France is pushing hard to be the tech startup capital of Europe. There’s been a huge amount of activity in the whole tech ecosystem in recent months, with a big government push to promote France, the creation of a number of new digital incubators in Paris, and an increase in tech companies raising money. Here we look at some of those aspects of what’s going in France, and its potential to be the next Silicon Valley of Europe.
There’s been a lot of recent press about the progress in building what France claims to be the world’s largest digital incubator, the Halle Freyssinet building, a 34,000 sq.m campus for 1,000 startups, due to open in Paris at the beginning of 2017. It is hailed as the future driver of digital entrepreneurship in France, located in the 13th arrondissement of Paris and financed to the tune of around €200m by entrepreneur Xavier Niel. The main aim of the venture is to support a new generation of French enterprises that will be the success stories of the future and will act as the springboard that France needs to strengthen its competitiveness as a growth accelerator in the digital sector.
“The idea behind La Halle Freyssinet is to create a location that will put a high density of startups in one location and really bring the ecosystem together,” says Niel in a recent article. The director of Halle Freyssinet, Roxanne Varza, who previously ran Microsoft’s startup initiatives in France, says the project will bring the different players of the ecosystem together: the 1,000 startups, the investors, large corporations, government, and others to work together in one location.
This is not the only initiative to boost the French tech ecosystem. Committed to an ambitious innovation strategy, Galeries Lafayette Group has this month (June 2016) announced an accelerator dedicated to retail and fashion tech startups in partnership with Plug and Play, the Silicon Valley based global technology accelerator and venture fund. The 3-month program aims to develop an integrated platform to assist startups willing to disrupt fashion and retail by creating an ecosystem that includes access to venture capitalists, world-class mentors, and Fortune 500 companies.
The accelerator, based out of a dedicated 1,000 sq.m office space located in the heart of the 10th district in Paris, is launching its first program and call for applications between June 1st and August 22nd, 2016. A jury of seasoned Silicon Valley technology experts and senior executives from Group Galeries Lafayette and Plug and Play will select 10 finalists.
From a funding point of view, France’s tech companies are up there with the UK, Germany and Israel. According to tech.eu, over 115 fundraising deals at a value of €960m ($1,074m) were made in tech companies in France during 2015. According to the Go4Venture platform, in the three months from February to April 2016, there were 10 fundraising deals of greater than €7.5 million in French companies, bringing a total value of €161.8 million raised in large transactions (greater than €7.5 million) over the three months.
The country vs city approach
This push by France as a country is very different to the city or region wide approach of many tech clusters around the world. As Junko Yoshida states in EE Times, the ‘city-by-city local economic boosterism’ in the high-tech sector might soon face a big challenger: an entire country called France.
She says, “Spurred by its digital economy, France is eagerly staging a big makeover of old La Belle France. France is billing itself these days as itself a ‘startup nation’. A confluence of government money and private sector investment is undergirding the tech industry’s entrepreneurs and their start-ups. Those startups are branded La French Tech, and heavily promoted by Business France, a government agency.”
Indicating their presence on the global stage, she adds, “The rapidly growing number of French startups present at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a bellwether. Reportedly, 130 French companies at CES 2016 were startups, and one of every three startups presenting at CES was French. Because those trips to CES by many French startups are funded by the government, calling France a free-market paradise would not accurately reflect reality. But capitalist purity is not the point. The compatible intentions of government and industry to promote entrepreneurs in the digital economy in France are a force to be reckoned with.”
Highlighting the co-ordinated approach and diversity, she comments, “France now sees its business as coordinating varied efforts to promote thousands of tech startups — including IoT, med-tech and biotech — on a national scale. Nevertheless, despite what seems like almost a glut of tech startups in France, few, to date, has achieved so-called “unicorn” status, as a startup valued at over $1 billion. (Except for BlaBlaCar, a Paris-based long-distance ride sharing company.)”
The full article can be found here, and includes a showcase of seven technologies/products that illustrate the breadth, depth and potential of what startups (French and non-French) all working in France have to offer. This ranges from an electronic nose and affordable housing aided by 3D-printing to technologies that protect rechargeable batteries from capacity fade, and a connected digital heater designed to use high-performance computing power as a heat source.
What’s apparent from the French story here is that the government is making a concerted effort to promote the nation as a startup nation rather than just a region or a city. This is very different to the UK, where the government promotes London primarily as a Tech City, even though it has other key tech clusters like Cambridge, Bristol, Edinburgh and others; or in the USA, where each state promotes itself or its key tech cluster cities independently.
The French government is obviously putting a lot of investment to put the country on the map as a prominent tech cluster, and to be seen as the next Silicon Valley on a grander, country-level scale.
[Photo: courtesy of 1000 startups Paris]