Why entrepreneurs are choosing Lille for European business

Lille is no longer flying under the business radar as just a pleasant tourist town. Thanks to a wealth of tech, export and industrial business, the city of Lille is emerging as the fresh face of European startups.

Slap-bang in the fortuitous location of Northern France that has fast rail and road links to the five European capitals cities of Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Cologne and Paris, Lille is also blessed with France’s third busiest port – perfect for export companies that need to get their products around the world.

The city is now ranked number one in Europe for textiles, e-commerce, R&D and tech startups (with over 20,000 digital tech employees working in the region); and is ranked number one in France for food exports, biotech and nutrition, car exports and car manufacture.

As well as export companies, there are over 97,000 SMEs in Lille and thanks to the large amount of office and warehouse space and international links, Lille is home to 47% of the region’s foreign entrepreneurs, as more and more international companies choose to base their headquarters in the city. Since Brexit, Lille has become a go-to place for UK entrepreneurs who have struggled with the new UK and EU customs rules. Being close to the south of England, Lille has offered a convenient and cheap place to set up their import/export businesses so they can keep trading with Europe.

The textile and fashion industry also has strong roots in the city and the manufacture and design of textiles (as well as the recycling of materials to make eco and green textiles) have brought huge investment into Lille. Over 20% of all textile purchases nationally come from Lille, and there are over 40 globally renowned clothing retailers and 80 fashion brands that have their HQ in the city.

Related article: How to start a business in France in 8 steps

A new drive by the city’s leaders called 'Hello Lille' has been launched to welcome foreign entrepreneurs to help them make their European business ideas a reality. The banking system in Lille is also extremely open to foreign investment and welcomes overseas business that have strong market potential within the city.

Once here, the large highly skilled labour force and strong education and training centres in the region mean foreign entrepreneurs have the pick of the crop when it comes to recruiting young and innovative employees. There are 210,000 students that go to the nine universities,10 research centres and over 20 engineering schools in the area, which go on to produce 10% of French engineers. There are also centres of excellence for various business areas, such as:

  • WENOV: a 23,000m² campus dedicated to training students and professionals in digital technologies.
  • Eurasanté – a Bio Business Park and one of Europe’s largest Biotech and Medtech hubs.
  • CETI – the European Centre for Innovative Textiles is one of the top five in the world and works with major fashion brands to design, experiment and industrialise products and materials to accelerate innovation in the textile industry.
  • Regional University Hospital Center – the largest in Europe with eight hospitals, five training campuses and more than 16,000 employees.
  • FALC – an incubator for financial, insurance, legal and cyber security startups.

In terms of quality of life, Lille has a lot going for it. According to a 2020 report, it’s ranked as one of the cheapest places to live for real estate out of 20 European cities. Coupled with its beautiful architecture, food markets, luxury shopping streets, cosy cafes and restaurants that serve the best French food (and much cheaper than in Paris!) and its friendly atmosphere, Lille is able to accommodate both the old traditional French style with a new trendy startup vibe.

And for foreign entrepreneurs with families or for those that need some nature in their lives, there are 80,000 hectors of natural parks 442 km of hiking trails, 7 lakes and is only a little over an hour’s drive away from the seaside. For culture, you are spoiled for choice including 20 museums, 80 movie cinemas and 15 theatre and concert venues.

So whether you have a tech startup and want to take advantage of the city’s innovative approach, an exporter who wants to find a strong base from which to send out products or anyone involved in the textile, financial, health, food or car industry – there’s pretty much something for every entrepreneur in the new-look city of Lille.

For more information on how to open a company in Lille along with a registered business address, office space or a virtual office, a business bank account, visa and accountant advice, please download our free guide below and either call our team on 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us from our contact page and we’ll be happy to help.

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