with a different entrepreneurial profile. The ones that really stand out are part of our Fighters Program, which supports entrepreneurs who don’t correspond to the archetype. Often, they don’t have the education, and haven’t rubbed elbows with people of influence. We select between 10 and 15 startups who can benefit from Station F for free, for one year. We mix them in with the other programs. They are still very young compared to others, but have projects that we would never see anywhere else. They have different ideas, and they’ve lived other experiences that they end up bringing to their projects.
Fofana Tally, for example, spent two years in prison for car theft. When he came out, he said to himself: I have skills, but I need to use them differently. He developed a car theft prevention device. His company is called DigiTall Paris, and he’s now at the stage of building his team and getting financing.
Being at the forefront of the companies of tomorrow, you certainly have an idea of the future trends that will mark the entrepreneurial climate. What are they?
There are several entrepreneurs who are attacking sectors of the past, more traditional ones. The funeral or insurance sectors in particular. The startup WiLov, for example, is revolutionizing car insurance by suggesting rates that are based on the driving, as opposed to being calculated yearly.
There are companies that are tackling massive data collection. When you say it like that, it’s a little scary, but we have what we call positive scrapers who take data from everywhere and create a hyper-positive service for consumers. There’s also cozycozy.com (French only), a website founded by serial entrepreneurs, that compares vacation rental prices to help you find the best deals.
Others are tackling large groups, helping them with digital transformation. How to transform sales, culture, human resources or marketing, for instance. There are also many wellness startups, the happy tech phenomenon.
Then, you have the ones trying to generate positive social networks. We often talk about the harmful effects of networks like Snapchat or Instagram. Many are working on creating better networks, better environments. I think of Colonies, who are transforming city living. Life in Paris can be very lonely and unaffordable. With this service, it is possible to share a place with other users and develop a network.
Last trend: startups that blur the boundaries between digital and reality. Mimesys, teleconferencing with holograms. In other words, their technology allows you to see holograms of your remote collaborators. Magic Leap, a company in Florida, has just purchased this startup.