Patrick Rein, a digital powerhouse in Mulhouse [Tribune]

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Patrick Rein has become the leader of a Mulhouse ecosystem dedicated to the digitalization of industry. He has set up his incubator project by rehabilitating a wasteland that symbolizes the past grandeur of his city. Olivier Mirguet

Station F, the Parisian campus of the Halle Freyssinet, is his model. ” My idea was to take over former industrial premises to develop an innovation ecosystem driven by the private sector, but helped by the public sector “, summarizes Patrick Rein. At 56 years old, this digital jack-of-all-trades is enjoying it. With four co-investor partners, he has given new life to the former Alsatian mechanical engineering company (SACM), an architectural jewel of the industrial revolution. The factory in question is located in the center of Mulhouse. It employed up to 7,000 people in the manufacture of weaving looms, then gas engines and diesel engines. The community, heir to this abandoned industrial heritage, granted Patrick Rein and his associates a long lease for 60 years. 11,000 square meters have been renovated for 7 million euros. The place resembles the landscape of northern England, with its red brick walls and sheds
(sawtooth roofs).

A post-industrial strategy

For the past year, the renovated wasteland has been home to the largest private start-up incubator in the Grand-Est. ” We named it KMØ in reference to the first international railway line that left from here in 1841 “, explains Patrick Rein. One year after its inauguration, the three-story building is fully booked : 42 companies, three training centers including the Cnam, 370 students and 70 events organized. The focus is on the digitalization of the industry.
Not bad for a city in search of a new post-industrial economic strategy. But Patrick Rein defends himself from this political intention. For nearly twenty years, he has worked to make visible a digital ecosystem that was not visible. In the early 2000s, as head of Activis, a start-up specializing in
referencing on the Internet, he was trying to convince a Swiss prospect that Alsace was teeming with computer experts. The arguments were missing.

” One Sunday, I listed all the local computer companies in the phone book. I found out there were more than a hundred of us ,” he recalls. Patrick Rein contacted all of these companies and offered them the opportunity to network. Jean-Marie Bockel, the former mayor of Mulhouse, helped to structure the process by providing resources, a secretariat and offices. The Rhenatic consortium was born. It has grown to 120 members and among its achievements, the most concrete was the establishment by the University of Haute-Alsace of a degree in Internet marketing.

Rhénatic has radiated as far as Strasbourg. In 2015, the Mulhousians partnered with the regional capital to join the French Tech initiative. With Activis, which was sold in 2018, Patrick Rein was not at his first attempt. As a young graduate, he was already imagining an online childcare service back in the days of Minitel. In the years that followed, he created a freelance business and set up BeamPulse, a specialist in behavioral analysis in online sales. ” What I like is to set up projects “, summarizes Patrick Rein. With KMØ, has the personal adventure taken the direction of real estate development ?

” We named the brownfield KMØ [kilomètre zéro] after the first international railroad line that started here in 1841. ” Patrick Rein

Patrick Rein defends himself by joking : ” I am the janitor. I keep the key. “The regional public incubator Semia has accredited KMØ and set up its Mulhouse branch there. Companies in the acceleration phase are taken care of by the Village by CA, in a dedicated 300 square meter space. Crédit Agricole is also present in the investor round. ” We are profitable from 75 % of occupancy rate “says Patrick Rein. The negotiations
will be opened with the communities to extend the KMØ to an additional 5,000 square meters. There are still some beautiful red brick wastelands in Mulhouse.

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