Coding goes green in rural France

Simplon.co is a french startup factory empowering entrepreneur-programmers. Underprivileged smart people are regularly trained on web development and helped to build web startups for social good. Find out more about this successful initiative in the interview with Frédéric Bardeau, Simplon.co founder and one of EU Code Week Ambassadors from France.

Hello Frédéric, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am passionate about empowerment, inclusion and social innovation and the way the Internet is fostering them. I work for now 15 years in this field, first I started to help NGOs using the digital lever to increase their notoriety and fundraising, after I wrote a book on Anonymous the hacktivists civil society movement because of their inspiring way/tools and finally I decided to launch a social dev bootcamp to put magic powers of the hackers’ – programming skills – in the hand of underprivileged youth and girls who are unfairly underrepresented in tech.

You founded Simplon.co in 2013 in Montreuil, Paris and you are already extending the initiative to rural cities: Simplon Village. A call for the project was recently launched together with ZeVillage. How did this new project came up?

The real story of the call for project is that Simplon and ZeVillage failed at implementing a new “Simplon Village” in a rural area, but we decided to re-launch something ASAP to show that it is possible. So I came with the idea that we could revert the whole thing and say that we will select projects instead of asking territories to prepare projects. It changes everything…

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How many cities applied? What were the evaluation criteria?

We got 8 very good projects and had to choose 4. La Loupe in the natural park of Le Perche and 3 other projects located in the south-east of France won the RFP. Mainly, the selection is about analyzing if all the best conditions are gathered to conduct the project to success. It means a good project manager, the funding to start, the place and precise location (transports, equipment, connection speed, offices topography…) and the consistency with a – even recent and modest – digital ecosystem of companies, coworking, incubator, fablab…

What are challenges to start an entrepreneur-programmers empowerment program in a rural ecosystem?

Syndicate the funding and the support local public, economic and employment/training actors without changing the key assets of a “Simplon style” project: immersive and accelerated methodology, peer 2 peer pedagogy, large autonomy for the trainers, locally adapted training contents, multilanguage approach (versus “I want PHP or Dotnet for my local companies”) and have a unique recruitment criteria of the trainees: motivation and willing to do the bootcamp (no other pre-requisit).

How could other people get involved? Will there be another call for the project?

We want the 4 projects to succeed and attract new cities so we will focus on them for the moment but any city that has all the ingredients to make the recipe is welcome, in rural areas but also in factories that stopped activities, poor suburbs of greater cities… One other great synergy is deploying a Simplon just next to a fablab, coworking space or incubator.

A last word?

As we say it always: “In Code We Trust”

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