Xavier Niel
Deputy Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer, Illiad SA

France’s richest web entrepreneur, Xavier Niel was born in 1967, grew up in a working-class suburb of Paris, and did not attend college.  As a teenager, he developed a sex chat service on the French Internet forerunner Minitel, and later invested in a number of sex shops and peep shows.  In 2004, he was investigated for pimping and tax evasion, and held in jail for a month.  Although he was cleared of sex charges, he was convicted of failing to disclose income.

In 1999, taking advantage of deregulation in the industry, Mr. Neil founded the Internet service provider Iliad, which trades under the Free brand.  Iliad went on to become the first French company to offer broadband packages combining Internet, television and telephone service, and now has 23% of the broadband market.  He also owns a piece of Le Monde, the bestselling French-language newspaper in the world.

Over the last few years, Mr. Neil has invested approximately €50 million per year in startup tech companies.  He has stated that he wants to help young French people skilled in math and science, and has started a professional school for web entrepreneurs.  The European School of Internet Professions will offer a three-year program, teaching subjects such as programming, web design and online marketing to a class of 100 to 200 students.

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