Afterthoughts on Lunch with the French President

Quick disclaimer: this is not a recap of who said what and that sort of thing. This is more about my overall thoughts post-lunch.

As many of you know, I had the incredible honor of being invited to a lunch with the French President earlier this week alongside some of France’s biggest names in tech. That’s right, little American me was invited to discuss the state of the French ecosystem. If you’re thinking “huh?”, don’t worry, I was too :) I was sat around the table with the likes of Jacques-Antoine Granjon (Vente-privée), Marc Simoncini (Meetic), Marie Ekeland (Elaia Partners), Fleur Pellerin (Minister of Digital Economy) and other people I beyond admire. Oh, right, and then there was the French President himself.

Hollande

The usual suspects.

I admit, the topics discussed during the lunch were the essentials but also nothing out of the ordinary. We focused on the difficulties, challenges and the ways in which the government could help make France’s ecosystem more startup friendly. You know, like can we ease-up on the taxes, make better fiscal incentives for investors, get coding into the education system, and the likes. I supported more or less everything single thing that was said around the table, and it was nice to see the French President taking such an interest in better understanding the issues at hand. But none of it was new.

Shhhh…

Liste

Here is a list of some of the guests.

However, I found myself in a situation that I very rarely find myself in: quiet. I was naturally a little intimidated by the setting and the people around me – and it was one of the few times that I was very conscious of the fact that I was not French. But actually, I also was a little frustrated by the discussions. Even though I agreed with everything that was said, there was a message I wanted to articulate but couldn’t put into words. (Or maybe I could but I didn’t want to come off as the American kid telling the French government what to do.) And then, post-lunch, it hit me…

France needs to lead and set the example.

Now, let’s be realistic; I am perhaps one of the most optimist people when it comes to talking about France’s ecosystem (here is proof) – and I have always been this way. I have always been impressed by the local startups and entrepreneurs and to be honest, I’m not certain that things are necessarily more difficult here than they are elsewhere. That said, France’s ecosystem is by no means setting the example in any of the areas that make an environment startup-friendly. While it is amongst leading European countries in innovation, it is not the clear-cut leader in terms of fiscal incentives, investment, visas, or whathaveyou. And this is why it consistently looks like France is trying to catch-up to neighboring countries (a bit like the situation with Paris Capitale Numérique). Why can’t France – just for once – introduce an incentive (whether it be visas, investment, legal, whatever) that is clearly the most advantageous in Europe or in the world ?

Not attractive enough.

The country actually needs to send a very strong statement to both the local and international startup community to show that it is really looking to support its entrepreneurs. Simply listening and adhering to requests, in my book, is no longer enough. Loads of young, French entrepreneurs are already eyeing the US or other countries to set-up businesses. And unlike London and Berlin, there are not loads of foreigners flocking to set-up startups in Paris – even though many may like to. France needs to send a strong message in order to change that, and it needs to happen fast.

1000startups and counting.

France’s ecosystem is actually really lucky that it has people like Xavier Niel to launch initiatives like Kima Ventures, Ecole 42 and 1000startups. It keeps the entrepreneurs rather optimistic and confident about their ecosystem. But these bold initiatives are not enough to build a leading startup ecosystem on their own – they need to be accompanied by additional strong initiatives from the government. Otherwise, those 100 startups funded by Kima or those 1000 startup housed in the Halle Freyssenet are going to have the same struggles as before…and there will be no more people staying and no fewer people coming from abroad.

Visas: get ‘em while they’re hot.

By now, a lot of you know my personal struggles with getting a visa to live in France – and despite my love for this country, there were times I was ready to call it quits because the procedure was so painful. But without going into my own story, I think that France could really benefit from actually striving to welcome foreigners for a change. In fact, for me, this is where they should start because they could very easily take the lead. The UK has done a fabulous job at marketing its “Entrepreneur visas” – although they are not as easy to get as one claims and I find it to be terribly heavy on PR  (remember the said “London Visa” ? What a joke…). France actually has an “entrepreneur visa” – except they gave it a ridiculously ambivalent name (“carte compétences et talents”) and it’s not really adapted to entrepreneurs (like the UK entrepreneur visa for seeking investment, that one was rather impressive). Or even the UK student-entrepreneur visa – do you have any idea how many people come to France to study and could potentially stay and contribute to the economy? The administration has announced an “entrepreneur visa” for 2014 that will speed up the process – but this is really the bare minimum they could do. I think developing several visas for different types of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in different situations may be more beneficial. In addition, enabling more qualified foreigners that want to work in startups to get visas more easily would also be a massive advantage to the local ecosystem, especially in building international businesses.

Investor haven.

One of the topics that doesn’t seem to get old is the limited funding for startups in this country. Which is quite ironic given that so many rich folks from around the world dream of living in France. I mean, if people like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt can live here, surely it shouldn’t be too hard to find other wealthy and famous individuals that want to as well. France has not focused enough on encouraging investment – and it’s going to become a huge problem. What if there were incentives in place that encouraged more wealthy foreigners to move here in order to invest? But I digress…

No really, France needs to lead by example.

