Mixed Feelings about Pellerins SayOuiToFrance Speech


Yesterday at MIT’s EmTech, an annual conference focused on emerging technologies and their impact, Minister of the Digitale Economy Fleur Pellerin gave a speech entitled: France as an Incubator of Innovation. During the talk, Pellerin announced the launch of SayOuiToFrance-Innovation.com (yeah, I’m also shocked that domain was available), an English-language site which looks to encourage businesses to invest in France, specifically in R&D and digital. The sight has plenty of cool “Datas,” like how France is the #2 country in terms of patents filled in Europe, #4 in the US – though one commenter on a previous article pointed out that there is no real correlation between the number of patents filled and innovation in a country.
The talk Pellerin gave pointed out same very good points, but it also brought up some of the current government’s weaknesses. Putting aside the current Tax law situation, I wanted to share what I liked and didn’t like about her talk, and about the overall message she is looking to convey:

It hurts her throat, but Pellerin does it anyway

One of the first things to point out is that her talk was in English. And good English – despite what French people will say. Despite the fact that she took about 15 second break to clear her throat after she got tired of speaking English, this is a huge step to have a government official speaking English. I think this already defies one of the worst stereotypes about France: that they don’t speak English.  She also addressed other stereotypes, both in her speech and on the site, such as that Paris has more startups than London or Berlin. While the conversation is constantly about London vs. Berlin, people seem to forget that Paris is closer to London, and already has a dominant tech scene.

Pellerin Says Oui to France while Startups Say No

That being said, Pellerin also mentioned again her unapproved plan to build a Tech Hub knockoff in Paris. In her speech, she asserts that she “believes encouraging companies to work together” will A) improve the ecosystem and B) be accomplished by building a giant building in the suburbs of Paris. To be honest, I just don’t like the she acts as though she knows how to build an ecosystem – she claims in her speech that startups are spread out throughout Paris – I don’t know which startups she’s been talking to, but I outlined an area smaller than SoMa in Paris that has probably 100 startups in it, and it’s in central Paris.
Nevertheless, Pellerin did point out that tax benefits for startups & entrepreneurs have been upheld and/or improved. She leaves off the minute point that it was the VCs & entrepreneurs themselves who had to fight for those benefits, but nonetheless, it is true that France offers very competitive Tax Credits for R&D. Its JEI status also makes it very easy for startups to hire employees by illiminating the taxes companies pay on employees (normally almost equal to the salary itself).
The SayOuiToFrance site adds to that by pointing out that new French laws since 2008 have made it easier to fire employees with the Rupture Conventionelle, or “termination by mutual consent.”
Beyond that, Pellerin was doing her job – alongside Invest In France, she’s trying to attract foreign business to France. Her pitch even comes with a shnazy video.