With a regulatory-ridden market, complex labor laws and deep-seated risk-aversion on a cultural level, France has never seemed like an ideal breeding grounds for entrepreneurship.
“French society doesn’t reward risk-taking as much as in America,” says Yves Coleon, president of Transmark Partners, a New York-based consulting firm for European businesses. “Failure in France is viewed as failure -- there’s no upside. In America, somebody who has failed just hasn’t succeeded yet.”
But more and more, that tide is turning, says Coleon, as business luminaries like Steve Jobs have become international icons and companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Google and Uber have made the concept of entrepreneurship “cool” among today’s French youth.
In order to ride this upsurge, and to champion the business-building opportunities in America that may not be available back home, Coleon founded The French-American Entrepreneurship Award in 2008. The $10,000 prize is annually bestowed to two French entrepreneurs under age 35 who are starting up -- and making waves -- stateside.
Winners also receive six months of office space in New York and business coaching in order to gain inroads into the ever-critical American market.
“What French entrepreneurs are missing is a network,” concedes Emmanuel Cargill, SVP of human resources at Pernod Ricard USA, who co-founded the award alongside Coleon. “You can’t be successful worldwide without being successful in the U.S.”
Winners of the French-American Entrepreneurship Award in each of two categories were announced last week during a ‘Shark Tank’-style pitching panel in New York City. In the ‘art de vivre’ (or lifestyle) category, Brooklyn-based Afineur took home top honors. Founded by Harvard-bred biotechnologist Camille Delebecque and the food scientist Sophie Deterre, Afineur aims to create healthy and sustainable food products via fermentation technology.
While fermentation is popularly used to produce wine, beer and cheese, Delebecque said, Afineur’s first product is Cultured Coffee, which is more fruity, aromatic and less bitter than traditional brews.
In the digital innovation category, Boston-based StreamRoot was awarded the grand prize. Targeting online video platforms, StreamRoot improves streaming quality and reduces bandwidth costs via a peer-to-peer model that connects people across the Internet who happen to be watching the same content.
StreamRoot raised a $118,000 seed round last November as a member of Techstars’ Boston class of 2014.
Past winners of The French-American Entrepreneurship Award include JellyNote, a music-based social platform that allows users to share scores and cover videos, and Céline Legros, a lawyer-turned-baker whose boutique, Canelé By Céline, is aiming to popularize the canelé -- a traditional custard-filled French pastry -- among American masses.