La French Tech at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017

The Chinese calendar’s Year of the Rooster will soon begin, but attendees of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were already seeing roosters everywhere thanks to yet another strong showing by La French Tech.

In recent years, France has dominated the show’s famed Eureka Park, an exhibition space within CES where startups showcase their innovative products. This year, there were nearly 200 French companies in Eureka Park alone. To put it another way, France accounted for about one-third of all startups in Eureka Park.

Mais pourquoi?

What is it about the French that makes them excel as entrepreneurs? And why the seemingly recent upsurge in talent?

As a French to English translator specializing in innovative technology, I’ve been following La French Tech online for a few years. But I hadn’t yet experienced it in person. So I decided to spend a day at CES this year to witness La French Tech in action.

La French Tech Press Conference

My first stop after picking up my attendee badge was the La French Tech press conference.

The press conference was moderated by Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs, a company whose technology helps consumers track air quality. He outlined three factors behind France’s entrepreneurial success and modern relevance, including:

  • highly talented engineers with a strong background in mathematics
  • the role of design in French culture, given the increasing focus by consumers on design and integration of tech into daily life
  • rising movement of risk-taking and venture financing

Lacombe pointed out that, while “entrepreneur” is a French word, the startups at CES all have a global strategic focus. He then allowed representatives of four La French Tech startups to speak individually about their companies. The featured speakers were Grégory Veret of Xooloo (integrated technology coach for children), Stéphane Jaubertou of Sevenhugs (streamlined smart home control), Luc Pierart of PKparis (painless blood glucose monitor watch), and Evelyne Raby of CybelAngel (online data security monitoring service).

Next to speak were two representatives from the investment side of French innovation: Ben Marrel of Breega Capital and Nicholas El Baze of Partech Ventures. They mentioned the strong education system in France, the talent of French engineers and their worldly perspective, the “cool” factor of entrepreneurship among new graduates of French universities, the strong ecosystem of support (La French Tech), and of course, the large amount of investment happening in France specifically and Europe as a whole.

To inspire upcoming startups, the next speaker was Quentin Sannié of Devialet, creator of the premium Phantom audio system and considered a unicorn among French technology companies, with its tremendous global growth and success.

The final speaker of the press conference was Axelle Lemaire (pictured above), France’s Secretary of State for Digital Technology & Innovation.

Lemaire spoke about the government’s role in promoting innovation in France in recent years. Faced with a struggling economy and high unemployment, a decision was made in 2012 to proactively invest in innovation in order to add value and create future jobs. She identified the requirements needed for truly successful innovation:

  • people: good engineering and business schools/universities in France, which are free to attend and therefore highly accessible to students. Also, coding is now a requirement in children’s education, and the government has allocated funding to train teachers. The government also offers training in web design and development that has proven highly successful in terms of job placement.
  • infrastructures: France has invested €21 billion to provide the entire country with high-speed broadband by 2021. The government has also invested in creating a vast data infrastructure, thereby creating new integration opportunities for businesses.
  • regulation: support for investment in startups. Example: legal framework for crowdfunding, reducing corporate taxation, creating favorable stock option and profit sharing plans, promoting public funding, a research and development tax credit, and more.
  • policies: La French Tech and the Alliance pour l’innovation ouverte (Alliance for Open Innovation) initiatives to help entrepreneurs.

Eureka Park

Before I got downstairs to the exhibition hall, the thought crossed my mind that I might not be able to distinguish the French companies from the others.

Yeah…. not an issue. La French Tech roosters as far as the eye can see!

I spent all afternoon visiting booths and talking with French entrepreneurs about their products, their success stories, and their future plans. I geeked out, asked lots of questions, traded business cards, posed with a robot, saw a 3D-printed violin, sat on a sound-vibration enabled couch, had my skin computer-analyzed, talked about my kids, and talked about other people’s kids.

Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to work with at least some of the companies I met to help them reach their goals as their products launch in North America and require translations into US English.

Afterthoughts

What I hadn’t grasped prior to CES was what an incredibly optimistic and supportive group La French Tech has formed for its many innovators. They posed for group photos together (or “family photos”, as they adoringly call them), visited each others’ booths, eagerly pitched their inventions, and won numerous prestigious CES Innovation Awards.

I unfortunately didn’t have time to meet with all of the French companies at CES 2017. Next year, I’ll plan to spend more time at the show, and by then, perhaps France will account for half of Eureka Park. Pourquoi pas?

Is Your Business Ready for “La Rentrée”?

This week marks the end of summer, as the new school year begins.

