Smart Money: French companies get creative with funding

I’m considering starting a weekly tradition where I give a shoutout to a French company that is doing something I find particularly innovative. Well, this week that company is Lyon-based Regioneo – who launched a user-investment campaign, which I detailed in TechCrunch Europe.

Why is there no translation for “bon appétit” in English?

In case you are unfamiliar with Regioneo, they’re essentially the French equivalent to Foodzie. I thought the idea behind Regioneo was dynamite even prior to this week’s innovative investment initiative, because obviously local artisanal foods in France have an appeal and quality that their American substitutes don’t.

Have your cake and eat it too.

But as much as I like their platform, I’m applauding the innovative way they decided to raise funding this week – which brought them to just under €50,000 in 5 days. Plus, not only did Regioneo raise money, but it brought together a group of high-profile entrepreneurs (or “ambassadors”) to support their cause. Money plus marketing. Yum. Translation: they can have their cake and eat it too (avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre, en français).

Keep your friends close and your investors closer.

This is not the first company, however, that is leveraging social means for funding. In fact, FriendsClear is another example of local company that is putting a new spin on investment; the P2P lending platform is oriented specifically towards investors and entrepreneurs. Maybe something for Sprouter to consider?

Investitude.

Surely if Ségolène Royal was allowed to make-up words during the last presidential campaign, local entrepreneurs can also invent their way out of roadblocks. In Silicon Valley where it rains VC money on Sand Hill Road, entrepreneurs are possibly less-likely to get creative with funding. And while funding in France is not the monstrosity that everyone makes it out to be, the local VC scene is simply less developed. Which is why I’m sure we’re likely to see more innovation in this space along the lines of what Regioneo and FriendsClear are doing.

Le Seed: FCombinator and the TechEtoiles

Last week, Zlio’s Jérémie Berrebi and Iliad’s Xavier Niel announced the launch of their new seed fund, Kima Ventures, which I wrote about in TechCrunch Europe. Kima’s aim is to invest between €5,000 and €150,000 in 100 start-ups within the next 2 years.

Uh, that’s a lot of seed.

There’s been a lot of whispering about whether or not this is a good idea. How on earth do they plan to manage 100 companies, let alone make that many investments? With something like 52 weeks/year, Kima would need to make roughly 1 investment per week to reach their goal.

A dime a dozen.

Personally, I don’t really understand the criticism. It isn’t exactly raining seed money in France. And while Niel and Berrebi may be more occupied with making investments than actually managing them, entrepreneurs will have the added benefit of working with 2 of the hottest names in French tech – and their networks. What’s not to like about that? And the relationship comes with a check – better than lining-up at OSEO, no?

Two of a kind.

Funny enough, Marc Simoncini of Meetic announced the launch of a similar seed fund, Jania Capital, only several months before (be sure to check out their gorgeous website). If nothing else, I think France’s seed situation is about to dramatically improve.

FCombinator and the TechEtoiles.

The one model that seems to be locally MIA, is the YCominator or TechStars-type model: also known as mentorship with seed money.  Obviously there is Seedcamp, which is pan-European, but what about a YCombinator program for France? The Founder Institute, which just launched its Paris program, offers the mentorship component without the seed. So until someone decides to put this system into place, Kima and Jaina are essentially the next best thing for seed funding in France.

The Truth: (Young) French VCs ARE on Twitter

In an earlier post, I applauded the French VCs that I found on Twitter. Turns out a majority of the French VC adoption of Twitter  is from the younger VC crowd. I’ve included them in my FrenchVC list on Twitter but here is a quick look at who they are.

Serena Capital

Has funded companies like Creads.org (@creads), Augure (@augurerepmgmt) and RSI Vidéo Technologies (@notontwitter). 

Young VCs from their firm on Twitter include: Marine Desbans (@mdesbans) and Jean-Baptiste Dumont (@jbdumont)

Ventech (@ventech_vc)

Ventech has a gorgeous portfolio and includes companies like Viadeo (@viadeo), Bonitasoft (@bonitasoft) and Awdio (@awdio_usa).

The just launched their official Twitter account last week – the same time as they announced their investment in London-based Muzicall (@muzicall).

Their young VC: Mounia Rkha (@moumsinette)

Alven Capital

Another VC firm with a very impressive portfolio, including MyFab (@myfabfr), Companeo (@companeo), MobileTag (@mobiletag) and more.

Their young VC on Twitter is: Jeremy Uzan (@jeremyuzan) 

Elaia Partners (@Elaia_Partners)

The only other firm with an official account, as far as I know. Another very nice portfolio, with investments in Criteo (@criteo), Goojet (@goojet) and WyPlay (@Wyplay). 

The account is run by their young VC, Samantha Jérusalmy.

**Feel free to let me know if I’ve left anyone out.

Why am I applauding these guys?

I think they’re definitely leading the way in terms of new technology adoption and are changing the face of the stereotypical, traditional VC. Also, as many of the new media-related products are oriented towards a younger crowd, having a younger VC on the team works nicely as they can also play the role of a beta tester. It’s nice to see that French VC firms are not only realizing the benefit, but actually implementing a mélange of the age-range.

Who is still MIA?

If I’m not mistaken, most of the bigger more well-known French VC firms are still nowhere to be seen! Sofinnova, Innovacom, Partech and the likes…

Invest in a Start-up = Reduce your Taxes

Yes, that’s right my friends; while Silicon Valley was over there spreading rumors that it’s impossible to score VC money in France, the French government got a little creative.

Since 2007, French tax payers can lower their wealth tax (ISF) by investing in a company.

French taxpayers can now reduce their wealth tax by up to 75% via making an investment of €50,000.

In the beginning, it wasn’t obvious if any magic had been made; were French tax payers going to go knocking directly on the doors of companies they wanted to invest in? And how were emerging start-ups to sniff out the money?

Et voilà, le VC: what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine.

That’s right, who better to play the intermediary than a VC.

And now for a little name-dropping.

One example of a company that was recently funded this way is Proxi-Business.com, a French e-commerce solutions platform, which scored €1.15 million (I might cry if I convert this to dollars) at the beginning of this week from a company called Audacia.

Audacia has also funded companies like French organic e-commerce site, Brindilles.fr, IT security company, ASP 64, and a few more.

And they’re not alone. France’s darling start-ups DailyMotion and Deezer – which both scored funding in October 2009 – have received funding from AGF Private Equity, who raised over €35 million in June 2009 through an ISF campaign. Not too shabby if you ask me.

So who is laughing now?

Ok, ok. Maybe this scheme hasn’t dramatically changed the investment practices of local VCs (yet!). But it certainly looks like VCs aren’t agnostic with regards to this new resource (here is a non-exhaustive list of French companies that received VC funding in 2009).