The second annual MyStartupinParis event provided an opportunity to get together with the event’s creator, Jean-Louis Missika, to take a look at the French startup scene and find out just how much French students actually know about setting up their own company.

“The startup ecosystem in France has now reached critical mass”

Interview with Jean-Louis Missika, sociologist and deputy mayor of Paris in charge of innovation, research and universities, at the MyStartupinParis event that he created, which took place on 10 - 12 October at the premises of the various incubators in Paris.

L'Atelier: How does this kind of event raise awareness about setting up a company?

Jean-Louis Missika: During the first event last year we realised that promoting young innovative companies through an ‘open doors’ event was likely to be a very effective motivator. That’s why this time around we decided to dedicate the first day to students. I believe that the best way to raise awareness among young people is by actually demonstrating the tools and giving them the chance to work with them. Then, the fact that each session on the events programme focuses on one particular theme helps to open up the field to a less specialised audience. And that’s where the value of what we’re doing lies. We’ve noticed that people who are not actually part of the startup scene are increasingly becoming interested in it, and here we have an opportunity to attract them by offering broader sessions on topics such as for instance innovation and the importance of the human factor.

L’Atelier: Why launch the initiative now rather than, say, five years ago?

Jean-Louis Missika: Five years ago an initiative bringing together a set of incubators and their startups would quite simply have been impossible. At that time there were very few incubators in Paris. We had to wait for (Paris mayor) Bertrand Delanoë to inject a billion euro in 2008 to help develop innovation in Paris before we saw these incubators rolled out. And it took longer than that for them to really get established. But now that there are today around forty incubators, both private and public, in Paris – and I’m thinking in particular of the new incubator 1000startups@La Halle Freyssinet co-financed by French businessman Xavier Niel – we’ve been able to launch this programme. And it’s also because the startup ecosystem in France has now reached critical mass. During the three days of this event, some 300 startups are scheduled to present their products and services.

L’Atelier: So how do French people view the idea of setting up a company?

Jean-Louis Missika: I observe that they react very positively to the idea. We’ve come to realise that there’s an increasing number of people who dream of setting up their own company, especially young college graduates. The old assumption that you’ll join an existing company when you finish your studies is fast disappearing. Young people setting up new companies could be a way out of the crisis, looking to the future and re-building industry in France. It’s a very positive thing…and even more so because it’s no longer the preserve of the business schools, as students from our major universities don’t necessarily want to work in a large corporation, or even a smaller firm. We’re even seeing partnerships between universities and incubators, such as Paris incubator Agoranov and Paris Dauphine University. This desire to learn ‘on the job’ has now become a very powerful trend.

L’Atelier: Don’t you also have to clue people up on the ‘how’ of becoming an entrepreneur?

Jean-Louis Missika: During the event we encourage the incubators to communicate and to meet as many people as possible. Young people also meet up together, and many have shown themselves to be particularly enthusiastic about opportunities for partnerships and dialogue. We also hold sessions on how to set up a company and how to run a business. In addition we’re organising an offline festival in which former participants on the various programmes speak about their own career paths. But quite aside from this event, we want to promote shared events and encourage widespread training to help people set up their own companies.

By Aurore Geraud
Senior Editor & Analyst