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French tech firms aim to be cool

A major push to promote France as a country of talented digital entrepreneurs was launched last month.

A MAJOR push to promote France as a country of talented digital entrepreneurs was launched last month ending with a “French Touch” conference in New York as we went press.

Showcasing French innovation, two ministers (Fleur Pellerin and Axelle Lemaire) were set to join around 50 French entrepreneurs and investors.

Among them were representatives of the French firm Criteo - valued at $2 billion since going public last year - which uses “cookies” to create targeting advertising for website visitors. They was also a range of start-ups.

It came after a month packed with initiatives. These included a “Festival de la French Tech” with open-days showing off hundreds of innovative firms, France Digitale Day, an international
conference at which Criteo’s CEO gave a speech called “The Sky’s the Limit” to an audience of 1,000 entrepreneurs and investors – and a visit to the Elysée by a group of Silicon Valley and New York venture capitalists, organised by Silicon Valley-based French entrepreneur Jérôme Lecat of the data-storage firm Scality.

It comes as the government has been promoting “French Tech” as a “brand”, together with new support and funding, “to do everything we can so that the next Googles are born and develop here in France”.

French Touch organiser and founder of price-comparison site Gaël Duval told Connexion:
“Delegates include French people who are succeeding working with the USA and ones succeeding working there. We’re determined to have real dialogue with the tech start-up sector in the USA.”

He added: “There’s been a will to raise awareness about our country as it really is, because a lot of things are said that don’t correspond to the reality of the business environment here – that no one works after 18.00, you can’t get financial backing etc.

“In reality we have incredibly motivated entrepreneurs, firms with enormous potential for growth and a lot of hard-working people in the digital sector. That’s not to say there aren’t problems with work laws and taxes but that’s no reason for us to be presented as having an environment that is not up to making the most of digital innovation. We want a real image change, so France is seen as being as cool as New York or San Francisco.”

A recent article on US technology sector website VentureBeat by editor Dylan Tweney shows the Americans are impressed.

Dylan, who joined the venture capitalists in Paris, said “every one” of the negative assumptions about France’s business culture is false. He said high earners pay similar tax to the US, working laws have been “liberalised so start-ups hands aren’t tied” and “entrepreneurs work just as hard as anywhere else”.

It also has a “thriving tech start-up ecosystem”, he said. Paris, in particular, is “filled with talented engineers and eager entrepreneurs”, with former fashion district the Sentier being a particular start-up hub. Inspired by the likes of Free’s Xavier Niel, French entrepreneurs now set their sights on building billion-dollar firms, he said.

In another article he described a new school for programmers started by Niel. With entry based entirely on its own aptitude tests, it allows around 1,000 young people a year to develop programming skills by helping each other and using the internet - without teachers. He described teenagers without previous experience writing sophisticated graphics programmes within months.
“If it works, it will produce coders who are incredibly self-motivated and well-rounded”, he said, adding “the four-week tryout alone, with 100-hour weeks, blows away the 35-hour week”.

The head of Engine, an American body promoting entrepreneurship, Michael McGeary, was among the Elysée guests and went to France Digitale Day.
He said: “Our research shows the multiplier-effect on job growth is the same in Europe as in the US [each high-tech job creates several in other industries]. Coupled with what I saw, the impression I take away is that the US has a lot of work to do ahead of it because Europe, France in particular, is coming up behind doing a lot to try to leap-frog the barriers between them and American-style success and start-up growth.”

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