I just thought I would say this one more time, because it’s my main point. In my honest opinion, the government should really try to push itself, go out on a limb and make a really big statement to encourage entrepreneurship – it could be visas, it could be tech education, it could be investment. But seriously, let’s take a risk and put all the debate about who is best to rest :)

You can check out the (French) video recap of our lunch and discussion on the Elysée website here.

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18 thoughts on “Afterthoughts on Lunch with the French President

  1. A question for you Roxanne: do you feel that this lunch had any impact other than the press around it?
    Too early to say of course, but how was the president & the minister reacting to the different comments of the people around the table?

  2. Hi Clement, I’d like to be optimistic and say that it will have an impact -already I feel there is at least a dialogue that was potentially not there when the pigeons movement happened for example. It is way too early to tell but I do hope this is more than just stroking our egos.

  3. It is hopefull to see the president have lunch with people like you. I Really hope someone in the government could read that and think about “how can we lead by example?”. French entrepreneurs have so much ideas, yes there are many way to lead by example. Thanks for that.

  4. I’m really happy to see young woman like you invited to such event! You’re representing why the french ecosystem is so attractive ;-)
    I would just be more moderate on the Visa issue. In fact, I had the exact same problem as you but on the opposite side (wanted to get a US visa) and finally couldn’t get one. But this is not my point. I think we can’t really blame France for the difficult Visa issue as it doesn’t only depend on us.
    But you’re completely right when you say that we should welcome more qualified foreigners !

    • Hi Fred, yes I totally get where you are coming from. However, this is exactly my point. Because it is so complicated to get visas in ALL countries (and I realize US is not particularly friendly AND it’s expensive) France can totally win this battle. That was my point. And I refuse to take a moderate stance simply because I want France to make a bold statement… :)

  5. I usually feel (French negative spirit here) that those kind of events are just promotion. Always the same debates, always the same issues. Nothing is really done out of it.
    Other than that, I don’t believe in this 1000startups thingie as I didn’t believe in Xavier Neil schools, 42 (and I think I was right, as nothing is coming out of it either). I am afraid to say that France will never be a leader in numeric technologies as we are not taking risks enough, and killing entepreneurship, and risky ideas in general.

  6. Oh Jeremy you are so depressing !! And you are also wrong (my opinion, don’t get offended). How can you judge Xavier Niel’s school when it has JUST started in September? And you may want to wait and see what Xavier has planned for 1000startups – he hasn’t released a lot of information yet but I would strongly advise you to not be too quick to judge as it will be impressive. Promise.
    I think France can change. There is incredible technical talent here and there ARE some incredible companies that have come out of France despite everything. If the administration gets on board and takes some risks, I think things could take off. But only if that happens.

    • I’m not offended. I gave the tone of my answer at the beginning of it. I’ve seen several documentaries about 42, and read plenty of articles about it. This is only my opinion though, and another topic.
      Startups are hard to build in France, where SSII (services companies) are leading, and hiring like crazy.
      Why do you think Vente Privee want to leave the country, among others?
      I think we agree on the last sentence, “only if it happens”. Fortunately, not everbody is as pessimistic as I am ;)

      • “Startups are hard to build in France” really? Who told you so? Did you ever try? ;-)
        France is awesome for startups, and if you can’t compete with an SSII under paying their engineers with jobs without any interest, then you have a much bigger problem, and this is not linked to France at all! :D

        “Why do you think Vente Privee want to leave the country?” Have you ever heard of “international expansion” ;-)

        France is great. This is one of the only country in the world where you are receiving financial help during 15 months no matter what you want to start! (Assedic) :)

  7. HI Roxanne forget about France,… have you ever thought of the actual potential of Brittany ? :-) We have everything to turn it into California ( ok, except oranges and cheap Mexican labor) ever thought of how effective would be a silicon seaside in south Brittany ? (think about Carnac and let me know if you’d like to have lunch with me …and lobster friends ! ) yours truly Eric Ciechanowicz

    • “Forget about France”…Brittany is part of France :) But yes, I love looking at all the amazing things happening outside of Paris! Very exciting and I would love to check out Brittany and see the startups there.

      • Of Course not, didn’t u know France was a part of Brittanny ? :-) Let’s have lunch then, and see what’s cooking. I’m in a creative trend here, planning many things after elections in March, this place could be boiling in the years to come : it’s so convenient to surf both web & sea :-) let me know I’ll be in Paris next thursday for 3 days get my # on my website lavieenarts dot com

  8. Leading by example could start for Hollande with having a personal computer and/or a tablet in his office… :) Not just kidding! Btw, Sarkozy had a similar lunch when he was PoF and with about the same folks. Can this change the ideology and economy software of our current President? Being optimistic requires forgetting the obvious answer.

  9. Pingback: No France, the problem is not the Newsweek article | TechBaguette

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