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Women

Influential Iranian Women: Roxanne Varza (1985-)

December 4, 2023
IranWire
4 min read
Roxanne Varza is the director of Station F, the largest startup business incubator in the world, based in Paris
Roxanne Varza is the director of Station F, the largest startup business incubator in the world, based in Paris
Roxanne Varza was born in California to an Iranian Zoroastrian family who had emigrated to the United States during the 1979 revolution
Roxanne Varza was born in California to an Iranian Zoroastrian family who had emigrated to the United States during the 1979 revolution
French President Emmanuel Macron at the opening ceremony of Station F
French President Emmanuel Macron at the opening ceremony of Station F

Roxanne Varza is the director of the Paris-based Station F, the largest startup business incubator in the world.

Roxanne was born in Palo Alto, California, on February 8, 1985, to an Iranian Zoroastrian family who had emigrated to the United States during the 1979 revolution. His father was a graduate of Stanford University in California and her mother was a language teacher before the revolution.

Roxanne first obtained a bachelor's degree in French literature from UCLA and spent a year living in Bordeaux, southwestern France. She remembers that she fell in love with the French language even before traveling to the country: “Everyone was learning Spanish, and I wanted to do something different. It was my way of being a bit rebellious. Then I became fascinated by the culture and the history.” She fell in love with French authors and philosophers and could not help quoting luminaries such as Molière, Baudelaire, Voltaire, Rousseau or Rabelais.

In 2007, after returning to San Francisco, she found her first job at the French International Investment Agency, now called Business France. Her role was to encourage American firms to open offices in the country. Two years there made Roxanne interested in the ecosystem of startups.

After a while, Roxanne decided to move to France to further study this field. Between 2009 and 2011, she pursued two degrees at the same time at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Pro) and the London School of Economics, and she received a master's degree in International Business and a degree in International Economic Policy.

In 2019, while studying for these degrees, she founded StartHER, an association supporting women in the field of technology. Around the same time, she launched a weblog by the name of TechBaguette that attracted the attention of TechCrunch, a leading American global online newspaper focusing on tech and startup companies. Roxanne worked as the editor in chief of TechCrunch in 2010-2011.

In 2012, Roxanne joined Microsoft in Paris and worked with the US tech company for around three years. She was the head of BizSpark, a Microsoft program that provides support for startups, and Microsoft Ventures, a corporate venture capital subsidiary.

Roxanne continued to grow her network by co-founding Girls in Tech Paris, a global nonprofit organization promoting women in the highly masculine world of start-ups. “Things got significantly better in a few years. We’re still a long way from parity, but there are far more women launching start-ups. A third of our residents at Station F are women, and five of our programs have at least 45 percent of female founders or co-founders,” she says. “I set up the same organization in London, but it was welcomed much more enthusiastically [in Paris].”

In April 2013, Business Insider, the New York-based financial and business news website, ranked Roxanne Varza among the 30 most influential women under 30 in the technology sector.

In June 2017, Station F, with the initial capital of €250 million provided by French entrepreneur and billionaire Xavier Nie, was opened by President Emmanuel Macron, with Roxanne Varza as its director. It provides office accommodation for up to 1,000 startups, as well as for corporate partners such as Facebook, Microsoft, L'Oréal and many others. The idea, she says, was “to create a big emblematic space to bring the ecosystem together and provide services and space, especially to young startups that often struggle to find space and resources within their budget. The initial idea was a massive incubator but over time we realized that we were much more like a university campus with various programs for startups, event spaces, services, and soon-to-come housing.”

One of the projects launched by Roxanne within the framework of Station F is called Fighters Program, which she says is “dedicated to entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds.” “This program is dedicated to people who may not have access to fancy schools or what have you,” she adds. “They may come from poor suburbs or rural areas, be immigrants who have had lots of difficulty, refugees or simply people with difficult personal stories.” Those who are accepted in this project have access to all resources at the disposal of Station F, free of charge for an entire year.

Roxanne Varza is married to Ning Li, the co-founder of the furniture company Made.com. The couple has a daughter. In January 2017, she received French nationality. She is currently an ambassador for the European Innovation Council for the years 2021-2027.

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