|Starting a business, creating a digital marketing strategy, and establishing a brand are almost always challenging feats. However, it can be even more difficult in a country which is often stereotyped as lacking a necessary entrepreneurial spirit.
This is exactly the challenge facing the technology industry in France. As a nation more likely to be associated with bohemian culture rather than business, tech startups in the country are frequently passed over for competitors in Germany or the United Kingdom. However, the French digital minister, Axelle Lemaire, is fighting for a change in this perception.On Friday, February 13, Lemaire visited the southwestern city of Toulouse to meet with the region’s emerging tech companies and local officials. By lunch, she had met with three businesses: La Cantine, a business consulting firm; Ekito, a tech startup studio; and Sigfox,a global cellular network. Her arrival coincided with several successes: Ekito, for example, officially unveiled its new, larger headquarters after almost a decade in business, while Sigfox recently announced that it had raised $115 million in venture capital, the largest round in French history.
Lemaire’s presence was an attempt to show the country — and the world — that France is ready for change and innovation. Yet the minister and the burgeoning industry she represents have a long way to go if they are to change international opinions and disprove old cliches.
In recent years, the French government has tried to change the country’s reputation through a program called “La French Tech.” Directed by Lemaire, the program awarded nine French cities the “French Tech” label last year, recognizing their robust small business communities or supportive local governments that helped create favorable conditions for new tech companies. Toulouse was selected as one of the winners after a spirited campaign. However, critics have claimed that the program is an empty marketing ploy. In response, Lemaire has stated that La French Tech, which was instituted by her predecessor, is designed to recreate an identity, raise awareness of widespread startup activity across France, and encourage companies to work together, not create more new businesses that don’t have the support they need.
Currently, the French government is trying to promote the country on an international level. In January, for example, Lemaire and Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron traveled to Las Vegas for the tech conference CES 2015, hoping to raise awareness of France’s 66 startups. Lemaire also holds monthly sessions in Paris where businesses can pitch various government ministries and venture capitalists. These meetings the quality and diversity of these startups, which span industries from medical technology to e-commerce. The government is also reportedly planning an international tech event to draw investors around the world to France.
As these efforts develop, French politicians have also announced a $250 million fund for startup incubators. When combined with the venture capital success of Sigfox, experts are hopeful that investors and entrepreneurs will take note of France’s changing legal, financial and social environments and decide to take part. After all, these changes are not only designed to make it easier for startups and small businesses, but the tech industry and further innovation are believed to be key to France’s economic future and international success.