The impact of Coronavirus on STATION F (so far)

By Roxanne Varza, STATION F's Director

Let me start by saying that it’s been nothing short of an adventurous week for the STATION F staff and entire community, to put it mildly.

Given that we have an extremely international community, we had actually began seeing the impact of Coronavirus prior to the announcements of the French government. As a result, we had already taken a number of steps to ensure the security of our residents. Initially, we tried our best to stay open and accessible for any of our startups that would not be able to easily move to remote working. Yet, after the announcements of the French Prime Minister on Saturday asking all non-essential public buildings to close, we felt that the most responsible decision to make would be to close our campus entirely and ASAP.

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STATION F officially closed on Saturday, March 14 at midnight, which is the first time we have closed (ever) since our campus opened in 2017. Naturally, we provided access to campus for residents on Sunday and Monday so that they could retrieve their belongings. I’d like to take the opportunity to say a huge thank you to all members of the team and our community who contributed to making this all go as smoothly as possible.

Now, with campus closed and all our residents working remotely, we are beginning to turn our attention to what comes next.

 

What STATION F is doing

First, we want to help our startups navigate this situation as much as we possibly can. We know that this is new territory and that many companies need to react quickly.

A number of organizations were quick to alert companies (thanks, Sequoia Capital) and the greater ecosystem regarding the risks and what to expect. In France, the government – specifically Cedric O, Secretary of State for Digital Affairs – was quick to announce measures for startups. Many groups, like France Digitale and BPIfrance, have since followed-up with “survival kits” and dedicated services to help startups make it through these difficult times. Naturally we were also sad to hear that the VivaTech conference wouldn’t be taking place in June as planned, although we do agree it’s probably for the best.

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1. Online workshops, office hours & « Ask me Anything » sessions

Many startups are probably scrambling to get answers to their questions, whether it be how to cost-cut or what to do with regards to HR. Therefore, we’ll be organizing dedicated workshops (online) for the STATION F community so that they can speak with experts on how to best handle various aspects of their business and minimize the impact of this crisis. We’ll be doing primarily group video-conferencing and Slack formats, but we’re open to testing other formats as well, including voice.

We’ll also be hosting some online « Ask me Anything » sessions more seasoned and well-known entrepreneurs and investors in our network, so that they can share how they are preparing for the weeks and months to come.

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2. Dedicated communications channels for Coronavirus-related discussions

At STATION F, the 2 main communications platforms we use are Slack and our own internal platform called Hal.

A huge portion of our community immediately took to Slack to ask questions and offer solutions and advice, which was incredible to see. We found that naturally all of our Slack channels ended up with Coronavirus-related questions and comments. We have therefore decided to launch a dedicated, temporary channel for residents to share all questions, stories, tips and more regarding the situation (#covid_questions). We also felt that it was important to centralize all Coronavirus-related questions so as to not miss anything important from our community.

For high-frequency questions (meaning that many startups ask the same question), we’ll post the answers on HAL in the Forum tool that we launched last year. We feel that this is the format that is best adapted to recurring questions.

 

3. Tools for remote work

We know that working remotely isn’t always evident and requires new tools and organization. We’ll be working with our partners and our startups to provide whatever tools we can so that our startups can best work from home.

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A number of our startups are also offering their tools and services, including Viibe (for remote working), Avostart (for legal assistance) or Fygr (for cashflow management and forecasting). You can find the full list here.

 

4. What the community is doing

Now, I’ve been blown away to the gracious and creative gestures from within the STATION F community in response to this situation.

I mentioned above that some of our startups are offering products or services to other companies at Station F. However, we also have companies and residents that are launching services to help those in need, including delivering leftover or unsold food to hospitals and a crowdfunding campaign to help the homeless.

Now, when it comes to our residents, creativity knows no limits. We’re also seeing many of our residents launch new and innovative content to share with each other and the community. Some of the best examples of this are coming from Flatmates, our coliving community. Residents there have launched a radio show as well as a wine-tasting Instagram account in order to socialize with each other while being unable to leave their apartments.

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In addition, with all of our 1000 companies at STATION F currently working remotely, we’re seing some inventive group activities online – including virtual lunches to virtual team yoga. One STATION F company is also looking to build “online team building” activites as part of their offering.

 

Positively-impacted businesses

Obviously a lot of our companies will have some difficulties, whether it be a dip in sales, a lag in international shipments or product assembly, HR-related difficulty, funding issues, or something else. A lot of organizations have been quick to provide warnings (perhaps starting with Sequoia Capital) and provide guides and resources to the startup ecosystem – including France Digitale,

But we are fortunately also seeing some positive impacts, that go beyond companies like Zoom and Slack. Companies that provide digital working solutions, online health platforms, digital content or entertainment have all mentioned that they are seeing a positive impact on their businesses.

These are just some of the effects and impacts that we are currently witnessing on our community – and there will certainly be a lot more in the upcoming weeks. Even though right now everyone is working hard to absorb the shock and land on their feet, we at Station F are also curious to see what opportunities are to come.