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.
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.
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.
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?