The hidden face of the Côte d’Azur?

The hidden face of the Côte d’Azur?

Vanessa Marcie invited classmates to her native Côte d’Azur to discover a region of investment potential beyond tourism.

A few weeks ago, I welcomed a dozen students from the Cambridge EMBA 2016, to the Côte d’Azur. My challenge: changing their perception of the Côte d’Azur.

The Côte d’Azur is well known as a touristy place. No need to introduce Nice, Cannes, Monaco or Saint-Tropez, they are the top leisure destinations for summer.

What people don’t know is that Nice is one of the top 10 smart cities in the world. Sophia Antipolis was the first science park in Europe, and more than 3000 companies, including industry leaders, chose Sophia Antipolis to settle and thrive. The Côte d’Azur is the home of 400 start-ups, a booming scene full of opportunities, innovation and very driven entrepreneurs.

My job is to promote this hidden side of the Côte d’Azur, so companies and entrepreneurs around the world know they can do much more than visit as tourists. They can settle, find opportunities of investment, partnerships, build a life and a business, enjoy family time, and close a deal from the beach.

I have said this many times to my classmates or to people I have met, but it is difficult to be taken seriously when the identity of the region has been built on more than a century of very successful tourism branding strategy.

So, I have invited the curious, adventurous people from my cohort to see it themselves. They came with an open mind, lots of questions, an avid curiosity, and a strong desire to enjoy what the Côte d’Azur has to offer. Most of them thought it was going to be a holiday trip and indeed, they spent the weekend on the beach (in April), and drank wine at the terrace of French cafés (So cliché). But they didn’t expect a packed agenda of visits, conferences and meetings to understand what makes Côte d’Azur so special.

The first day, Team Côte d’Azur, the economic promotion agency, broke a few clichés about the French and local economy before explaining the many assets of the region for SMEs, R&D centres, entrepreneurs, and talents.  PwC gave them clarity on the French tax system and a few foreign entrepreneurs who chose Côte d’Azur to set up their business answered a burning question: Why Côte d’Azur?

First, a stop at the Eco-Valley to discover an ambitious long-term project for a sustainable urban metropolis. At that point, the most sceptical of my classmates realised that Nice isn’t joking with eco-exemplarity, proposing a new urban planning model which combines ecology and economy. The goal, over the next thirty years, is to profoundly modify the economic structure of the metropolis, as well as the modes of transport and housing.

Seeing how an ambitious vision becomes reality was very interesting for those senior executives, who are used to dealing and investing in complex projects.  In a few years’ time, Nice will be transformed for the best, and the time to invest is now.

20 minutes later, we were in Sophia Antipolis, a world-renowned science park, the first of its kind in Europe. Studying in Cambridge allows us a privileged access to the Silicon Fen and to successful startups based in the science park. Promoting the Côte d’Azur region means that I work closely with the Côte d’Azur stakeholders and decision makers to build a better future for the region. Sophia Antipolis is a very discreet place, many of the technologies used in our daily life were born there but nobody knows about it. Anybody interested in innovation, disruptive technologies, and startups must go to Sophia Antipolis and meet its community. Sophia Antipolis’ public office opened doors to us of an anechoic chamber and the Côte d’Azur University’s fablab. The following day, Dolby welcomed us for an inspiring speech & a VIP screening in their very own cinema to test the latest Dolby technology.

Two months ago, the EMBA 2016 class spent a week in San Francisco, the mecca for start-ups. There we met successful entrepreneurs, who taught us that failure is part of the entrepreneurship learning curve and should be embraced, not feared. Meeting Sophia Antipolis start-ups was a very different experience. We met early stage entrepreneurs, from France and abroad, who shared their journey, their challenges, their vision, and their hopes for the future of their businesses. My classmates realised the potential of those start-ups groomed at the heart of Sophia Antipolis. Yes, Côte d’Azur really means business.

We finished this two-day visit with Accenture Innovation Lab, one of the few in Europe. This place is a geek’s dream, a heaven where new technologies are being tested to find new applications for businesses.

I enjoyed welcoming part of the EMBA cohort to my region, teaching them something new, feeding their curiosity, and sharing part of my life with them. We got closer and we built incredible memories. They are all planning to come back soon.

The best compliment for me: “Those two days on the Côte d’Azur were more interesting than a week in San Francisco. There are real innovations here.” If senior executives from companies such as GE, Nokia and Autodesk, based in London, China, Italy, or Bahrain, think so, who am I to contradict them?

If you want to experience innovation on the Côte d’Azur, get in touch with me.

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