School 42, Station F: the ultimate response






Following up my prospective message (post “VMZINC in 2050”), it was only normal to highlight and celebrate the opening of the “largest start-ups campus in the world”, in the famous Freyssinet hall (*)in the 13th district of Paris.

Xavier Niel, the leader and co-funder (with the French Deposits and Consignments Fund) of this huge project had already accustomed us to daring, pertinent initiatives such as the opening in 2013 of the now famous Ecole 42 (°), on Boulevard Bessières in Paris’s 17th district, and its American replica, opened in 2016 in San Francisco.

School 42: access to training that is highly qualifying but awards no diplomas!

Tirelessly fighting the gaps in official educational sectors that continue to organise the selection of a certain elite, Xavier Niel quickly understood that the development of his telecommunications activities would rapidly require coders, programmers and IT developers that public and private schools would not be able to provide him with, because they did not anticipate the exponential demand for these skills.

Hence the creation of this non-fee paying school with no diplomas for people aged between 18 and 30, providing atypical profiles often left aside by the French national Education system. Admission to the school is offered following an interview to assess motivation, offering access to training and a career in the digital sector.

The school’s pedagogy is unique, based on the concept of “peer-to-peer learning”: a participative approach enabling students to express their creativity thanks to learning via projects. The duration? The flexible, customised curriculum lasts approximately three years, according to the learning period required by each student. Is this not currently the best response to what should be the school of the future?

Why 42?

The figure 42 does not correspond to the number of the building on Boulevard Bessières, as one might think. It is in fact a subtle reference to the 2005 film “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” based on the work of Douglas Adams, and in which the figure 42 is presented as the ultimate response to “The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything”.

Station F:

Xavier Niel took the same approach to design the gigantic STATION F project (F for Freyssinet): create the optimum conditions necessary for the maturation and launch of young start-ups, in a French environment not sufficiently inclined to mobilise the energy and skills of young potential entrepreneurs or to create the necessary conditions.

Because, according to its creators, STATION F “brings together an entire entrepreneurial ecosystem under one (huge) roof”. Simple and at the same time complicated to do!

A few key figures on the site:

  • Open 24/7
  • 34,000 useable square metres
  • 3,000 workstations in the start-up zone
  • 26 support programmes for international start-ups
  • 1 makerspace
  • 1 restaurant, 4 kitchens, 1 café, 1 bar
  • 8 events spaces

So Xavier Niel thinks big, and he also thinks broad, because he decided to open access to non-French start-uppers, if their project and their motivation convince the selection team, who will have a lot of work on its plate in the coming weeks.

A sign that this venture is ambitious: partnerships with the big digital players (GAFA) were established right from the project genesis. They act as guarantors and bring an international dimension, so that Xavier Niel’s ambition can be achieved as soon as possible!

And all this is taking place in a venue that delights me! (*)

The Freyssinet hall is a remarkable building constructed in 1927. The pre-stressed concrete (invented by the great Eugène Freyssinet), applied here in a daring manner, made it possible to give this utilitarian hall an exceptionally lightweight supporting structure, which led to it being added in 2012 to the French Supplementary Historic Monuments List. Until 2006, it housed the message centre of the Gare d'Austerlitz train station. Its conversion into a school delights me greatly because, apart from making the building last, it demonstrates that a building designed and constructed carefully can adapt to new programming and remain modern after almost a century!

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