Vive le dot.com, say the young and liberated

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The Independent Online

To find the new, beating heart of capitalist France, you turn into a shabby-looking alley, just off the Place de la Republique, the traditional venue for rallies by the many tribes of the French far left.

Here, in a former indoor circus building, once used as a factory for machine tools, next door to a dance school and a raunchy night club, is "Republique Alley", the largest single community of French hi-tech start-ups.

Perhaps the most significant object in the building is the "shrine to capitalism", kept not entirely jokingly by the man who runs Republique Alley, Laurent Adel, 30. Visitors are invited to light a joss-stick and pray to make a fortune at a red shrine littered with the photographs of venture capitalists. How does Mr Adel explain the apparent resurrection of the French economy in the last three years? How has a country once described as a capitalist country without capitalists suddenly caught the entrepreneurial bug?

"Everything has changed and nothing has changed," he says. "The French have always been creative, inventive people ... The internet business revolution has given people an opportunity to bypass the élites, bypass the hierarchical corporate structures of the big firms.

"Five years ago, anyone graduating from Science Po [the élite political science college] knew that they had to spend the next seven years making coffee in a big corporation. Now none of them want to do that because they don't have to do it any more. They can develop their own business idea at a place like this; say 'ciao' to Paribas or Canal Plus and go back and buy them up in a few years' time."

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