When my aunt did some research on our family tree a few years ago, we found only armymen from the early 1800s with a “grognard” serving Napoleon, up to my grandfather and my father who both served in the French army, although in different contexts.
I’m not wearing the uniform myself, but I’ve been educated in a family where France and its image abroad has always been important. I ended up doing a Master’s degree in Paris well-named “School for Economic Warfare”, and part of my job is to observe how different countries project their technological might abroad to conquer new markets.
With this in mind, I’d like to share my opinion about the FrenchTech and how I feel the French presence at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas shows it reached maturity.
A possible history of the FrenchTech
If you follow our project at Innovation is Everywhere, you know we’ve been to a lot of tech events around the world the last few months, from Malaysia to Nigeria, Chile, China, and the US.
I’ve been increasingly frustrated to see my home country, France, under-represented, while the UK Trade and Investment body (UKTI) was everywhere, from the Maker Faire of Shenzhen, China, to the Mobile Summit of Lagos, Nigeria.
Each time, UKTI came, sponsored, got speaking slots, embedded a few startups, and promoted UK as the European destination for foreign entrepreneurs (even showing in one of its videos how good it was as a surfing destination).
In the same time, the French startup ecosystem lacked visibility, for several reasons ranging from our multi-layer administrative cake (city, department, region, state, add left and right to this and you have a good picture of the duplication and dilution of responsibilities for a lot of topics), up to a not so entrepreneur-friendly mindset, in a country who has long favored large corporations or civil servants. This has changed a lot.
I’ve moved to Singapore two years ago, out of curiosity for Asia. Since this departure, the French landscape has evolved a lot. More tech media have emerged, such as RudeBaguette in English, StartupBrics focusing on Africa, and a few more generalist ones such as Maddyness or Digital Business News.
More accelerators and support organizations have been opening, from NUMA, a big 6-storey building in the heart of Paris, to The Family, a privately owned accelerator attracting a lot of attention. Community-powered organizations such as Hello Tomorrow (community + event + startup competition for science-based ventures), Ouishare (thought leadership on the sharing economy) or La Paillasse (large biotech and open-science space in the heart of Paris) complete this picture.
As a result and/or a correlation, French startups have been doing pretty well, with large fundraising (€100m for European carsharing leader BlaBlaCar, €267m for hosting provider OVH, or even the aborted investment of €200m in Dailymotion from Yahoo, prevented by the French government on economic patriotism basis).
In a nutshell, the mindset of France towards tech entrepreneurs has been, after years of moaning and complaining (because we French like that!), overturned. It was now time to show our face to the world and make the US, the UK and other big startup nations understand we were back on the map.
The FrenchTech: a startup brand to project French tech power overseas
The FrenchTech umbrella brand has been created exactly for this purpose, thanks to a good combination of political will through at least two senior government officials (Fleur Pellerin and Axelle Lemaire), and a multitude of events (FrenchTech Conference in New York, June 2014) a quasi-certification of FrenchTech cities such as Montpellier, Marseille, Lille and many other), actions and people.
And this year at the CES 2015, the FrenchTech brand showed it reached a cruise speed and an energy really surprising.
Not only were the French the top European country in number of startups, the diversity of initiatives and people clearly showed we managed to get rid partly of our dependency to government, or government-sponsored programmes. Here’s a few of these initiatives:
- FrenchPitch: both a pitching session with 30 French startups and a guided tour of the Las Vegas tech scene by Ethan Pierse, an American consultant based in Paris. See the detail of these pitches here.
- Talents Sharing: a 700-pax evening to mingle corporates and startups, with more pitches (about 20), organised by Melcion, a team of ex-entrepreneurs coaching the younger generation, powered by the MEDEF, France’s industry association for big corporates, and with the presence of the acting secretary of state for the digital economy, Axelle Lemaire.
- Business France startups within the CES official expo area. Out of the 120 French startups, about 20 had been curated and funded by Business France. The organisation is a recent merger of Ubifrance (support to exports) and AFII (French investments abroad). So it’s yet another channel through which entrepreneurs had a chance to come and pitch at the CES.
There were probably other things, as all of the above account for barely half the French startups there. French media presence was important too, as it was seen during a pop-up gathering of French journalists under Las Vegas replica of the Eiffel tower to commemorate the killing in Paris.
The FrenchTech surprise: it’s actually decentralized!
This decentralization of support is clearly a good thing, and a surprise from a French perspective. As a result, the FrenchTech brand is visible everywhere, without being the only center of gravity of our presence abroad. In the UK, UKTI does an amazing job, but you see more their brand than the startups they are supposed to promote.
Another side effect of this multi-level presence, and a superb symbol, was the number of French startups coming from all over the country. I’ve met some solid, experienced startups and SMEs from Niort, Clermont-Ferrand, Montpellier, Grenoble, and I’m not talking of pre-money or seed stage companies.
The movement, if I can call it this way, is clearly not Paris-dependent, and reaches third-level cities (second-level would be Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux). Most of them have a foot in Paris, but no intention to move there.
The CES was maybe one of the best places France could show its muscles, as French startups in the Internet of Things / Consumer web do quite well. Back in 2014, French startups such as Netatmo or Sen.se had already won most of the Innovation awards. This year, Las Vegas sounded like London, with a lot of thick French accent (mine included) and a lot of good will.
To know more about the FrenchTech, you can usefully refer to Liam Boogar’s tweetstorm of the French leading startups for each letter of the alphabet, as well as to The Family’s recent Slideshare on the French startup ecosystem, very justly named “Paris is back” (although a lot is also happening in other cities).
Now, let’s try to see if the FrenchTech can make it to the other big markets of the world, namely Asia!