North of France used to be a manufacturing region but it has succeeded its transition to the digital industry. The World Design Capital of 2020, Lille offers great opportunities to tech entrepreneurs.
La Redoute, a French clothing and home decor company founded in 1837, is a pioneer of distance selling. The group based in Roubaix, next to Lille, suffered from the rise of e-commerce websites to the point that it almost went bankrupt in 2014. At that time, it was sold to its managers Nathalie Balla et Eric Courteille. They turned the business around thanks to an aggressive transition to digital, adopting the codes of the startup world. The company invested €50m ($55m) in a brand new, automated logistic center that guarantees “click-to-ship” in two hours. The website laredoute.com is now the top ranked French site for apparel and home décor. It attracts over 7 million unique visitors every month.
The resurrection of La Redoute is a perfect symbol of the North of France economy. The region flourished during the first industrial revolution thanks to textile, but had to reinvent itself since then. Its entrepreneurial scene is booming. In a decade, the Greater Lille area has become a hot spot for startuppers. It has structured itself around several clusters like Blanchemaille for e-commerce, Plaine Image for video games, EuraSanté for healthcare or Euralimentaire for food.
The 10-year-old EuraTechnologies, which hosts 300 tech companies in a 80,000 m2 red-brick building, covers the whole spectrum of today’s hot topics including blockchain, deep tech and cybersecurity. “All incubation and acceleration programs are free: they are financed by local authorities which take no equity”, underlines Massimo Magnifico, the COO of Euratechnologies.
By the way, did you know that the leading cloud provider in Europe is located in the Greater Lille area? Created in 1999, Roubaix-based OVHcloud operates 30 datacenters in 4 continents. “It is the flagship of our tech ecosystem”, states Massimo Magnifico. Of course, more recent role models have emerged. For instance in the gaming industry, like Ankama and BigBen Interactive. It is not surprising since Northern France has become the #1 cluster for digital arts training. More than 1,800 people work in the Plaine Images site of excellence dedicated to creative industries (gaming, design, audiovisual).
The Lille tech scene is supported by local VC funds (such as Finovam and Finorpa) and corporates (not least multinational retailers Auchan, Leroy Merlin and Decathlon). But successful exits also involve companies from other regions of France. Last year, marketing game specialist Adictiz was acquired by the Webedia Group while WayKonect, a provider of digital management tools for corporate vehicle fleets, was purchased by energy giant Total.
Geographic location stands out as a key asset for businesses. By high-speed train, it takes only 35 minutes to go from Lille to Brussels; 1 hour to Paris; and 1 hour 20 minutes to London. “There are 78 million customers in a 300km radius around us, with high purchasing power”, appreciates Massimo Magnifico. That ideal position convinced João Pedro Pereira, the CEO of real estate app Houzing, to move from Lisbon to Lille. “It is a digital-friendly environment here and I am close to three big European capitals. It is a great place to test and to grow”, he explains.
The local tech community is now ready for its next step. In September 2020, EuraTechnologies intends to open a 20,000m2 campus for entrepreneurship and innovation. In connection with startups, it will train 1,000 people every year for high demand jobs like developers, data scientists or designers. Massimo Magnifico is convinced of that, “the next battle will be the one for talent”.