Amid weak economy, France’s digital minister tries to make case that La French Tech is working

Apr 18, 2016
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France is about one year away from its next national elections, and the prospects for the current Socialist government are looking grim.

President François Hollande remains deeply unpopular, with an approval rating of 17 percent in March. If he decides to run for another term, he faces tough odds against potential foes. And he will have to defend a rough economic performance that includes a staggering youth unemployment rate of 24.6 percent as of February.

In the middle of these woes, France’s digital minister Axelle Lemaire has the unenviable task of continuing to promote and defend one of the government’s signature initiatives: La French Tech.

Last week, she and Economic minister Emmanuel Macron were in London for the opening of French Tech London, a space that hopes to bring together the diaspora of French entrepreneurs who have fled these shores for what many of them consider to be a more hospitable climate.

In a blog post on LinkedIn today, Lemaire spelled out what she sees as the milestones of the program, and why she thinks it provides hope for France’s economic future.

“The primary goal of the French Tech is to reveal the existence of our start-ups and speed their development, as part of the broader policy initiatives of a decidedly pro-business government,” she wrote. “The French Tech is just beginning to eat the world.”

Lemaire cited a series of stats to make her case:

  • An increase in venture funding for French startups to 1.8 billion euros in 2015, up from 897 million euros the previous year.
  • An increase in average startup investment to 3.7 million euros in 2015, compared with 3.1 million euros in 2014.
  • Seven French startups raised rounds over 25 million euros each in 2015.
  • An October 2015 survey that found one in every three people under the age of 30 would like to launch a company in the next two years.
  • That same survey found that 52 percent of French people believe “start-ups can save the economy.”

Lemaire also pointed to initiatives by the government to encourage more coding to be taught in schools. And the creation of the French Tech Ticket, an initiative intended to draw more foreign startups to France and that drew 1,400 applications in its first year.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves and don’t need further demonstration to show how attractive France is for entrepreneurs as well as investors,” she wrote.

Maybe. There is certainly a growing entrepreneurial excitement across France. Not many people would argue otherwise.

But at the moment, it seems far from certain that France will see the fruits of this momentum in time to dramatically change the perceptions of the current government before ballot boxes open next year.