XAVIER NIEL Aurelien Morissard Getty Images

Aurelien Morissard/GettyImages

Xavier Niel

Founder, Iliad

French billionaire Xavier Niel is the embodiment of the enfant terrible. The entrepreneur got his first major break in the 1980s providing sex-chat services on France’s early internet service Minitel. These services were known as “Minitel rose,” or pink Minitel.

Several decades on, Niel remains a highly disruptive force in the world of telecoms through his firm Iliad, partly thanks to the launch of Iliad-owned mobile operator Free Mobile in 2012, revolutionary for its cheap data plans.

Niel, now in his 50s, is keen to spread the entrepreneurial sparkle in France.

In 2019, he founded a tuition-free, private coding school called 42, and is the primary funder behind the huge Paris-based startup factory Station F, based out of an old railway building. An energetic character, Niel is keen that future entrepreneurs don’t look like him. Station F is for "people who are not — how do you say it? — classic, white, Catholic," he told Business Insider in 2017. "We ought to have a lot of diversity in this place, to have more diversity in Paris."