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French tech seeks to become more visible

La French Tech at SXSW

As one walks the floor of SXSW, an island of international representation emerges. Great Britain, Germany, Brazil and others dot the landscape both in and outside the exhibit halls (Great Britain always shows well with the Great Britain House activation in Austin).

Like their global counterparts, France is continuing to make a push into the world’s tech – and this year La French Tech’s home base was there to get the market top of mind, to show investors that there are places beyond the Silicon Valley where tech thrives.

“We are trying to be more visible in the US scene,” said Maïa Thomine Desmazures, project manager for La French Tech, launched by the French government in 2013. “It’s important because the French ecosystem is not as renowned as it should be.”

Though it doesn’t necessarily get the same headlines as their US counterparts, tech in France is not an unknown quantity. Criteo and Teads are well-known within the broader industry, for example. Investment is strong as well, with a little more than $2bn raised in VC funding in 2016, up 62% from 2015. 486 deals were made in 2016, up 115% from 2015. Though promising, France still lags behind Germany and UK in actual investment. The UK saw an investment of over $6.7bn ($2.9bn of which was one deal, Global Switch) while Germany remained slightly ahead of France with more than $2.2bn in 2016 investment. However, France beat out Germany with 26 more deals in the year.

It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but France appears to making significant inroads on building a vibrant tech and startup scene.

A Parisian incubator helps put France on the tech map in a big way

While Apple’s new headquarters in California is turning heads, a stunning new project in Paris is giving rise to a bigger French tech trend, and one that should have it competing beyond the region on a global scale, thanks to a very big name.

Station F, located in Paris and scheduled to open sometime this spring, will be the world’s largest startup campus — 34,000 square meters with more than 3,000 desks in their ‘startup zone’. Backed by telecoms and technology magnate Xavier Niel, Facebook is one of the major launch partners for Station F, opening a ‘Startup Garage,’ where the company will work with 10 to 15 startups. TechCrunch reported that the first startups include Chekk, Mapstr, The Fabulous, Onecub and Karos. Facebook also opened a Facebook AI Research (FAIR) lab in Paris in June, 2015.

“Paris has always been a city of new ideas where people come together to break new ground, to do new things,” said Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook regarding the Station F partnership. “We’re excited to support a new generation of French startups with enormous potential.”

Keeping French talent in France

Station F is just one transatlantic relationship that Desmazures feels will be beneficial to building the French tech and startup brand, and telling the story of French tech talent. She said that around 100,000 engineers a year are trained in France, though many venture away from the country to where jobs are more plentiful. Building a solid tech base will not only help keep talent in country, it will hopefully attract other investors from overseas, which is one of the reasons La French Tech set up shop in Austin.

Partech Ventures, based in San Francisco, invests in French companies (the firm is also deep in the German market with an office in Berlin) and “helps promote France in the US,” Desmazures said. Additionally, programs such as #ReviensLeon have been created to attract international talent and repatriate those who have left France.

“It's really interesting for [talent] to go abroad, to go to other cities,” said Desmazures. “So now there are some initiatives for those engineers who went away to say ‘come back to France’, since there are many startups growing and [interesting work] in this sector.”

Since La French Tech is a government program, there are myriad benefits, aside from living in working in one of the world’s top cities. A $6bn R&D tax credit program covers 30% of all R&D expenses and $225m worth of investment has been made in private startup accelerators. Moreover, with France’s social security net, the ability to hire talent at a much lower wage makes a great deal of business sense. In fact, thanks to tax incentives, an engineer costs 50% less than one in Silicon Valley.

Those numbers, along with a growing number of entrepreneurial French millennials (50% of 18-24 year olds in France would like to create their own business, according to Survey Idinvest, Le Figaro 2015), mean that the tech industry in France should continue to gain a global foothold. Paris was even named the number one city in Europe for the growth of its innovation market by CB Insight 2014, which noted that world tech leaders have set up innovation centers in Paris, including Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Nokia and Facebook.

Thanks to the efforts of La French Tech and a growing global interest in the movement, France looks be an important part of the continuing wave in tech and startups in Europe — and events like SXSW only can help generate more interest.

“It’s really important for us to be visible,” said said Desmazures. “We are proud [of France] and La French Tech — and the benefits [of investing and working] in France are really amazing.”