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Facebook to debut business incubator in France

Facebook is throwing its weight behind French tech by choosing Paris to launch its first official start-up incubator, as the battle heats up among European capitals to lure the best tech companies following the Brexit vote.

The social media giant announced on Tuesday it had become a founding partner in Station F, a €250m start-up campus in central Paris that is set to be the largest in the world when it opens in April. Here, Facebook is launching an initiative called Startup Garage, which will provide 80 desks and working space for 10-15 independent start-ups in the data economy.

Facebook will not take equity in any of the chosen companies, but instead provide expertise to get them off the ground. The new incubator will be its second major investment in Paris, following the opening of its only European artificial intelligence lab in 2015.

“France is home to some of the most innovative technology companies in the world,” said Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. “We’re excited to support a new generation of French start-ups with enormous potential to grow the economy and create jobs.”

Although Facebook has previously run digital start-up mentorship programmes, this is the first physical space that the company will occupy and run as an accelerator, similar to rival Google’s campus spaces in London, Madrid, Seoul, Tel Aviv, Warsaw and São Paulo.

Station F is a 34,000 sq m former railway depot that is funded with a €250m investment from French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel. It will house up to 1,000 start-ups, along with a 24-hour restaurant, a 3D manufacturing lab and an auditorium.

The space, overseen by Roxanne Varza who previously ran Microsoft’s start-up activities in France, will charge companies such as Facebook €195 per desk per month to cover its running costs. It has already signed up corporate partners including local e-commerce giant Vente-Privee, and venture capitalists Daphni and Kima Ventures, which is backed by Mr Niel.

“We want to create something big, central which is very important for Europe,” Mr Niel told the Financial Times.

Facebook’s decision to launch its start-up incubator in France comes as the UK considers the economic consequences of its vote to leave the European Union.

Other European countries, including Germany, Ireland and Switzerland, have sought to capitalise on this uncertainty and made overtures to entice British and international tech companies.

Facebook has already selected a number of start-ups as its launch members at Station F, including Chekk, which allows people to manage their personal information online; Mapstr, a location service that lets you bookmark favourite places; The Fabulous, a science-based health app; Onecub, which creates a digital dashboard of users’ lives; and Karos, a transport and carpooling app.

Via FT