It reminds me of the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the appearance of school buses, filled with eager(ish) kids with their clean haircuts and crisp new clothing. This is a time for renewed focus and new beginnings.

(Actually, my kids went back to school a few weeks ago, as many districts here in the United States start their academic year in August. Yet the “back to school” feeling is still fresh.)

The French approach this transition with particular gusto, enthusiastically announcing C’est la rentrée! There is a contagious excitement in the air, as la rentrée applies not just to school children, but to the country as a whole. This marks the end of les vacances of July and August. Businesses reopen. The government is in session. Cultural events are back in full swing.

With restored energy and renewed motivation, now is the time to get back to work. Time to focus. Time to regain clarity.

Now is the time to deliver on this year’s goals and plan ahead for next year. Are you ready?

With just four months remaining in the calendar year, is your business on track to meet its goals for the current year?

What can be done to position your business for what you aim to accomplish in the next year? Plan now, and start taking action.

If your business goals involve an updated website, marketing materials, or technical documentation, remember to include enough time in your schedule to have your texts translated into the languages of your target markets by professional translators.

The summer has been restful, but now it’s time to concentrate on our goals. Make the most of this optimism and opportunity. Bonne rentrée!

 

Yes, Even YOU Can Own a Computer (This Day In History – August 12, 1981)

Thirty-five years ago today, IBM introduced its first personal computer, or PC, complete with an operating system.

By today’s standards, the computer’s specifications were unimpressive: 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor, 16 kilobytes of memory (expandable to a whopping 256kb!), an external cassette or floppy disk drive, and an optional color monitor. The price was a cool $1,565, nearly $4,000 in today’s money. Gazoinks!

Yet the IBM PC was a momentous leap in consumer technology for a number of reasons, including its distribution and its components.

Unlike previous attempts within the fledgling personal computing market, the IBM PC was distributed through established retail chains, like ComputerLand and Sears Roebuck. This created widespread availability across a very large geographical area, so interested consumers could easily find and purchase the product.

Another distinguishing factor about the IBM PC is its use of off-the-shelf parts. This open architecture made manufacturing, repairs, and upgrades easier, while also exposing the market to competition.

Not surprisingly, it did not take long for IBM clone computers to appear on the market. Increased competition fueled innovation, and consumer demand for personal computers swelled. Thanks to plenty of supply and economies of scale, personal computers became more affordable to consumers. By the end of the decade, the number of personal computers in use in the United States had jumped from about 2 million in 1981 to nearly 54 million in 1990 (according to the International Data Corporation).

Corporate Innovation

In hindsight, the shift from office automation to personal computing was a good move for IBM. But it was highly controversial within the company at the time. How could such a large and notoriously bureaucratic corporation be so innovative?

The answer is the use of independent business units, or IBUs. IBUs are dedicated subsets of large organizations designed to operate relatively independently for a focused purpose, such as innovative technology. IBUs enjoy funding from the corporate coffers, while their smaller size gives them the benefit of faster decision-making processes.

This is precisely what IBM did in the late 1970s and early 1980s to develop its personal computer, within an independent business unit nicknamed “Project Chess”.

Conclusion

Personal computing has certainly come a long way since 1981. Sure, our smartphones are more powerful than IBM’s 1981 PC. But let’s still take a moment to pause and appreciate the spark of innovation that helped bring computers into our homes.

(Want to feel really old? My son once asked me why Word has a funny-looking square icon for “Save”. Yep… Kids today don’t necessarily recognize a floppy disk! Why would they? Disks are so old school!) 😉

Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks… Oh My!

You’ve worked hard to develop an innovative idea. The last thing you want is for someone else to steal your intellectual property or take credit for it themselves, whether it is your brand, an invention, a design, or any other creation.

When expanding your European business into North America, there are a number of options for protecting your intellectual property in the United States.

Patents

Patents protect inventions, including methods and apparatus implementing such methods.

Patented inventions must be novel, useful, and non-obvious, and the process of obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is costly and time-consuming. Once approved, patents remain valid for 14 or 20 years, depending on the specific type of patent. Due to the necessity for uniqueness, it is important not to publicly disclose ideas that you intend to patent. If another inventor (individual or legal entity) applies for the patent before you do, you may lose your rights to the intellectual property.

Copyrights

Copyrights protect written or published works, such as books, songs, films, online content, and artistic works.

The good news is that such works are automatically protected by copyright, provided that they are original (no copies please!) and fixed over time. Copyrights do not need to be registered, but it may be a good idea to register yours anyway, depending on what your works entail. Registering a copyright establishes a public record of ownership and helps protect your rights in court.

If the owner is an individual, a copyright is valid for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the owner is a business or legal entity, a copyright is valid for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.

