In Marseille's northern suburbs, the Épopée innovation village is bringing together social and educational start-ups. It's a campus of sorts that has been set up in a former factory building that was once home to Ricard, France's famous pastis aperitif.
The tone is set as soon as you enter the main entrance of l'Epopée. The screening of a 10-minute "team-building film" is intended to motivate and inspire new arrivals.
Dedicated to educational and inclusive innovation in the southern city's troubled areas, the so-called "Quartiers Nord", l'Epopée – a 19,000m2 space – opened its doors in 2021.
Co-founder Naïm Zriouel told RFI: "L’Epopée is a laboratory made to think about the education of the future […] helped along with scientists, universities (Stanford, CNRS) to measure the impact of our innovation.
"We would like to influence public policies and the long-term decisions regarding education and equality."
Inside is a bar built in 1890 where French actor Fernandel used to have his coffee. Seniors from the Cercle des Boulistes – a group that plays petanque from Marseille's Saint Marthe neighbourhood – come every day to play cards and meet young entrepreneurs.
People can come and go at anytime, have lunch under the plane trees, and enjoy post-work drinks.
About 50 start-ups, NGOs and social incubators – most of them from Marseille and its surrounding region – have moved onto the premises. Their investment accounts for some 15 million euros.
Among the businesses hosted by l'Epopée is Formatech, which specialises in the repair of smartphones and tablets.
Karim Hamyani, its director, has been working in the electronics sector since 2002.
"I got my first shop in 2010. In 2012 I followed my first training in micro-soldering in Shenzen, China. I also did training every year to make this technological watch [...] at Apple in the US, also in Turkey, Morocco and Thailand."
Window of opportunity
A new training programme to be created in September should see 80 percent of trainees find employment.
"On an ecological level, we reduce electronic waste by fixing all these devices that were destined for the rubbish tip, and this helps the most disadvantaged people because the rates are obviously better," says Hamyani.
"It's a window of opportunity to be able to deploy all these training centres on national territory."
Another project on the agenda for l'Epopée is the creation of a music label, or more precisely "a school-studio dedicated to sound", explains Deeci, an audiovisual manager at l'Epopée who's worked as a music producer for 14 years.
"The idea is not simply to reveal stars, but also to enable them to be trained in jobs they would not have thought of: beatmakers and video sound engineers, etc."
The most important thing, he adds, is to fit the "DNA of L'Epopée".
"It doesn't matter where you come from, whether you've already been trained or whether you're self-taught or have diplomas ... as long as we can build an ecosystem of competent people who have qualifications that can fit together," explains Deeci.
Never get bored
This is confirmed by Kalène, an intern working with Deeci: "I already have a profile that is quite self-taught and autonomous. I think that's what you need to have here to be able to move forward."
Kalène is studying at the Ecole de la 2è chance (Second Chance School), an organisation that takes in young people aged 16 to 25 with no job or qualifications. He is learning audiovisual, photography, video and editing.
"There are lots of different projects at every moment of the day, so you never get bored and you can develop yourself fully."
L'Epopée is one of the four state-backed "entrepreneurship crossroads" that are part of the 'Marseille en Grand' plan launched by French President Emmanuel Macron in September 2021.
In May, "Le Spot" opened to young people aged 18 to 30 to help them build and create their own business ventures.
"The message we carry is very important. In Marseille we have a lot of talent, we want to change the vision people have of young people in the Quartiers Nord," says Zriouel.
"And we want to make Marseille the capital of social and education innovation."