Innovation Notebook: Is Paris burning … with startup fever?

The global battle for digital domination is heating up. At the same time the United States is running low on innovative inventory that deserves funding, the money is finally starting to flow in Europe.

Which means that if you’re a skilled techpat, there are increasing opportunities for you here. For example, about 34 per cent of employees at Berlin’s 2,500 startups are expats.

And who wouldn’t want to live and work in Europe?

One of the ultra-high-tech industry sectors where Europe holds a clear advantage is photonics, and it’s mostly because of our headquarters city of Eindhoven, home to ASML, NXP and other companies that create the technical foundation for all digital innovation from The Valley to Chengdu. More about that in a minute.

But first, let’s go to Paris ….

• Is Paris Burning?

Oh, yeah. Burning with the entrepreneurial spirit. Which, to be brutally honest, is just so un-French. (Though to be fair, Georges Doriot, the father of venture capital, was French before he moved to Boston.)

It would be easy to not take the French startup scene seriously compared to London, Berlin and Stockholm. But increasingly, that would be a mistake.

Last year, startups raised 2.2 billion euros in France, a figure called “historic” by EY. This year, more and more private-public startup incubators and accelerators are coming on line. They have two things in common – they’re huge and they have the backing of French economic-development officials.

That said, there clearly are growing pains ….



Le Cargo has been opening now for about two years, and the website is still under construction. But the Paris&Co website states Le Cargo will encompass 15,000 m² (more than 161,000 square feet, or about three acres) across six floors in a building in the north-east of Paris between Porte de la Villette and Porte d’Aubervilliers.

The spaces are in former McDonald’s warehouses, which somehow seems fitting.

This is just part of the portfolio of Paris&Co, the French economic-development effort to turn Paris into Berlin.

Here’s the Paris&Co pitch:

Each year, more than 200 start-up companies benefit from support programs tailored to their phase of economic development (start-up or take-off), privileged connections with the 60 major partner groups of incubation platforms, exclusive offers as well as a networking with the ecosystem of innovation in Ile de France. 

Categories are digital media; e-health and wellness; property of tomorrow; industry digital cultural and creative; sustainable urban logistics and mobility; smart food; sports and tourism.

We’re also waiting for the opening of Station F and its 1,000 startups which will then be the biggest incubator in the world. And that wait could be awhile.

Station F officials have delayed the opening – supposed to happen this month – to June.

It is, after all, France. And as interesting as all this is, the big question is when will France’s love affair produce something besides publicity?

Speaking of France, Fast Company has an interesting interview with Paris Mayor Anne Hildago in which she explains how she’s “future-proofing the City of Light.” In it, Hildago gives FC the Cliff Notes version of The Vision:

We’re ranked first in Europe for the creation of startups; we launch 1,500 startups each year in Paris. We now have 60 incubators in the city, with 15 new ones planned. We have 80 coworking spaces, 23 fabrication labs that work with prominent incubators like Cargo, the biggest incubator in Europe. [Paris’s new] Station F will be the biggest incubator in the world and host 1,000 startups under the management of [billionaire telecom entrepreneur] Xavier Niel.

•Berlin is on fire, too



It’s not like Berlin is just standing still, waiting for Paris to pass it by.

Wired has a terrific story, “Look out London. Berlin’s startup scene is ready for a Brexit bonanza,” that includes an overview of Berlin’s growth strategy.

Tel Aviv-based Mindspace opened its first co-working spaces in Germany one year ago this month. And it’s no coincidence, writes Wired reporter James Temperton, that the Mindspace facility evokes the feel of the London startup scene down to all-English signage.

“What London stands to lose after Brexit, Berlin hopes to gain,” Temperton writes. Mindspace is adding two more Berlin locations, with a total of 19,000 square meters of co-working space in Germany by the end of the year … 13,400 m2 of it in Berlin.

The post has a lot of great data including:

• Berlin-based startups raised 2.4 billion euros in venture capital funding in 2015, more than startups in London or Stockholm.

• The Factory, a former brewery, has 12,000 meters square of co-working space with tenants that include SoundCloud, Uber and Twitter.

Our favorite quote is: “Palo Alto was a bit boring. Berlin is super interesting,” says Christian Georg Strobl, CEO of software development firm Hackerbay.

Amen. Hackerbay moved back to Berlin and into Factory earlier this year from … Silicon Valley.

All that said, Berlin – unlike Palo Alto – has precious little to show so far for all that talent.

SMART Photonics


And then there’s Eindhoven, the most under-rated tech center in at least Europe – maybe the world – held back both by its own Calvinist reticence and Dutch investors’ reluctance to put up early stage capital.

But that’s not stopping this ultra-high-tech hardware  hub.

SMART Photonics just raised 7 million euros. The Eindhoven-based spinoff from Technical University Eindhoven makes Next-Gen chips from indium phosphide. We spent the better part of an hour deep diving into technical journals, trying to figure out what all this means. Waaay over our heads.

“The combination of the SMART Photonics PDK and our VPIcomponentMaker Photonic Circuits software increases designer productivity by enabling them to sweep and optimize layout-defining parameters while transparently supporting fabrication-based sensitivity and yield analysis for optimal design performance.”

What. The. Hell.

From what we could glean, as the demand for exponentially faster processing capabilities in everything from smartphones to cars continues unabated, the showdown is now between Silicon Photonics, or SiP, and IP, or Indium Phosphide technology. Unlike silicon circuitry, photonic integrated circuits use information signals on beams of light. PIC have the advantage of allowing multiple functions on the same chip.

The outcome is vital to Europe, which clearly is where IP technology is advancing. So that 7 million euros might be more impressive than it sounds.

Stockholm switching to digital heat


It’s cold. The weather is terrible and there’s no place to live. But never count out Stockholm when it comes to gee-whiz innovation.

The Swedish capital has just launched an initiative, Stockholm Data Parks, meant to lure large data centers to town that use heat recovery. Those data farms put off huge amounts of heat waste from servers.

Now, data center operators will be able to sell their waste heat to Stockholm’s energy grid via utilities and buy cooling as a service.

Stockholm utilities in turn will use the heat waste to heat homes and businesses.

In Stockholm’s case, the goal is to heat 10 percent of residences with excess heat.

Win-win, right?

The first facility, Data Park Kista, is scheduled to go online this year, powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

At least one firm has committed. Interexion, based in Amsterdam, is the first to sign up, with plans to build a 29 million euro project. And here’s where it gets interesting. Interexion operates 40 data centers across Europe … at least one in every major innovation center in Europe from Madrid to Vienna.

Guess who Interexion’s clients include. Yep, American digital giants expanding in Europe such a eBay.

• More cloud news

Speaking of data, Redwood City, Calif.-based Equinix is expanding to Stockholm … and to Milan and Dublin, as well, according to a news release. Equinix is essentially a cloud reseller, and its target clients are Europe companies “undergoing digital transformation.”

Equinix Cloud Exchange offers direct connections to more than 50 leading CSPs including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM SoftLayer, Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute and Office 365, Oracle Cloud and Salesforce, according to the release. Which, may we add, had more jargon than those really bad business magazine stories on Enron back in the 1980s.

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