Beeleev, a go-to resource for global startups, is based in the heart of Paris (which ranked as the No. 6 city for fastest-growing private companies on this year's Inc. 5000 Europe list). With a top floor swathed by a glass ceiling in a co-working space, its offices have the same sleek feel you might find in Silicon Valley.
Founded in 2013, the startup is a LinkedIn of sorts for entrepreneurs, vetting people in all sectors from regions as diverse as Congo and Thailand. Community managers verify the legitimacy of the business through its LinkedIn profile and website (generally speaking, the startups have raised some funding.) A founder looking to connect with a corporate partner in, say, Asia, can source from connections through the platform. Beeleev, in turn, will do the background work to connect the two by setting up a meeting.
Last year, the company saw revenues close to $226,000 (€200,000). Beeleev makes money through its "freemium" model, which charges extra for packages that connects founders to a series of such benefits as meetings and legal counseling. These add-on packages can range anywhere from $110 (€97) to $900 (€796).
Success through shared resources across borders
"Entrepreneurs really trust each other," says Hugues Franc, Beeleev's founder and CEO. "We wanted to help them find contacts to help them grow in foreign markets." Before launching Beeleev, Franc founded Réseau Entreprendre in Paris, France's main private entrepreneur network consisting of more than 400 CEOs.
One notable client the startup has worked closely with is BlaBlaCar. The French ride-sharing service, which has been reportedly valued at $1.5 billion dollars, sought to get a foothold in Asian markets such as Japan and Indonesia. Through Beeleev, the company landed key contacts, both French entrepreneurs living in Asia as well as local founders.
"It's important to share experience in order to motivate entrepreneurs to think global and expand internationally," recalls Frédéric Mazzella, CEO and Founder at BlaBlaCar, referring to the Beleev business model. All said, Beeleev grew its client base by a factor of six last year, and currently serves 2,500 entrepreneurs.
Expanding to the U.S.
Franc works with partners across four other locations (New York City, Omaha, Montreal, and Copenhagen). While the company helps startups expand anywhere globally, about 40 percent of customers come from Europe, and 20 percent from the U.S., which Franc sees as his most important market.
Later this year, Beeleev will be touring Silicon Valley, in hopes of generating awareness among the nation's most vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.
One key aspect of Beleev's business model that makes it attractive to other startups is its access to corporate partnerships. The company has inked deals with major French sponsors such as BNP Paribas, a bank, and Orange, a telecommunications firm. These partners help startups to further expand in new markets, in some cases by making deals with them.
The challenges of France's startup ecosystem
Thanks to his previous venture, Franc has a wealth of contacts in the French startup scene. In the beginning stages of starting Beeleev, though, he recalls having just 80 clients. In general, he notes that European startups often struggle to secure the necessary financing to keep up with their rapid growth.
"The French startup climate is becoming more and more positive," he says. To wit, exit values in France grew by 1.2 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to research from Compass. Still, he adds that politics and media can often portray a very tough impression of things.
In terms of attracting foreign talent and investors, it doesn't help that France has extended its state of emergency following a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, organized by the Islamic State (which left at least 130 dead in November 2015). Beleev's headquarters are located just blocks away from where terrorists opened fire on the public. The co-working space itself became a hideout for those fleeing the attackers (two employees died that day).
"Everyone in France was very affected, in terms of the individual and collective pain and fear," Franc recalls. Still, he insists that where the startup ecosystem is concerned, "it hasn't really changed anything."
If anything, he points to a stronger spirit of optimism, encouraging entrepreneurs to continue taking risks to make the economy (and the world) a better place.
"The national pride here is stronger now," Franc says.