Being An Entrepreneur On The Cote D’Azur; You’re Probably Right To Be Tempted

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Monaco, Cannes, Marseille, Nice, St Tropez; France’s Cote D’Azur hosts some world-famous cities and towns as well as picturesque, sleepy on the surface villages that stretch towards Ventimiglia, in Italy, in the East, and Marseille in the West.

The quality of life on the Cote D’Azur is high; there are plenty of activities, events and festivals, celebrating food, life and culture; there are yachts, superyachts, casinos, nightclubs, fast cars, good food, and all the other trappings of the glamorous Mediterranean that you might expect. It can also be surprisingly down to earth ad friendly.

It is also home to more than 2,000 foreign-owned business ventures, undertaken by 1,300 overseas businesses and employing nearly 35,000 people, according to Investincoted’ The region has seen a surge in foreign direct investment since the early 1980’s, and has established more than 120 new sites per year for the past 5 years.

Nice can be all the fun of the fair for entrepreneurs

The ICT sector is the no 1. most attractive sector, responsible for approximately half of all jobs, whilst business services, decision centres and R&D centres account for 85% of projects; other enterprises include call centres, training centres, consulting, and marketing and sales.

Companies hail mostly from the United Kingdom, and the United States, but also from Hong Kong, India and China, and Mexico. Sophia Antipolis, a technology park of global repute, is just 20kms from Nice. Established in the 1970’s, it was named after the goddess of wisdom, also the name of the wife of founder, French Senator Pierre Lafitte, and the ancient name for Antibes.

Sophia Antipolis is located at the centre of a large national park, where wild boar roam, as well as a community of bats which come out at night. It sounds a world away from the Square Mile, Canary Wharf, or the furious tech startup scenes of London, Berlin, and Paris. But sometimes entrepreneurs need time and space to think – and there is no shortage of resources in the form of top talent, infrastructure and outside investment. Sophia Antipolis is home to 300 IT companies, employing 15,000 people.

In the towns and cities of the French Riviera, there are plenty of entrepreneurs; I met several when I attended a Meetup event in Nice, Networking for Cote D’Azur entrepreneurs, at the Joya Life Co-working space near the Place du Pin.

The evening was organised by French entrepreneurs Adrien Rolland Palomba, co-founder of Open4Partiz, an app and platform where you can find parties around the local area, or create your own. It’s fairly early days for the company, but both Adrien and his co-founder are keen to scale what they have created, and have learned a great deal about the sharing economy and the hospitality industry in the process of hosting the events whilst developing the app.

I swapped cards with other inspiring founders too, here to present their companies, and perhaps to make a deal, or a hire. The startups ranged from a visual recognition app, Bobbli, to quickly find matches for clothing using smartphone camera images, a female friendship app, Copines de Sortie, encouraging local women to make the most of their free time (Facebook page and videos here), a digital dentistry training programme stored and distributed via the Cloud, called Kedzoh, a couple of developers, one working at Sophia Antipolis, and a Slovenian in Nice to gain digital marketing experience ahead of starting her own venture.

It’s always great to experience an entrepreneur friendly environment, and of course this event was just a microcosm of similar events taking place all over the city – France’s third largest – and across the entire region. From embryonic ventures, to large conferences, to business lunches in the sunshine on the beachfront, in an academic environment, if you can’t get excited about doing business here then good luck anywhere else!

You can spend your downtime hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, climbing or even skiing, or sampling the excellent Provencal cuisine, from gnocchi to the famous Niçoise salad. There are festivals, farmers’ markets, theatre and dance, and of course, the beaches, which are inviting even in December. Blue skies and sunshine all the way.

La Place Massena after dark

Of course, many will be tempted to purchase property in the region, and you can do this either by spending a lot of money, or not too much money, if you settle for a location like Nice, rather than Monaco, Antibes or Cannes, for example – alongside parts of Paris, the most expensive places to buy property in France. Think £1m plus, for starters. Rental is possible – either as a landlord or a holidaymaker – prices for a 1 bed apartment with sea view can be as cheap as €150,000, according to Frenchentrée, and Airbnb and sites like HomeAway are popular – beware of scammers, though.

I enjoyed my 3 nights in Nice and can see myself returning; the environment has much to offer any business person, from a digital nomad, to an early stage investor or VC, to a startup or project team working on developing anything from the next big technology development, breakthrough medical treatment, or fintech disruptor, to a new social media craze. Europe has pushed back against many of the business techniques employed by GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, in the region, and plans to step in with alternatives are at an advanced stage.

Nice has a university and a good network for entrepreneurs and startups to quickly find the help they need. Even though starting a company in France can be admin heavy it is apparently getting better – for tax purposes, some companies have even found it beneficial to start their companies elsewhere – Bulgaria, for example, for teh more favourable tax treatment – whilst operating from the Cote D’Aur.

a yacht in Nice’s harbour for cleaning

There are numerous incubators and accelerator programs too, some, like Le Village, run by banks – in this case Credit Agricole. Crowd funding and angel investing is also popular.

Any business set up on the French Riviera has the opportunity to steep itself in good habits and benefit from a positive business environment, great surroundings, easy access to the rest of Europe and beyond, and the chance to rub shoulders with some of the world’s rich and influential elite. Doubtless the Cote D’Azur will continue to exert a strong hold on some.