Will Echo leave Sophia Antipolis?
Creator of a research engine, the start-up which had been the first Sophipolitan 'success story' does not find across the technopole the 2,000 m² it needs to expand.
Historically speaking, Echo will remain one of the pioneers in the French start-up movement. In Sophia Antipolis, it is one of the first success stories of the technopole. In 1997, France Telecom had chosen this small firm created by Christophe Dupont, who had been joined by Michel Bisac and Christophe Ruelle. The national telecom operator had entered the capital of the small firm. The firm had been chosen to develop its research engine and its gate 'Voilà'.100 people within six monthIn only three years, Echo has boomed: 85 employees among whom 70 work in Sophia, a 20 million franc turnover in 1999 and 40 millions are estimated for 2000, 6 million web pages daily read from the information platform in Sophia Antipolis. It has been a development so incredible that Echo could quit the technopole where it was born, because the firm cannot find 2,000 m² premises necessary to its expansion.'We have experimented a very fast growth, Michel Bisac explains, he is the president of the Directoire (Echo became a subsidiary of Wanadoo SA, the France Telecom Internet subsidiary, which has been owning since April 2000 67% of the Sophiopolitan start-up capital). Nowadays, we are 70 people in a 600 m² premise at Hautes Technologies park in Mougins' district. At the beginning of 2001, it is planned that the number of employees on the Riviera site will increase to reach about 100 people. We are at the moment recruiting about thirty people. In majority engineers in computer science. That is why, for more than six months, we have been looking for a 2,000 m² premise to rent, to absorb our development.'Property business: headacheFind a premise like that is a very difficult task in Sophia Antipolis, even for a company like Echo which has joined with France Telecom. At Green Side (companies' village), nothing was available before two years. Cisco system, Lucent Technologies, Bouygues and others had booked all the premises. They could not touch any available premise, even not those let by Dow corning which left Sophia Antipolis in December 1999. The 4,500 m² area built upon a 7 hectares land had been bought by Jean-luc Nahon and his company ISDnet (now Cable and wireless).Another solution had been thought about: at the beginning of the summer, France Telecom had thought about settling its subsidiary Echo in Theseus building (1,700 useful m²), and the CCI (Chamber of Commerce and Industry), hopefully for the Institute Theseus and its prestigious MBA has decided to rent the premises for a 9-year duration, even if the rental price was extremely high: 2 million francs per year without the charges. 'We, of course, would like to stay in Sophia Antipolis,Michel Bisac declares. But, we are obliged to study other solutions of settlement: Nice-la-Plaine, Cannes-la-Bocca.An oxygen bottle with the AgoraFrance Telecom let to Echo 500 m² offices at the first floor of the Agora in Sophia. The whole team dealing with the research engine is installing there as all the activities linked with Xtens (an intranet research engine) and E-stat (statistics). The last two activities were gathered together in a same firm: a new subsidiary Affluens.But the Agora is for sale. So will Echo be obliged to leave the technopole in some years?