Gilles Babinet: France’s new Digital Champion

In a post I published earlier this week I mentioned that I had the chance to interview my new-found digital heroine, Martha Lane Fox, at LeWeb last week. In addition to co-founding Lastminute.com in 1998 with Brent Hoberman, Martha sits on the board of mydeco.com, Marks & Spencer, Channel 4 and launched Karaoke startup Lucky Voice in 2005. AND in addition to all this, she is also the UK’s Digital Champion, essentially trying to bring the internet to as many Britons as possible. Not bad, huh?

Digital Champion à la française.

Yesterday, France announced the nomination of its Martha-equivalent or “Digital Champion,” Gilles Babinet. Gilles, who has been a serial entrepreneur since the age of 20 and has founded numerous companies – including Microsoft-acquired Musiwave – also sits on the board of quite a few startups, including MXP4, Digibonus, Capitain Dash and Eyeka. In 2011, he became the head of France’s newly-formed Digital Counsel and was replaced after 12-months by Cegid’s Patrick Bertrand.

To Brussels, with love.

Now as France’s Digital Champion, his role will be somewhat less in-line with what Martha Lane Fox does in the UK and more about representing France’s digital strategy and ambitions in Brussels with his equivalents from the 26 other EU countries. While it’s still slightly unclear exactly what this will involve on a day to day basis, some articles have already mentioned that there will be 2 biannual conferences in Brussels.

Different from the rest.

Gilles speaking at the Paris Failcon.

I definitely find the nomination of Gilles to be a terrific choice. He not only has an incredibly solid entrepreneurial background but has also been a great advocate for the local community. For example, while many of France’s big-shot entrepreneurs shy away from talking about their failures and shortcomings, Gilles was one of the first to step up and offer to speak. He doesn’t discriminate when it comes to helping the entrepreneurial community, he isn’t there simply to promote himself or his companies – in fact, he is always there to support the development of the ecosystem as a whole.

Once upon a Fleur…

 Fleur Pellerin explaining why she showed up at Web2Day in Nantes, en français.

The choice to nominate Gilles comes from no other than France’s Minister of Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin. The Korean-born minister has been making headlines not simply because she’s replacing Twitter all-star, Eric Besson and following in the footsteps of NKM – but even outside of France, as a symbol of diversity in Korea. While I am yet to meet her (and personally thank her for nominating Gilles!), I have been very pleasantly surprised to see how much she is doing on a personal level to engage with the local startup community. She has popped up at quite a few lesser-known tech events – including Web2Day  in Nantes  – clearly demonstrating that she cares about more than simply holding the microphone at LeWeb. I think she is a very positive point for the entrepreneurial community in the wake of the new government.

Where do we go from here?

Now that Gilles has been nominated, I imagine that we’ll begin to get more details on exactly what his role entails. He was very instrumental while leading France’s Digital Counsel and fought against the Google Tax and the public funds that compete with local VCs. This is clearly only the beginning, so stay tuned. In the meantime, a huge congratulations to Mr. Gilles from everyone at TechBaguette (aka me :p).

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