Trademarks

Trademarks protect signs, symbols, logos, words, or sounds that uniquely distinguish your products and services.

Trademarks must be registered in order to be protected, but that’s not enough. You must also actually use the trademark as intended in order to protect your ownership of it. Unlike patents and copyrights, there is no time limitation on trademarks. As long as you continue to use your registered trademark, it will remain yours.

Lawyers…. Who Needs ‘Em!

You do.

Sure, I can translate your patent from French or Spanish into US English, no problem. But when it comes to legal advice, you’d better hire an attorney in the United States who specializes in intellectual property.

An IP attorney can explain the details of the law, help prepare your patent application, help you register your copyright or trademark, and represent you in any disputes involving intellectual property protection or infringement.

Innovative markets move quickly. You need to keep up, while also maintaining a firm grip on protecting your intellectual property.

Alternatives to Silicon Valley for Your North American Headquarters

Congratulations! You’re ready to establish the North American headquarters of your Europe-based business! But what city should you choose?

Silicon Valley is a natural choice. It’s filled with startups, but it’s SO EXPENSIVE! The same is can be said about New York City. Entrepreneurs need to consider a number of factors when selecting a location for their business, and cost is certainly one of them!

Thankfully, there are plenty of other attractive and more affordable cities that boast tons of tech talent and even have direct flights to and from Paris-CDG! Here are just a few of the stand-outs:

Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia is enjoying lots of momentum these days, with a 21% growth in tech talent since 2010. Home of Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt University, Atlanta offers a low overall cost of living and a low cost of doing business.

Washington, DC

Known more for its lobbyists and politicians and crowded with government contractors, Washington offers loads of tech talent from its many local universities, including those in nearby Virginia and Maryland. With its prime mid-Atlantic location, Washington is home to several well-known educational companies, including Rosetta Stone and Blackboard.

Seattle

No surprises here! Seattle makes this list because it is still more affordable than Silicon Valley and the Big Apple. Home to Amazon, Microsoft, Zillow, and many more tech companies, the downside to this city is that you may need to compete for talent. Each year, there is an estimated 3,000-person shortage in filling software development and engineering jobs, according to the Washington Technology Industry Association, so you’ll need to be ready to offer plenty of perks and an amazing company culture to woo prospective talent.

Boston

Home to the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston ranks 3rd in startups and 5th in quality of life. It is also home to companies like TripAdvisor and iRobot. In terms of location, Boston is conveniently just a short drive or train ride from New York and a comfortable plane ride from Paris.

Raleigh

This North Carolina city is the tech hub of the Southeast. Its “Triangle” is home to a thriving startup community and tech scene. Raleigh also offers low taxes and a low cost of living, making it especially attractive to cash-strapped startup companies!

Vancouver

Located in Canada, just across the border from Seattle, Vancouver is the home of Hootsuite, as well as satellite offices of Facebook, Apple, and Twitter. Canada ranks among the highest standards of living in the world, easily attracting top talent, some formerly employed by Canada’s lost-but-not-forgotten export BlackBerry. Other great Canadian cities with direct flights from Paris-CDG are Toronto and French-speaking Montreal.

As you can see, North America offers lots of potential to European innovators seeking to grow! Good luck!

Strong Showing by French Startups at SXSW 2016

The annual South by Southwest Conference wrapped up just a few days ago in Austin, Texas, featuring music, films, and innovative technologies.

French startups were strongly represented at this year’s SXSW, with the following companies featured by Business France in the French Tech Pavilion (in alphabetical order):

  • Afrostream: streaming video service specializing in African and African-American content
  • Fretbay: transport services within the UK and Europe
  • Holi: innovative products for sleeping and waking
  • Hydrao: color-based water management solution to help limit water usage
  • Klaxoon: interactive quizzes, surveys, and other activities for groups
  • Lucie Labs: wristbands for interactivity with lighting
  • Prynt: an instant photo printer for smartphones
  • Qwant: a search engine with zero tracking of users and zero filtering of content
  • Reminiz: television recommendations and monetization solutions using facial recognition technology
  • Vodkaster: social network focused on movies and TV shows
  • WB Technologies: creates a beauty profile based on your skin to develop customized recommendations
  • Wizeandope: shoes with color-changing LEDs to match your outfit
  • wynd: simplifies shipping for individuals and businesses

True to the spirit of SXSW, France also contributed several artists to the music scene, as part of the France Rocks Showcase.

Mr. Watson, Come Here (This Day In History – March 10, 1876)

We give very little thought these days to picking up a phone and calling anywhere in the world. Or texting. Or snapchatting. We are immensely connected to one another, a reality that has had monumental implications on our societies, economies, and more.

