Web2Day allures Parisians with countryside prices and LeWeb-worthy speakers

May 20, 2013
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Last Week, all of France headed to the city of Nantes for Web2Day, a two-day conference organized by Atlantic 2.0, the Nantes-arm of LeCamping parent association Silicon Sentier. During two days, business Angels, VCs, entrepreneurs, developers, and the Nantes web community gathered on the city’s “Machine Island” where abandoned factories and utilitarian architecture pave the landscape – including the city’s Judge Dredd-esque courthouse.

With office, apartment, and beer price’s comparable to Berlin, the city has quickly become a digital powerhouse, attracting the likes of Lengow, iAdvize, Clever Cloud (Rude Baguette’s cloud hosting provider), Sounderbox & more – one Paris VC admitted during the conference that, outside of Paris, Nantes was called home by the largest number of their portfolio companies. The current French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, formerly the Mayor of Nantes, has been pushing for a second airport outside of the city, which could propel it to an international level of visibility.

And so, with a bustling startup scene and a fervent desire to punch above its weight class as an ecosystem, for the past 3 years Web2Day has managed to bring out partners of French (and US) VC firms, founders of French (and foreign) startups, and yet, the media around the event has been almost exclusively French. This may be due to the fact that, other than two of the three talks that I moderated at the event, the event was entirely in French.

Language has long been a problem in France – “Why should we speak English if everyone in the audience is French?” has been the Chicken/Egg-like question posed by reluctant (or self-conscious) members of the French tech community for years now. Last year’s Failcon France saw a fury of tweets from “Franco-French” attendees, as the French call overly French things, mocking French speakers for their accent in English. Nevermind the fact that the US is a country of immigrants and I grew up with friends with Asian, Hispanic, African, and all sorts of European accents in my schools, and that most Americans could care less whether the founder they’re talking to says “The” or “Ze” – if events don’t roll over into English in France, things will keep staying the way they are, and startups can’t survive without growth.

And so, as Web2Day wrapped up, I ran into the event’s organizers and animators, Adrien Poggetti and Magali Olivier, and probed them about whether I could invite my Anglophone network to the event next year. It has already been announced to be a 3-day event, and will be 50% in English, according to Olivier, and this may be what propels Web2Day from what it is today – the second most important conference for the French tech scene behind LeWeb (the most important if you can’t afford LeWeb) – to being one of the most important conferences in Europe.

Built from the ground up around community, meaningful connections, and spreading knowledge, Web2Day feels a lot to me like the European Pirate Summit of France. If you haven’t attended Cologne/Germany’s finest tech conference, the event’s oddly chosen venue, speakers, subjects and traditions take attendees out of their usual networking habits, and help create meaningful memories and connections that last beyond the exchange of business cards.

So Web2Day has been for me this year – I met some Seed Stage startups that have been added to my ongoing mental list of startups to show off to European investors, among them Qwant, whom I may have judged too soon, Sounderbox, who recently signed a big distribution deal, and Dokker, whose recruitment tool has got big industry players talking.

I’m happy to have been able to participate in this year’s edition – I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t attended Startup Weekend Nantes back in 2011, where I met the Atlantic 2.0 guys just one month before launching the Rude Baguette. I’ve watched the city grow at the rate that some startups grow since launching the Rude Baguette, and hope to participate even more in this event as it grows as well.