Xavier Niel. Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg
INTERNATIONAL - Billionaire Xavier Niel’s 250million (R4.06billion) bet that mega-campus Station F would help Paris become a global tech start-up hub may be starting to pay off.

Entrepreneurs working out of Niel’s institution have collectively raised more than 567m since the June 2017 inauguration, more than half of which arrived over the last financial year, Station F director Roxanne Varza said in an interview. And in a move similar to WeWork’s expansion into communal residences, Station F is now adding housing for members, with three buildings opening to host 600 entrepreneurs with competitive rental prices. 

“France’s image is changing and starting to be perceived as more business-friendly,” Varza said, adding that 41percent of the 1000-plus start-ups on campus have now tapped investors. 

Built on the site of an old train station and financed by Niel’s own money, the 34000m² venue has expanded from desks for rent to host venture capitalists and corporate-backed programmes for entrepreneurs, from Facebook’s data-focused “start-up garage” to an artificial intelligence programme by Microsoft. Station F’s growth comes as co-working giant WeWork snaps up real estate at a rapid clip in Paris (it has eight sites in the French capital, with seven more listed as opening soon).