The world was entirely different just 140 years ago, when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call to his assistant Thomas A. Watson, who was in the next room. (Couldn’t he just get up and walk over to his desk?!)

Bell, like several members of his family, devoted his life to the study of sound, specifically elocution, acoustics, and speech. His interest was motivated by the fact that both his mother and his wife were deaf.

In the years preceding Bell’s famous invention, telegraph communication was popular, consisting of tones transmitted via telegraph wire. However, it was clear that this form of communication would not suffice for long. From his laboratory in Boston, Bell went to work on developing a solution for transmitting sound via wire.

Initial experiments with transmitted sound produced promising, yet muffled results. To be effective, this technology would have to transmit the human voice clearly enough to be understood by someone on the receiving end.

As with many innovations, Bell was not the only inventor working to produce a feasible solution for transmitting vocal sound, but he was the first to patent the invention, issued on March 7, 1876, as U.S. patent #174,465, for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.”

Three days later, he demonstrated a working prototype of the telephone, by calling his assistant Watson. He said, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.”

And with that, the telephone was born!

(Curiously, Watson remembers the famous words slightly differently, as instead being “Mr. Watson – Come here – I want you,” so you could say that this was also the first game of telephone as well!)

The Rise and Fall of Wearable Tech

We’ve witnessed some very high profile product launches in recent years, touting the next big thing in wearable tech.

Yet time and again, they’ve failed to catch on among consumers.

Wearable tech seems like the next logical step for our digital-minded society. So why do they amount to little more than passing fads?

To explore this further, let’s look at two categories of wearable tech: continuous wear and limited scope.

Wearable Tech for Continuous Wear

This category consists of the wearable tech designed for continuous wear by consumers. Examples include smart watches, Google Glass, and Fitbit. These products attract immense curiosity when they are launched and may enjoy significant sales. The true test, however, is whether consumers actually wear the devices as they were designed.

Unfortunately, I can’t point to any exact figures on the extent to which these forms of wearable tech have actually been adapted into everyday life, but as a casual observer, I’d say it’s pretty low. Smart watches are on par with the calculator watches of the 1980s. Google Glass is impractical. And Fitbit trackers have the longevity of a gym membership purchased on New Years Day.

The benefits promised by these products are simply underwhelming. They lack true standalone innovation and frequently require proximity with a smartphone.

Wearable Tech with a Limited Scope

These forms of wearable tech have a limited scope. They are not meant to be worn all day, but rather only for a particular event or situation.

One good example is the GoPro mounted camera, which has a limited use not easily met by any other means. GoPro cameras are often worn to film action-packed events, like skydiving or skiing. They are also gaining popularity among police officers for on-the-job wear.

Another example of limited-scope wearable tech is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for consumer use. Unlike GoPro, this technology is too new to judge in terms of long-term popularity.

Pagers: The Peak of Wearable Tech for Continuous Wear

Wait… seriously? Pagers?

In a time when cellphones were impractical for the average consumer, it was a truly innovative to be able to receive an instant notification of a call or message, no matter where you were.

Not surprisingly, the popularity of pagers tanked when cellphones hit the mass market, but for a few years, pagers were the golden child of wearable tech, offering a clear benefit to the wearer, at a reasonable cost.

Final word

Wearable tech is not doomed to fail. Consumers love new products, but we also demand practicality. For wearable tech to be innovative (see my blog post on “What Is Innovation?“), it must satisfy a consumer need without being a hassle to wear.

Innovation

What Is Innovation?

These days, the word “innovation” is teetering on buzzword status. We hear about innovative products and companies all the time. But what does it really mean to be innovative?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “innovation” as “A new method, idea, product, etc.”

This definition suggests that “innovative” is synonymous with “new”. But is it really? To truly be innovative, we must go beyond providing something new by providing something better.

“Better” may mean more efficient, less costly, faster, less polluting, more beneficial, and so on…. This is how we have moved from a horse and buggy to gas-burning automobiles and ultimately to vehicles running on clean energy. Innovation has brought us the Internet, inspired space travel, and developed vaccines. Not just change. Progress.

Innovation drives us to figure out how to do things and then find a way to do them better. And then again. And again. And again. It requires creativity, passion, and a hell of a lot of hard work.

As a global society, we must value our innovators in all parts of the world and encourage them to excel. In many ways, our future quality of life depends on it. The innovations of today will be the springboard for the inventions of tomorrow.

Go forth, innovators… We’re counting on you!

If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” -Thomas Edison