Editor’s note: Our trip to Northern France was paid for by Nord France Invest.

There is this saying, “When you go to the North of France, you cry two times. First when you arrive and second when you leave”. And well, as an original France southerner, I must admit that this felt really true.

As a little history, Northern France is similar to the story of an entrepreneur. The first step: Creation. With the rise of the industrial revolution, Lille and its surroundings became the center of the textile and coal mining industry in France and largely in Europe. The second step? Scaling. With the strong success of it’s companies, like Auchan, la redoute, les 3 suisses, the region started growing at a large economic scale.

And then the third step: pivoting. In the late 50’s to 80’s, the market began to change and so with it the region changed. The French government decided to promote nuclear power instead of northern France’s coal energy while the textile production market entered competition with Asia and north of Africa.

From one of the most powerful and rich region of France, North became an economically damaged area, filled of abandoned factories, coal mountains and no bright light ahead regarding to the future.

But Northern France, like an entrepreneur, is in the process of reinventing itself – a serial entrepreneur, if you will – and has good fundamentals in place to become the digital attraction point of France and northern Europe.

On top of a budding entrepreneurial community its strengths lie in its strategic position in Europe, for example being one hour from Paris, one hour from London, thirty minutes from Belgium and an hour and a half to Netherlands. On top of that Lille and its surrounding region has gotten political support from the state and the European union to make the region even more attractive to Entrepreneurs.

La plaine image:

Tourcoing, one the suburbs of Lille, hosts an ancient textile factory transformed into a cluster specialized in the Creative Industry with 90 companies, 1400 employees, a research lab, and a 3D creation school (pictured as header image).

With help from the cluster’s incubator, 14 entrepreneurs to launch their startup in the video-game, data-analysis and digital imaging fields. This incubator showed its abilities as 12 companies had been already created and only one of them closed in the year after.

“Helping startups is like planting seeds” says Laurent Tricart, the event and strategic coordinator of La Plaine Image. And it feels true in this place. Everything has been though out and and created for the companies, from a large co-working space (with free coffee – a plus for Nordic visitors) to a showroom for potential customers, to a 500 sq. filming studios where video-game companies as well as digital image startups can let their creativity rise.

Politicians have thrown their weight to bring more startups and entrepreneurs into the cluster. For instance, the cluster is free of charge to sit in, and when you settle your company in the cluster you enter a “tax-free on employees” zone for 4 years. It’s a nice cocktail to create, grow, and get to the market.

“Why the cluster? Well, it is the best place for us!” says Sarah Aberman, Co-founder of Ninchanese, an addictive Chinese learning application described as the “RPG of language learning apps”. La Plaine’s organizers helped the founders regarding the startup everyday life, such as accounting, networking and financial support by the incubator. But for them, the most important part is that being in La plaine image allows them to be free and independent rather than relying heavily on VCs and investors.

This is what I feel like a “digital phoenix”, joining the force, the political and personal wills, the talent and rise on the ashes of a previous failure.

La serre numérique:

Moving to another part of the region, The €40M “Serre numérique” project was initiated in 2004 with the collaboration of Valencienne city, French state and European Union and is a center dedicated to numeric creation. It includes 3 schools (design, video-game and animation), 3000 sq. for companies and startup incubator and a research center.

Under the roof of a design building, la Serre numérique looks like an “all-in-one” place for startups: offices, specialist to help you in all aspects of paper work, school to exchange, find new talents and future employees, incubator for the new coming stars and creative space offering an immersive screen, a 450 places amphitheater with 3D screen and a sound design studio.

The incubator hosts at the moment 7 startups chosen from a “creative startup” competition with a prize of €350,000 and an office space at “La serre numérique”. This project was financed by the commerce chamber of Valencienne, the North region, and sponsor companies with an announced goal of “creating jobs in the region”. Afterwards, the incubator provides a follow-up for the companies for a period from six to twelve months with help with finances, networking, and funding needs.

Scaling startups founds also a rich working environment there and get benefits from the French state and French region regarding the rent, with a discounted rent for the fourth first year. “I want to change, the world, We will offer 3D printed house for less than 5000$” Antoine Motte, the founder of Machine-3D, which found there the perfect synergy to grow with its 3D printing machine company and reached the leadership position in the French market.

Northern France, the new place to be?
Strong with its new structures, political will, and and convenient geographic situation (50 minutes to Paris, 1 hour to London, 30 mintues to Belgium and 1 hour 30 minutes to Netherlands), Lille, Valencienne and its surrounding area enters in the startup game.

We all love good opportunities, you love good opportunities, so, you definitively should have a look and a thought about grabbing a fresh Belgium beer there and why not be part of the phoenix rise !