STATION F: Reflections on 2020 and looking to 2021

By Roxanne Varza, Director at STATION F

I’m not really sure what word best describes 2020. Strange? Different? Weird? It’s certainly been a difficult year for many. But it has also presented us with so many new opportunities – as all crises do.

Many people have been curious as to how STATION F has handled the crisis, what lockdown and COVID mean for a massive space and community like ours. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy. Just like many other businesses, we have had to adapt how we operate to government announcements (or lack thereof).

The first lockdown was surreal in many ways – it was the first time we closed STATION F since our launch in 2017. But it also allowed us to see the true power of our community. Our residents came forward to help each other with literally everything, offering to provide all kinds of assistance, and sharing various tips and offers. We also felt that it also brought about a new consciousness within the greater ecosystem about the importance of values.

By the time the second lockdown rolled around, everyone was more or less prepared. Although we had already moved all of our resources online, we decided to leave our campus accessible to residents – and those who could not work remotely did make use of the campus.

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Looking back, I’d say the 2 most difficult moments this year probably included implementing furlough for the team during the first lockdown in March, and re-opening STATION F in May with only very limited information from the government on sanitary guidelines. That said, I’m incredibly pleased with how my team handled those challenges, not to mention all the others that were thrown their way throughout the year.

 

Some 2020 highlights 

 

But this year also presented opportunities. Looking back, here are some of the projects we enjoyed most.

1. Teaming up with over 120 VC funds for our Covid Study

COVID impacted a lot of businesses – both positively and negatively – and changed so many things about how startups work. So we decided to team up with over 120 VC funds from 5 key geographies (US, UK, France, Germany, and Israel) to get a better understanding. 

The findings? Comparatively, things in France were not too bad, government aid had made a difference, early-stage startups were the least impacted, and many were quite positive about the 2nd half of the year (with regards to events, recruitment, funding, and more). 

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2. The 2nd edition of the Future 40 – fully remote 

2019 was the first edition of the Future 40, the event that features our most promising seed-stage companies. This year, we unveiled the 2nd edition, with companies covering all kinds of great innovations: housing on mars, vegan eggs, next-generation plant breeding, payments infrastructure, virtual assistant, prescription drug delivery and more. 

It wasn’t easy to move everything to an online format in just 3 weeks, but we’re so pleased that we did! We had over 3x more investors tune-in to watch the 2020 edition and from various countries. In addition, they collectively requested several hundred introductions to the companies following the event. 

We’ve already seen a few of the companies secure funding and are sure to see more in the weeks to come.

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3. Launching our Beta Bar

We took advantage of lockdown to tidy up a bit. We improved a lot of the meeting and event rooms, as well as the workspaces. 

However, if there is one area that we really are really proud of, it’s the Beta Bar. We decided to completely transform the STATION F welcome desk into a place for visitors as well as the general public to view and test various startup products. 

The Beta Bar features products that are both made in STATION F and elsewhere from various industries. We’ll be featuring new products regularly, so get in touch if you’d like to be featured. 

In a normal context, the STATION F welcome desk receives hundreds of thousands of visitors per year (and more including event guests). We thought this would be a great way for startup products to get even more exposure. Want to check it out? No reservations necessary, just show up 🙂

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4. Welcoming a new program to our campus 

That’s right, despite everything that has happened this year, we have a new program on campus! AstraZeneca is our newest partner and just announced an accelerator program called Inno’Vaccins. This program could not be more timely and is for innovations that will speed up the vaccine deployment process. We are absolutely thrilled to see the first startups they will work with, joining the campus in January. 

5. Hosting (even more) brilliant people 

Whether it be through events, workshops, or in our content, we are beyond humbled to look at names that we have had a chance to host this year: Esther Hare (Apple), Jesse Draper (Halogen VC), Patty McCord (Netflix), Howie Liu (Airtable), Saul Klein (LocalGlobe), Fabrice Grinda (FJ Labs), Nicolas Brand (Lakestar), Firmin Zocchetto (Payfit), Dylan Field (Figma), Antoine Hubert (Ynsect) and more. Not to mention a little visit from the President of Kenya and loads of ambassadors and ministers.

While we love being able to see everyone live and in person, we are also pleased to see that our community is not shying away from the great content presented in online events and workshops. F For Future, our first fully online event, welcomed over 500 attendees. 

 

Getting ready for 2021

 

Now, there are those who are a little uncertain what 2021 will bring, and we can’t blame them. But we, at STATION F, are definitely optimistic and excited. We know that those industries that were hit the hardest will also be the ones that show some of the most promising innovations. 

If there is one topic we are even more committed to in the new year, it’s supporting our diverse founders. We announced in September that we would be seeking to double the size of the Fighters Program (for underprivileged entrepreneurs) in the new year – and we’ll be strengthening the program in their ways as well.

But perhaps the greatest opportunity that the crisis has brought about is the chance to reinvent ourselves. Up until now, the STATION F experience had been largely about being physically present on campus. A lot of our resources and value were designed for those on-site. But this new context has pushed us to think differently, to try and test (lots of) new things. We won’t spoil anything now, but we’ll be looking at developing this further in 2021 and beyond.