The former president of the United States, George W. Bush, couldn’t have been any more wrong when he said a few years ago that the French lacked a word for entrepreneur. In 2015 alone French startups raised 960 million euros, joining the ranks of the million euro club with the likes of Germany, Isreal and the UK, thanks to more than 115 financing operations accomplished by companies like BlaBlaCar and Sigfox and the investment activity from firms such as Bpifrance, Alven Capital and Idinvest Partner.
It’s not necessary to get into more detail to show that France is shedding its old reputation that led Bush to make the previously mentioned comment.
Institutional support is key
This is proven by the fact that Emmanuel Macron, the French Ministry of Economics, Industry and Digital Matters, will attend CES Las Vegas as part of a governmental initiative to promote entrepreneurship La French Tech, accompanied by French startup founders. At this event French nationalities will represent 30% of the total attendees, making France the country with the third largest presence following USA and China. In the words of Emmanuel, “France created 1,500 startups last year and is home to 5 unicorns.” La French Tech manages incubators which facilitates relationships between startups and the country’s large corporations. According to Macron, what they’d like to achieve is “accelerate and facilitate money for these startups in a quick and agile manner, because in this disruptive world your startup needs to be disruptive from day 1 and raise 100 million euros.”
Despite this obvious progress, in part thanks to the French government, there are still challenges that the country and its entrepreneurship community need to overcome. Among which we should mention the high taxes that affect important investors and which makes France take 27th place on the Work Bank ranking of the best countries in which to do business.
A new entrepreneurial culture
The data supports that France has been forging a new entrepreneurship culture for more than a decade. Since the start of the turn of the century, first generation of online French entrepreneurs have been dedicated to reinvesting a good portion of their profits into other startups from their country.
One example is Xavier Niel, founder of Iliad, who every week invests in three seed stage startups. Jacques-Antoine Granjon and Marc Sioncini do something similar, founder of unicorn Vente-Privee.com and founder of Meetic (which was later acquired by Match.com) respectively. Such is the success of French tech companies that in recent months companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Facebook and Intel have announced large investments in France in the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, has declared that France “is the best big thing.”
But this spirit hasn’t just stayed among the young generation of entrepreneurs but has even reached deep into society: more than 50% of young people in France between the ages of 18 and 24 want to start a business. To sum up, it seems that the dream of working in large corporations in France has come to an end.
The result? In Paris alone there are currently 5,000 startups, when in 2011 there were only 1,000, and it seems to be growing at a rate of 1,000 new companies each year and cities such as Toulouse, Lille, Nantes, Lyon, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Nice and Montpellier entrepreneurship activity is spreading rapidly. It could in part be due to the fact that the idea of risk and fear of failure have drastically changed. The minister Macron, who’s only 38 years old, encourages entrepreneurs to “not be afraid, make yourselves millionaires!”