Paris mayoral candidate dreams of a tech savvy Paris for startups, tourists & citizens

Feb 25, 2014
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The elections for the next mayor of Paris are just a month away, and, while I don’t often treat political subjects, it has become clear that the next mayor of Paris will have an opportunity to affect change in the Paris ecosystem, and so, while I can’t vote in the elections, I’d like to take a look at one candidate’s position in the tech ecosystem. I recently sat down with Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM, for short) to talk about her position on startups, the web, and Paris as a startup ecosystem. My takeaway was the following:

If you are an entrepreneur, startup employee, investor or technology professional (“knowledge worker”), you are a fool not to vote for NKM

Yeah, that’s me coming out in support of a candidate. I have no qualms with that, and it was a decision I made before meeting NKM – knowing her positions only reinforced my stance.

In the past, I’ve come out in favor or against certain political decisions or politicians – most notably, I was chastized by “socialist entrepreneurs” for coming out in favor of the Pigeon Movement. My stance then, as now, as I publish it on the Rude Baguette, stands entirely around the premise of support for any initiative, activity or politician who I think will help startups succeed (or, at least, remove barriers that encourage their failure).

For those who think that you can be in favor of anti-entrepreneur initiative and still be an entrepreneur, I invite you to rethink the basis of your affiliations.

With that in mind, here’s why I’m coming out in favor of NKM:

1) She’s got entrepreneurship in her blood

You may already be familiar with Nathalie’s brother, Pierre. If not, you’re most certainly familiar with Priceminister, the eCommerce startup he founded which was sold to Rakuten in 2010. A vote for Nathalie is not a vote for Pierre, but having an entrepreneur in the family desensitizes you to things that politicians often get hung up on – risk, the difference between a “patron” and an entrepreneur, etc. I want to know that when a politician makes a decision around SMBs & Venture Capital, they are making it knowing they will have to look someone in the eye over dinner who is directly affected by their decision.

2) She’s built up a reputation for converting politicians to Digital

As NKM tells it, one of her previous accomplishments includes forcing politicians to sit down for an afternoon and learn how Twitter & Facebook are where their constituents are, and how being active on social networks will help them get re-elected – many of France’s most socially-active politicians are tweeting away thanks to NKM. Take that as you may.

More interesting is her intent to bring the same level of digital savvy to City Hall – a dedicated team to help startups, she wants Paris to become a “City as a Service,” a radically different perception than that of today: looking to startups to solve problems that the city has, beta-testing solutions within the City Hall & massively overhauling the outdated infrastructure used by public servants in Paris.

3) She wants to change perception by improving the tourist experience

NKM recently announced her platform for turning Paris into the world-renowned startup city. Easier said than done.

One part of her plan involves improving the digital experience for tourists: multi-lingual mobile apps for tourists with download instructions available at the airport, getting mobile access in the Paris metro, and leveraging the recently acquired .paris top level domain are all in the cards for NKM.

4) She’s drawing inspiration from London mayor Boris Johnson

Whether it’s UKTI, David Cameron’s regular sit-down with entrepreneurs, or the red carpet that London agencies roll out in order to encourage companies to set up offices there, Nathalie would certainly like to add a bit of London flavor to Paris. The aforementioned “City as a Service” positioning is one way she hopes to achieve this goal, the other is to follow London’s lead in looking into sensitive data sets that City Hall has access to – London recently released health information on all of its citizens – in order to position Paris as a hub for Data (“Open”, or “Big”).

Of course, with France’s open data initiative gaining momentum (it launched just 3 years ago), this shouldn’t be too hard. Couple that with the dozens of former Exalead employees starting big data (Dataiku, Tiny Clue) & open data companies (Open Data Soft), as well as the open source companies like Sensio Labs (makers of Symfony) and Bonitasoft, and NKM may have her work cut out for her.

Of course, I also see France as a great place to do Connected Hardware (June 18th-19th: the Connected Conference - sign up today), but many of those companies are doing a large part of their work outside of the Paris mayor’s responsibility, so Paris will have to stick to what is feasible for now.

5) Not just Tech Savvy Entrepreneurs, but Tech Savvy Citizens

By far the insight that most impressed me with NKM was her understanding that, in order to create a tech hub, citizens as a whole need to be early adopters, or at least, aware of the technology that companies are building.

When explaining the Silicon Valley to people who have never visited, I often cite three things which I think sum up what it means to grow up in the Silicon Valley:

1) I worked as a beta tester for video games since the age of four – I didn’t know it at the time, but I mostly grew up playing video games before they were released, including Lode Runner, Sonic & Knuckles & more. In high school, I did QA for Lala.com, before it was sold to Apple. I was paid in free iTunes credit.

2) I opted out of woodshop and took “Computers” as a class for two years in middle school – we learned how to format word documents, do searches on the web for difficult things to find, and we did basic OOP, drawing images and giving them commands and actions based on keyboard strokes, a given time duration, or as a dependency on another object.

3) The billboard ads on the freeway advertise tech companies that are hiring, tech conferences, and the latest tech gadget. That’s it.

NKM hopes to infuse digital savvy into the culture by providing free wifi throughout the city, by encouraging computer science education in primary school, and by creating a general awareness of technology by making it available to Parisian citizens. It’s a long-term commitment, that of introducing a new cultural element, but Paris has always been avant garde when it comes to fashion, food, art, and other cultural elements – realizing that digital culture is the future, I don’t see much hesitation in making Paris a digital culture hub.

Vote for startups.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no convert. I’ve got doubt around some of NKM’s plans, mostly around the feasibility of them and whether all of the city’s priorities will be in the right order – but there’s no question that she’ll move the needle in the right direction. There’s nothing entrepreneurs want more than to feel like they move the needle in the right direction, and I honestly believe that NKM will move Paris’ needle in the right direction, towards becoming a business-friendly technology hub.