With Station F, Paris will have the world’s biggest startup campus

Station F (formerly known as la Halle Freyssinet) is quite an ambitious project and is bound to change the face of the tech ecosystem in Paris. Financed by Xavier Niel and directed by Roxanne Varza, Station F is going to be the world’s biggest startup campus with companies like Facebook and TechShop opening offices there.

“We’re talking about a startup campus because we’re actually very similar to a university campus,” Varza said. “We’re expecting about one thousand startups in this space.”

Roxanne Varza took the stage at Disrupt London 2016 to give us more information about the startup campus. The building is a historical monument built in 1929 and it’s going to be a huge space — 366,000ft2 or 34,000m2. The plan is to let anyone rent desks for €195/desk/month while other companies are going to open their own offices there. The building will open early next year and Varza announced at TechCrunch Disrupt London that applications start today.

“It’s the size of the Eiffel Tower lying down,” Varza said. For anybody who’s interested in taking a tour, we have a VR tour on our website.”

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For instance, Facebook will open a new office at some point next year. While the company already has an office in Paris, Facebook also wants to be there at Station F for some special project. What is it going to be about? It’s unclear. “Facebook will be doing something but that’s all I can say for now,” Varza said. TechShop will open their first shop outside of the U.S. if you want to learn woodworking or CNC machines. Vente-privée will open a startup program and the incubator of HEC Paris will move there.

French VC firms, such as Daphni, Ventech and Xavier Niel-backed Kima Ventures are going to have an office there. Ventech in particular is launching ParisPOC, an immersion program for Ventech-backed companies and Ventech prospects to spend some time in Paris and test their products in a new market. There’ll be meeting rooms, an auditorium, a post office, a café, a restaurant with four kitchens and a bar. Station F itself will have a Founders Program to connect founders together.

You know Xavier Niel is serious about the project because he spent $267 million (€250 million) on the project. Xavier Niel founded telecom company Free and has a bunch of startup-related projects as well, such as Kima Ventures, an early stage investment company, and the free coding school 42.

“This is 100 percent Xavier’s initiative,” Varza said. “He’s keeping all his investment activities through Kima Ventures and it’s completely separate from Station F. Xavier’s model for this project is not to generate any type of revenue. It’s a monument that is going to be open 24/7 so it’s an expensive project.” And apparently, he goes to the construction site every week.

I went there back in September to check the progress and didn’t expect such a big building. It takes quite a while to go from one end of the building to the other. And I’m quite curious to know how it’s going to affect the Paris startup scene.

And even if it isn’t as popular as expected, “it probably will be a good property play,” Varza said.

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