The Real Future of France
Yesterday at Après Midi, Laurent Queige told his story of how he came to create the Welcome City Lab — the first startup incubator focused on tourism innovation in the world.I met Laurent in 2003 when he was the assistant to the “Adjoint au Maire de Paris chargé du tourisme,” under the administration of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. A mutual friend said, “You need to know this guy and he needs to know you.” That was true. We realized our mutual admiration and synergy from the moment I entered his office.
Laurent was like no Frenchman I’d ever met, and to this day, he has held that position in my eyes as the most open-minded, entrepreneurial French person I know. Every new idea excites this guy and as a result, with him working away in his little office inside the Paris Hôtel de Ville, he made great things happen for the city of Paris: Paris Capital of Creative Design, the Paris quality charter for bed and breakfasts, the Paris Nightlife Festival and Creative Paris among them. I watched it all happen over the years he was there while Delanoë was reigning mayor, and participated in numerous events to which only VIP’s got invited.
Thanks to Laurent, I was one of them. I had the privilege of meeting Mayor Delanoë, of course, but also U.S. mayors Williams (Washington, DC), Daley (Chicago), Bloomberg (New York) and Newsom (San Francisco) during their meetings with the Paris mayor at the Hôtel de Ville (once in his private office!). Laurent was my press card in to all sorts of special events at the city hall. I was privileged to attend a talk by Jane Fonda (and then clandestinely followed her around during her tour of the building), Brian Chesky (founder of Airbnb) and Israel’s illustrious past president, Shimon Peres (while sitting next to French fashion designer icon, Sonia Rykiel). Those were the days, my friend.
But, this story is not about Laurent or all the kudos afforded me thanks to knowing him. This is about what he’s accomplished for hundreds of other entrepreneurs, much like himself, who wouldn’t have had the support otherwise, and likely would have failed or never realized their dreams. The Welcome City Lab was Laurent’s own dream — “a program designed to accelerate innovation in tourism, including the top global incubator dedicated to this sector.” And he made it happen, just like he does everything he touches, and with tremendous success. It’s this that we heard all about yesterday at our monthly coffee gathering.
You might ask, “What’s an incubator?” Laurent asked that very question himself as he approached his quest to help young startups get off the ground here in France. Wikipedia describes it as “a company that helps new and startup companies to develop by providing services such as management training or office space.” It was just five years ago that he got the Welcome City Lab off the ground, but today he can claim that he’s helped over 100 startups, with a 90 percent success rate, which have created 650 jobs and raised €150 million. Not bad!
The incubator has 14 partners that fund about 50 percent of the projects, including BPI France, Air France, Paris Airport, Groupe Lafayette among the others. Each year, he awards 34 startups the privilege of being a part of the incubator (out of about 300 which apply) which fund the other 50 percent. The lab has published three trend-setting books, sponsored 300 networking events and acquired 30,000 followers per year. But, it didn’t stop with Paris. Because of his success with the Welcome City Lab, other labs came to him for help from all over France and now all over the world. He can now boast of 42 internationally-grown startups, 58 international delegations and he’s spoken at over 20 international conferences.
And here he was, speaking for us yesterday at Après Midi. Yes, I felt privileged indeed. This is the story you don’t often hear from the press, who are focused on the negative aspects of disgruntled masses who take to the streets complaining about their rising cost of living and inability to find employment. While the Gilets Jaunes are tearing down the establishment, and wanting more in their pockets while not wanting to give much back, Queige is pumping blood into those who have the gumption to do it for themselves.
As an American coming from the land of opportunity and entrepreneurship, it’s something I applaud. France could use a few more like him. Monsieur Macron, it is to these young entrepreneurs who you should be giving support and tax breaks. People like Laurent Queige — these are the real future of France.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Laurent Queige at Après Midi)
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