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StationF to startups: Focus on sustainable growth, not unicorn status

With the coronavirus continuing to upend France’s startup economy, StationF plans to rethink its own approach with the goal of encouraging its startups to focus more on sustainability and less on valuations.

In a letter to StationF’s startup community, Director Roxanne Varza said the obsession with becoming the next unicorn had become a distraction for too many founders in recent years. But in thinking about the post-coronavirus landscape, she said StationF wants to take the lead in resetting those priorities.

“We think it’s important for all startups – yes, all 1000 – to be values-driven,” Varza wrote. “We’ll be adding more values-based selection criteria to our two in-house programs and work with our 30 different programs to help them do the same by the end of the year.”

The missive comes just a month after StationF had to close its own doors in the wake of a nationwide confinement to fight the spread of COVID-19. That posed a particularly thorny challenge given the international composition of its resident startups.

The StationF team has been attempting to offer support through such efforts as connecting entrepreneurs to the various programs the French government has put in place. And a number of StationF startups have joined in efforts to find innovative solutions to bolster healthcare professionals and other workers suffering from the economic fallout.

But Varza’s letter is an indication that the impact of the coronavirus may be felt well beyond the immediate crisis. The French government has tentatively set May 11 as the start of a process to reopen the country. However, that is expected to be a gradual unwinding of the confinement.

“Now, as we get ready to welcome you back to campus (date and info coming shortly), it should be no surprise that things may not be exactly as they were before,” Varza wrote. “This crisis is more than just a business opportunity. In many ways, it presents an opportunity for humanity.”

She called on founders to hold on to the mindset they had to embrace to get throught the shutdown. In particular, that should include a rejection of focusing on things like fundraising valuations. Instead of fast growth, she proposed a return to fundamentals such as building businesses that can generate cash while providing “real value.” 

Realizing that vision won’t be easy, even if there is a lingering sense of solidarity as some semblance of normal returns. StationF has two programs that it runs directly. Varza’s plan to focus on “values-driven businesses” and adding that as a criteria for selection will broadly set the tone.

Still, StationF is a campus that has attracted numerous partners, including Facebook and Apple, that run their own incubator and accelerator programs within its walls. Clearly, Varza is optimistic that the shared experience of the past few weeks will prove persuasive as she approaches these partners to discuss possible changes.

“This may sound weird but when you come back to StationF, let’s act like we’re still in crisis,” she wrote. “In months to come, we’ll be reinforcing our community values in order to bring us all closer together.”