Shining a light on Luxembourg's startup ecosystem: Meet Charles-Louis Machuron

8 min read
14 Sep 2018

hile Silicon Valley is a region known the world over, Silicon Luxembourg - a print and online magazine based in the country of its name - is comparatively lesser known. Meet the founder of the company producing Luxembourg’s startup news who sat down with us recently to tell us his story.

A street in Luxembourg. Photo: Unsplash/Andreas Selter

When founder and editor-in-chief of Silicon Luxembourg Charles-Louis Machuron moved to Luxembourg, he had no idea that he’d end up launching a media company.

The Paris native was initially curious about Luxembourg’s growing startup community. Now his print and online magazine has a circulation of 5,000 people in 30 countries and is shining a spotlight on the country’s ecosystem.

The idea behind the quarterly magazine is to spread the word about Luxembourg’s local ecosystem for startups. But how did the idea come about? What were some of the biggest challenges Charles-Louis faced? And what are some of the pros and cons of Luxembourg’s startup ecosystem?

How did you have the idea to start Silicon Luxembourg?

I’d been working for startups in Luxembourg for a few years, as well as at a media company, and I wondered why there was no media focused on startups here. I met lots of entrepreneurs starting their own startups but didn't know of any media outlet focused on them. So I decided to launch a website focusing on startups in 2013. In four years, it has become the main source of news on startups in Luxembourg. Today it's a website with almost 25,000 page views per month. It's also a quarterly magazine, which is shipped in 30 countries. The idea is really to spread the word about the local ecosystem for startups. That's why all the content is in English, to spread the word outside Luxembourg. It's a tiny country, and the magazine is meant to spread visibility at a European and worldwide level. It started as a side project, but now I'm leading a media company.

The idea was really to share the success stories of entrepreneurs, and to organize meetups and conferences. We have great entrepreneurs and smart ideas in the Luxembourg ecosystem – and not only in the finance industry, but across all sectors – but in other ecosystems, there's media to talk about the startups. In France, Germany, Estonia or Spain, there's media focusing on startups. We're focusing on startups here.

What got you interested in Luxembourg's startup community?

I'm originally from Paris, but I really wanted to work at an e-commerce startup. In 2009, I met an entrepreneur who was launching a business in Luxembourg, and I thought the project was great, so I moved here and worked for the startup for a few years.

Then, in 2012, I was working at an independent media company in Luxembourg about economics and news. In 2014, I mixed my backgrounds to create a magazine for startups. It makes a difference to entrepreneurs that I have past experience working for a startup and get what their concerns are, so I can really understand how they think about startups.

We need more students and more entrepreneurs in Luxembourg, and people who like to take risks. There’s money in Luxembourg, but of course people tend to be risk averse.

But why startups at all? Why not work at an established e-commerce company?

I'm really curious about and fond of innovation. It was at this point of my life where I'd just come back from a long stay in Canada, where I’d been working for a French company and helping them start their business there, and when I came back to France and then Luxembourg, I felt I was in need of a different experience.

The company I was working for in France is called Smartbox, and it's one of the most famous companies in the leisure industry there. They started as a startup, so I got in touch with that world. When I left, they were about four hundred people. So I thought, yes, I’d like to work for startups. I like the startup environment, I like being agile and doing a lot of things at the same time. I'm not good at focusing on one thing; I like focusing on lots of things. So I had a look at the ecosystem, and when I met this entrepreneur I liked the project. So I thought, yes, let's just try. It was like four months after I came back from Canada to France.

How is Luxembourg's ecosystem today?

What I like is the way it's really an international community. You have entrepreneurs from New Zealand, Russia, England, Germany, France. There are about 150 nationalities in Luxembourg, and the city is only 100,000 inhabitants. So it's really the strength of Luxembourg: if you're a startup and you want to expand your business on a European or a global level, you have all the languages here; you don't need to hire from Poland or Sweden or whatever.

On the other hand, one of the weaknesses is that we don't have enough talent here. It's a financial ecosystem, for one. The second thing is that the university is really young. It's only ten years old, so most of the students study abroad, they start with their first internships and first jobs abroad. If they come back to Luxembourg, they start working for banks or big firms or governmental bodies.

So we need more students and more entrepreneurs in Luxembourg, and people who like to take risks. There’s money in Luxembourg, but of course people tend to be risk averse, and I’ve particularly noticed this in Luxembourg.

Charles-Louis Machuron. Photo: Startup Guide

A second strength is that it's a small ecosystem. Everyone knows everyone; there’s a really short path between the government, the startups and the investors. Everyone is involved. There are dozens of new initiatives, and at least one new incubator or program for startups each week.

It's really surprising when you don't know Luxembourg to see that there is such a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and people launching their own businesses. So this is the second thing: the small community and that everyone knows everyone.

Also, the government is pushing really hard to build a digital, startup nation, and they're good at finding the right niche market. The country is too small to focus on all the industries, so they're good at finding the right industry. They turned from farming to industry and finance, and now they're turning to digital. The decisions they're making today are for the next forty years. That's the strength of Luxembourg.

What was the hardest thing about starting this magazine?

The most difficult part at first was to define the format, the content, the structure and the right frequency, and finding the right people to shed light on. It's a quarterly magazine, so I need to foresee what will be going on ahead of time. I'm currently writing the next issue, and it's the same problem: finding the right people and going for it.

I built the network myself. I sent the magazine to all the people I knew in Luxembourg to begin with, and then people started to register directly online to receive copies. I built the distribution list, presented it at all the incubators and accelerators, and promoted it abroad. I also have some commercial partners, and I’ve sent them copies of the magazine so that they could distribute it to other entrepreneurs.

The decisions they're making today are for the next forty years. That's the strength of Luxembourg.

The structure has evolved over time, and the last issue that came out is a really new magazine. The focus is on important entrepreneurs and about showing what we have in the ecosystem. It could seem crazy to launch a startup magazine; there are dozens of magazines. What's great is that it became more and more popular. I get more and more requests to be featured. It might sound crazy to have a print magazine about the digital sector and innovation, but the Luxembourg market is a really good place to launch one. Printed magazines are really popular in Luxembourg.

One of the strengths of the magazine is you can also read it online. If there’s an article about you in the magazine, you're in the print edition, the online edition, and in the social media and all the newsletters. The most difficult part now is the logistics and maintaining the best distribution list to be sure that the magazine will reach the right places and be read by the right people.

The ironic effect of the growing success of the magazine is that all main newspapers in Luxembourg now have pages dedicated to startups; people understood that they have to talk about startups. I was the first to launch a magazine dedicated to startups. Luxembourg is small, so everyone talked about the magazine from the very beginning.

In terms of your personal life, what do you like or dislike about the startup lifestyle in Luxembourg?

Luxembourg is not that far from where I come from. I can be back in Paris in two hours. Second, it's a great city to live in. I like that there's not much stress – commuting to Paris every day was different. In Luxembourg, I don't have that stress.

I also like the fact that it's an international city. My friends and the people I meet every day here are all from different regions. It's great. I don't know how to say it in English, but Luxembourg is a microcosm of Europe, so you can discover all the countries of Europe and many others in a single day.

I can also run and bike – even in the city – for dozens of kilometers without crossing any roads. It's really green, and there are lots of forests. I like outdoor activities, and it’s the perfect location for my kids too. I feel safe, and when you have a family and you're running your startup at the same time, it's a perfect match. I'm really happy to live in Luxembourg.

This interview was originally published in the first volume of Startup Guide Luxembourg.

Main photo: Startup Guide

*This article was originally published on October 17th, 2018 and updated on December 10th, 2018.