When imagination creates value

15 April 2021

The closure of a textile plant in 2000 helped spark an urban regeneration project in Lille that has founded a new site attracting leading businesses in the gaming and film industries.

“We had a bit of luck,” admits Stéphane Bossavit, Director for city attractiveness and innovation in Lille. “Firstly, Le Fresnoy [National Center for Contemporary Arts] chose to relocate to our metropolis in early 2000, which helped inspire the idea to create an innovation ecosystem dedicated to creative industries. Secondly, we had a major private player, ANKAMA, which acted as a magnet for other, smaller companies to come on board. And, thirdly, there was significant political support given to Plaine Images from the region and the metropole.”

On the last point, Stéphane explains that, while 30% of the innovation ecosystem is funded by private sources, the larger amount is funded by the region and metropole – which invests €1.9 million per year to make Plaine Images a world leader.

Aiming value, not size

Plaine Images is dedicated to the creative industries. “What we try to do,” says Bossavit, “is concentrate on two areas. We want to have state of the art equipment and facilities, for example technical studios and labs designed with sensors to measure human emotions, which is well suited for the gaming industry. The second factor is crucial for small companies, because within this innovation park you will find the whole value chain for gaming and creating digital pictures and films. That’s probably the main unique selling point that Plaine images is based on.”

The creation of an innovation ecosystem, which brings together different players in one location, is necessary for many smaller companies to enter the game. In recent years, however the ambition and focus of such companies have changed, noticed Bossavit.

“A few years ago,” says Bossavit, “many startups had a dream to develop into large companies. Now many don’t aim to become big, so much as doing something that makes sense to them. The projects are more personal. And so there is an evolution in how the ecosystem is developing, more focused on developing value and being aligned with a core set of beliefs.”

Ausha, for example, which has actually become the leading French podcast platform since its creation in 2017, launched the ‘green podcast’ alongside Deezer to minimise their environmental impact.

Petit Bambou is an app for “mindfulness and meditation that helps you live a happier and healthier life with more compassion and selfcare,” according to the company’s website, which now boasts 7 million users. It matches current consumer trends towards a more relaxed lifestyle, and proved to be a big hit in the early months of the crisis.

City attractiveness

Today Plaine images hosts 140 companies, employing approximately 1,800 staff working for the various companies across a site that spans 100 hectares – since the Vanoutryve textile factory was converted, more buildings have been turned over to this regeneration project in the Northeast of the city. Nowadays, the site is also equipped to hold conferences, conduct research, and next year will host a school for digital arts.

Something that Bossavit does not shy away from is the large investment cost that was needed to make this site viable and attractive to new businesses.

“The location, in the Northeast of the city, was in a very sorry state before the regeneration project began,” explains Bossavit. “Now the link between regeneration and innovation is so important that the city even uses this as a tool for its attractiveness. And it is working.”

Le Fresnoy, for example, is an internationally recognised art and audio-visual school and research centre, which is attracting the next generation of creative professionals to relocate to Lille.

“Those who think that imagination only creates ideas should imagine things differently,” concludes Bossavit. “Here, what imagination produces is creative industries that succeed and brands that set themselves apart.”

A panoramic of the Plaine Images site, which covers 100 hectares


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer