The tiny European nation of Monaco is known for many things, not least its casinos, marina and reputation as a hangout for the world’s rich and famous. But this September a tech incubator, headed up by one of France’s most illustrious businessmen, will ask whether this playground of wealth can become a home for entrepreneurs, too.
MonacoTech is a public-private venture which will offer 20 companies the chance to grow, get funding and benefit from what its director calls “Brand Monaco”. Headed by the Monaco government and billionaire Xavier Niel, it is housed in an 820 square meter office that holds 50 desks and two ‘fab labs’ (rooms with access to modern means of invention, according to the MIT project on which the term was founded).
The companies that are selected must be based in Monaco once their seed period ends. While that might not sound the best economic practice given the principality’s sky-high rents and costs, those close to MonacoTech believe Monaco has what it takes to be a great home for startups.
The local government “want to promote entrepreneurship, but with a sustainable vision,” says the incubator’s director Fabrice Marquet. “We don’t want speculation. We want a real economy that’s going to be established in Monaco.
“The goal is to have the best of the two worlds,” he adds. “From the public sector we have this longterm goal, but we want the management from the private sector, to be agile.”
Niel already has deep ties to Monaco: he is the majority stakeholder in leading telecommunications provider Monaco Telecom. Niel is also one of the leaders at Paris’ Station F, the largest startup campus on earth, that opened last month.
MonacoTech’s own program will focus on three key areas: fintech, healthtech and cleantech. In a city whose biggest employers are logistics, finance and luxury, they’re areas in which, according to Sophie de Lorenzo, director of career services at the International University of Monaco (IUM), tech entrepreneurs could play a disruptive role.
“Monaco, and the University of Monaco, are not traditionally the space for technology,” she says. “But we cannot avoid technology today. So even if our strengths are in finance, luxury management and so on, we need to have some programs dedicated to digital technology.”
The IUM already holds business competitions with the London School of Economics. And de Lorenzo stresses the need for Monaco’s younger generations to create jobs for themselves, “to think differently, to think about innovation and the convergence of new business models.”
Doing that in tiny Monaco will be a challenge. With a population of just 38,499, Monaco is the third least populated nation in Europe, behind San Marino and Vatican City. It is also the second smallest country on earth behind the Papal state: almost half the population can fit inside its illustrious soccer club’s home stadium. It is better known for glitzy events like boating shows and its annual Formula One grand prix, than technology.
Monaco’s GDP per capita is $78,700, ranking it, according to the CIA, sixth globally and second in Europe to Liechtenstein. Almost 30% of its residents are millionaires, helped by Monaco’s generous tax regime. Personal tax was abolished in 1869, and profits generated within Monaco are tax-exempt too. Monaco is home to 5,400 companies, people of 120 nationalities and enjoys 5.4% economic growth across ten economic sectors.
“We are the perfect place for niche startups who need to reach customers right away,” says Marquet. “There’s great international visibility. It’s very easy to organize events and get people to come to Monaco.”
“We have a very dense, business-oriented system,” he adds. “We already have a lot of successful entrepreneurs here who are going to do some mentoring, and perhaps finance some projects indirectly.”
Real estate poses a significant problem for companies looking to set up in Monaco. Rents are 278% higher than London, according to comparison site Numbeo–and almost 800% more costly than Berlin, which has been drawing ever more companies and entrepreneurs to its own ecosystem, dubbed ‘Silicon Allee’.
There are few suggestions Monaco is about to create its own ‘Silicon Marina’. But if MonacoTech can harness that private sector agility and couple it with hefty public financial backing, Marquet and co are betting on a bright future for Monaco’s small tech ecosystem.
“In Europe it can sometimes be difficult, and timescale of a startup can sometimes be two years,” says Marquet. “We promise to give answers very quickly, and people can validate their product. We want to make Monaco a hotbed for technology.”