Our third Start-up Hunt stop led us to Nantes and the 4thedition of the Nantes Digital Week. This yearly event comprises more than 140 events over 10 days, a testimony of the dynamism and liveliness of Nantes’ ecosystem. But what makes Nantes an increasingly attractive city for entrepreneurs and potentially a key player in the European digital ecosystem?
According to Volodia, head of Events at La Cantine, 175 start-ups come out of start-up support structures every year. La Cantine is one of them: one of Nantes’ most prominent co-working space. Its goal is to bring together local actors of the start-up ecosystem by offering affordable offices, mentors and acceleration programs to its start-ups. Web2Day – a yearly conference organised by La Cantine – for example, has even become the second largest event in France on digital innovation after VivaTech (Paris). La Cantine’s new space, opening in December, will provide 150 workstations across 1200 sq. m.
Imagination Machine,founded by Rob Spiro – an American serial entrepreneur, is an accelerator hosted at La Cantine. Imagination Machine, which launched in May 2017, selects 3 European start-ups to join its fast-track program for 3 months before helping it raise Seed or Series A funding thanks to its network of investors. Rob’s goal when he created Imagination Machine was to bring Silicon Valley’s know-how and risk-taking mindset to Nantes while embodying the city’s, and France’s, strong social values around community and the environment.
Startup Palace is a third major player of the local start-up ecosystem. It has two main activities: accompany start-ups with an accelerator program, and help corporates in their digital transformation with open-innovation, entrepreneurship etc. It offers two accelerator programs and invests between €250K and €1M in Seed rounds. Startup Palace has shown an impressive growth since its birth 2 years ago and already counts 120 employees, plus… their offices are stunning!
Accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces are not the only components of a thriving ecosystem. Start-ups with success stories are key to act as role models and to lead the way.
Lengow – an automation e-commerce platform, along with iAdvize – customer relations specialist, are Nantes’ two success stories and two strong growth catalysts for the city. Since its birth in 2010, iAdvize has shown a triple-digit annual growth indicator: 100%! iAdvize and Lengow are also a living proof that it’s possible to execute substantial funding rounds in French cities other than Paris. Indeed, Lengow raised €10M and iAdvize €15M in 2015 and have as a result quadrupled the total amount of funds raised by start-ups in Nantes annually. Subsequently, those two start-ups have given back to the city, with iAdvize founder Julien Hervouët who became a mentor to several start-ups such as Dictanova, and Lengow who created an accelerator program supporting 4 start-ups. A few promising start-ups have followed this path such as Akeneo which grew by 300% in 2015 and 10-Vins, rewarded at the prestigious Las Vegas CES 2015. However, a gap can be felt between iAdvize and Lengow founders and the current generation of founders. Entrepreneurs between 25 and 35 years old are indeed tougher to find…
Nantes’ growth can also be explained by its location, two hours away from Paris by train, and the public initiatives that have been implemented. According to INSEE, Nantes could even count 915,000 inhabitants by 2030, 150,000 more than it does today. Indeed, Nantes offers a comfortable quality of life, with affordable rent and a proximity to both Paris and the ocean. Nantes also shines by its density of universities and research centres such as Audencia, les Mines, l’EPSI or LINA (Laboratoire d’Informatique de Nantes Atlantique), who nourish the city’s ecosystem. Prominent corporates such as CapGemini or SopraSteria create many jobs, and federations like ADN’Ouest – which brings together 420 companies in the digital sector from Brest to La Rochelle – foster a true digital bubble.
Final thoughts on Nantes? The number of structures created around start-ups in a city of 300,000 inhabitants is quite impressive. However, a few areas of improvement could however be pointed out and worked on before Nantes catches up with cities like Lyon which counts 50,000 jobs in the digital sector and a total of 7,000 companies, when Nantes only totals 1,700 companies. Some of those measures would include corporates backing start-ups on a much larger scale to support them with their expertise and accelerate their international expansion and the implementation of big corporates’ offices to create synergies with start-ups – like Auchan and Décathlon have done in Lille for example.