This week, 150 members of the French Tech ecosystem, ranging from Iliad CEO and startup investor Xavier Niel to 1001 Menus co-founder Xavier Zeitoun met at the Elysée Palace following France Digitale Day, where President François Hollande spoke of France’s commitment to LaFrenchTech.
The speech, as a whole, fell flat. Mid-speech, Partech Ventures GM Philippe Collombel leaned over to me and whispered “He loves talking about fiscal policy, doesn’t he?” a phrase I think adequately wrapped up the speech as a whole. No phrase, however, stuck more in my head than the penultimate sentence of his speech (translated to English):
You have asked me to speak about the French tech ecosystem, and I have done it.” – President François Hollande
A series of platitudes and justifications for why France is, indeed, a country worth betting on left the audience feeling like they were meant to be convinced to continue doing what they were already doing.
In his speech, Hollande also evoked the idea of a joint venture fund between BPIFrance and US VCs, something which I’m told even BPIFrance director Nicolas Dufourcq wasn’t aware of until hearing it at the event (Update: I’m told he may be more aware than he led on).
Behind closed doors, US VCs were impressed…
Before Hollande’s speech in front of the community, he sat down with a dozen or so VCs who have been invited from the USA, including former GigaOm co-founder and True Ventures partner Om Malik, to have a candid discussion about investment in France.
The discussion, I’m told, left VCs quite impressed – as VentureBeat Editor in Chief Dylan Tweeney put it, “the ecosystem is much more strong than I thought,” something Tweeney has learned while in France this past week. I asked him if he thought that others would be convinced by the same facts, to which he answered affirmatively. I then asked whether he thought others would be convinced by journalists reporting on these numbers – less confident on that one.
I have no doubt that US VCs invited out to France will have a better image of France in the future – the government may have converted a few skeptics, or at least got the dialogue going. However, the larger ‘image’ problem needs a long-term solution, and Hollande’s aforementioned quote feels much more like an attempt at a short-term fix, rather than a commitment on the long term.
Of course, outside of the presidential discourse, evidence of long-term commitment to FrenchTech is multiplying. French entrepreneurs will be flying to New York in just two weeks for the La FrenchTouch Conference, which local entrepreneurs like Tinder CEO Sean Rad will be attending. In addition, discussions have already begun across several parts of the private & public sector to multiply France’s presence at SXSW next year, an initiative that saw success in its first edition earlier this year.
Was Hollande successful in changing the hearts and minds of the people? Perhaps not. But the ecosystem is moving forward just the same, and the “France may not be so bad after all” discourse is the first step towards turning around ailing foreign investment and refocussing France’s image towards what Hollande referred to as one of France’s top assets: its Engineers.