If you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong

Summer is finally here and Paris looks more than ever like San Francisco’s winter months of June, July and August. Sure, I get a kick out of seeing the tourists freak-out because the sun is MIA and they’re wandering the streets in their beach clothing. But what I’m actually referring to is the local start-up environment, which continues to dramatically improve on a daily basis. There are tech events left and right (yes, EVEN IN THE SUMMER) and I honestly can’t keep up with all the funding that’s being announced. Silicon Vallée, is that you?

But if you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong.

(Note: the lyrics do not reflect my current sentiment.)

Maybe this stems from (rather silly) “Euro-trip” tradition, where tourists take something like 2 weeks to “visit Europe” – thereby only having enough time to stop in 1 major city in each European country and obviously neglecting half of the continent. Fortunately, Paris usually makes it to the top of the list but the rest of France goes ignored. If you ask me, that is a HUGE mistake. Oh, and the same can be said for the start-up community.

Enter Province.

In French, anything en province (not to be confused with Provence in the South of France) refers to the territory outside of the Paris region.  And truth be told, I have been quite pleasantly surprised with the tech activity en province, which is unfortunately less visible than its Parisian counterpart. Ok, sure, the Paris region still has the largest number of start-ups, VCs and business angels (population: 12 million?) but that doesn’t mean that other cities don’t have vibrant start-up communities.

Knock knock Nantes.

Yesterday I was in Nantes (yet again!) for a start-up event, Web2Day, which is organized by the local start-up organization Atlantic2.0 (@atlantic2). I discovered that some 100 start-ups (ok, web agencies included) take part in this organization. Yep, that’s quite a few start-ups for the city that makes-up only a fraction of Paris. Ok, Atlantic2 is actually a regional organization, but still. Oh, and get this: rumor has it that our beloved Startup Weekend seems to be headed there next! Also, what I found interesting as well is that there is somewhat of a trend in the online tourism and voyage space , which seems to be a result of Times Europe ranking Nantes as the top European tourist destination a few years back. Ha, that ought to shock those Euro-trippers.

California dreaming.

Then the South of France (Marseilles, Toulon, Nice, etc) seems non-negligible as well. What is it, the sun?  Nantes isn’t exactly on the coast but it’s not far from it either (think Palo Alto to Santa Cruz). I’m actually headed to a start-up event in the beginning of July in Marseilles and there are actually a few events in the South of France that I’ve missed and/or won’t be able to make. Remind me again, who started that rumor about how the French don’t work in the summer…?

Even Napoléon has a start-up.

Yes, I have confirmed that there are even a few start-ups in Corsica (I am still waiting for them to invite me :p) and surely the DOM-TOM as well. But even if Corsica is paradise on earth, it may seem somewhat counterintuitive as to why anyone would want to have a start-up outside of Paris. After all, being farther from the Parisian hub of VCs, business angels and start-up community could only complicate things, right?

More than Sarkozy’s bank account.

Ah, let’s not forget that this is France – and not the US. It may be what some consider to be the land of high taxes but it is also the land of public funding. In fact, many start-ups get initial funding via State grants, public loans, etc. And while Paris may have the highest concentration of Fortune 500 headquarters after Tokyo, it is still ranked amongst the most expensive cities in the world (last I checked). Translation: if you need money, go where the competition is less fierce for public funding and where the costs are lower. If you want to come to Paris, there is always the TGV.

Paris, je t’aime moi non plus.

At the end of the day, Paris is just like Silicon Valley in the sense that working in Paris has a certain prestige amongst the local community. It’s the local hub, true. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t absolutely dynamite start-ups en province.

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3 thoughts on “If you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong

  1. Very good introduction to the “rest of the” French startup scene! A few weeks ago, I’ve seen a couple of Nantes startups in the news and I have to say it surprised me, being used to mostly hear about what’s happening in Paris. One of them was the excellent Doyoubuzz and I can’t remember the other one (any idea?)

    One of the region you mentioned, I would be interested to know more about is Nice/Marseilles. They have a research center called “Sophia Antipolis” but I never really heard of startups born there (except for a couple of softwares around natural language processing a few years ago). I’m pretty sure that there are some nice ideas being developed in the region though…

    Looking forward to read more about it 🙂

  2. I can remember one start-up in Sophia Antipolis called X-Echo. It has been swallowed by France Telecom/Orange now. It used to do most of portal developments for Voila.fr and few similar services.

    Amadeus started over there as a startup as well.

    I’m pretty sure all the tech giants over there still have some start-up neighbours over there.

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