“Entrepreneur” is a French word, but are entrepreneurs still to be found and raised in France? With poor economic growth, a brand-new government finally starting to hunt down 30 billions for its budget, a lack of entrepreneurial culture, a (bad) reputation of a slacker country with strikes and riots, what is up with startups in France?
Though the startup scene is fuzzy, it is buzzing and improving in numbers and quality. Like the neighboring UK, France has had to cope with crisis and a slow economy for a while, but still startups are mushrooming everywhere. Crisis brings trouble but also a world of opportunity. Add to that new generations and new expectations: people seeking “freedom,” seeking big money or, well, just looking for a job–why not actually create it?
However, entrepreneurship in France is still not part of people’s everyday lives nor is it very developed in school curricula. One short-coming is a lack of emphasis on company management. The “I want to be my own boss” mantra is well known in France, but one question entrepreneurs often miss is “What does boss mean? What is the big picture of the job?” There is support for startup creation, but less when it comes to developing the business and actually “captaining the ship.” Though universities and business schools are starting to improve with specialized courses on entrepreneurship, the words “economy” and “business” are still not a regular part of the vocabulary in French schools. This is probably the result of a culture in which succeeding and making a lot of money is often met with suspicion or simply goes uncelebrated by the public.
We also see a culture in France where failure is not option. There is a true difference in the way a failed entrepreneur is regarded in France compared with, for instance, the US. It appears that the French mindset still lacks the habit of seeing the positive lessons that come with failure. It doesn’t help that a previously failed entrepreneur struggles when facing the unforgiving French ecosystem of banks, investors, and customers. The French entrepreneur faces many funding obstacles, such as the government which causes frustration with taxes and costs associated with company and labor, and VCs that invest small amounts compared to their American counterparts but expect a lot in revenue.
That said, the path to becoming an entrepreneur in France has been paved by some great examples of success, with the likes of Meetic, Dailymotion, Ventes-privées, and Free. There is some support for startups, including incubators in top business schools, government assistance in the form of agencies, tax cuts, and non-private companies, top engineering schools with a huge potential for startup-engineering talent, and a growing number of mentorship programs such as the nation-wide organization “Réseau Entreprendre.”
Additionally, France has succeeded in a number of fields in business and investment, in particular the Internet and e-commerce. This is where roughly a fourth of VC investments are made and where many companies are created. Healthcare and software are also on the list, although the healthcare industry still faces governmental obstacles and regulations.
It is because of these obstacles that the US still shines as a beacon and dream land for entrepreneurs. As a hub of tourism and industry, with a certain kind of sex appeal and a reputation as the land of opportunity, it remains an important marketplace for business. With its vast network of investors, media, influencers, and big clients, selling and succeeding in the US is seen as the key to building a big, successful, global business.
In the end, startups in France are advanced from a technology point of view but need to improve their business development and product marketing. They have a lot of positive tools in their hands for success but just need to mix in one thing: Ambition!
Post written by Sam Pavin, IBM Marketing Resource Manager, ISV & Developer Relations