On a Tuesday night at SXSW, I strolled up to a building adorned with roosters – France’s national bird – walked past a line of 100 or so music fans waiting to get in, waved hello to the bouncer and walked into the French Tech Club. Located one block from the Austin Convention Center, one block from the Hilton (where many of the startup-oriented panels took place) and one block from 6th street, France’s presence at SXSW was quite noticeable this year, and drew a certain amount of international attention from attendees.
For three days in Austin at the largest tech, music & film festival, France welcomed tired attendees with free alcohol and working space, as well as French refugees looking for a nearby meetup point for rendez vous. In the mornings, an informal brunch offered an opportunity for French attendees to mingle with those interested in what France has to offer, like Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor & UKTI’s Keith Moses. In the afternoon, talks & pitches showed off and discussed the French tech ecosystem, while the evening’s festivities consisted, in SXSW style, of a series of indie bands ranging from beatboxing grunge to something reminiscent of trip-hop meets Regina Spektor.
The overall mood at the French Tech Club was positive. During my 5 days in Austin, I heard not one mention of taxes, employment or regulation, except during the panel I led at SXSW, where we forced the subject on our audience. Big French startups like Dassault Systèmes & Dailymotion had their own installations at SXSW, while companies like Criteo, Blablacar & Deezer (the latter two have yet to launch in the US) were mysteriously absent (Update: While the company had no official presence at the festival, we have been alerted that Deezer CEO Axel Dauchez appeared at SXSW on the “The New Geography of the Music World” panel.)
The Club was made possible through a combination of private & public funding, though the word on the street is that it was Fleur Pellerin’s LaFrenchTech which ultimately made sure things moved forward. For France’s first year at SXSW, it was easily a success.
The infrastructure was made available to any French startup who needed to succeed in Austin. A competition organized by Ubifrance awarded badges, lodging & exhibition hall space to 10 French startups. I would argue that the visibility around said competition could have been better communicated (Rude Baguette, for example, did not communicate around this contest), and next year it will certainly need to be evangelized earlier; however, the benefits of such an investment by the French government are clear.
LaFrenchTech launched earlier this year and promised to make France more attractive internationally – I can think of no better way to do so than to provide French companies with the means and venue to promote themselves at internationally renowned tech conferences. For those who sit on the fence as to whether it is worth their time to attend SXSW, you need only read my review as a first-time attendee to know that the event’s benefits are immeasurable, the opportunities are vast, and, with the help of the French Tech Club, the ROI is clear.
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