Building Bridges: Christophe Lecourtier, CEO, Business France
"France is witnessing reform at a rate never seen before, we need to pass the message of those changes."
"French Tech is the brand that represents the French startup ecosystem. It is more than just a mere program,” says Christophe Lecourtier, CEO, Business France, the country’s export promotion agency with 87 offices in 124 countries.
And it is hard not to believe him, knowing that La French Tech –a publicly funded initiative to promote French startup growth in France and abroad, created by the French government in 2013– has already born fruit. According to CB Insights, there are more than 10,000 active startups in France, which raised more than US$3 billion dollars in 2017 through 743 deals, growing almost 45% from 2016 totals. All of this, Lecourtier adds, was achieved with the support of 300 incubators and 50 accelerators. And that might be a reason why the currently vibrant ecosystem behind La French Tech is today described as “a movement for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.”
“The French government has two main objectives for its startup ecosystem,” Lecourtier explains. “The first one is to support the development of scale ups. To do so, when La French Tech was created, a EUR200 million fund was launched to support French venture capitalist firms, accelerators, and different actors that contribute to scaling the ecosystem. The other objective is to attract talents, including our two programs of which one is a one-year incubation program called the French Tech Ticket, and the other, launched in 2017, is a fast track option to obtain a French visa to join a startup in France, or to create your company.”
In addition, The French Tech Hubs is a special technological business network created by the French government to encompass a selection of foreign cities- Berlin, Los Angeles, Milan, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Dubai. In each of the cities, and over the last two years in Dubai as well, the network aims to connect entrepreneurs with investors, incubators, research institutions, and other key players committed to the growth of startups and their international prosperity.
Lecourtier insists that French entrepreneurs should keep in mind that the UAE is slowly becoming a regional leader in the field of development of innovative technologies, having multiplied its large investments in order to attract international key players. In addition, Lecourtier says, the UAE has deployed strong strategies to implement the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020, which is estimated at EUR4.4 billion of investments, achieve 25% of trips in autonomous vehicles by 2030, and aiming to build 25% of buildings with 3D printers by 2030. “The main opportunities for French entrepreneurs lie in renewable energies, smart transportation, big data optimization, data security, Internet of Things, and the e-government,” Lecourtier notes.
However, Lecourtier is quick to add that France’s business environment, especially since the creation of La French Tech, is no less fertile for entrepreneurial minded individuals. In 2017, 25 foreign companies chose France for new investments every week, he explains, while the country offers the best research and development (R&D) incentives in Europe, with 30% tax credit on R&D up to EUR100 million, and over EUR6 billion of public support. Add to this the lowest effective tax rate for expatriates on the basis of a dedicated scheme through which up to 50% of the total remuneration is exempted for a maximum of eight years, as well as France’s dedicated multi-year residence permit for investors, CEO, startups, employees, and their families. “France has a cost-competitive business environment, lower than the US, Japan, Germany or the UK, and for instance, firms like IBM, Google, the Walt Disney company massively invested in France in 2018,” Lecourtier says. And this business-friendly environment has also attracted the attention of MENA businesses. “Today, there are 380 companies from Middle Eastern countries operating in France,” Lecourtier says. “Ten new investment projects in France from the Middle East countries were recorded in 2017, creating or maintaining nearly a hundred jobs. These investments come mainly from the UAE (34%). Their focus is more on services as well as on the IT sector.”
Lecourtier is no stranger to understanding the needs of both French and foreign businesses. From 2008, he held the role of Chief Executive Officer of Ubifrance, the French government agency for international business development, which became Business France after merging with the Invest in France Agency in 2015. And when it comes to supporting the development of French businesses internationally, the Business France office in the MENA region has been notably active– organizing more than 50 B2B events, including the participation of 25 French pavilions in major trade shows in Dubai, an oil and gas symposium in Abu Dhabi, and tailor-made events for different business sectors. “To boost French exports, we also brought more than 1,100 French SMEs to meet with local counterparts,” Lecourtier adds. “On another hand, our investment department is having daily meetings with locally-based entrepreneurs and investors willing to establish in Europe, in order to advise them on the right strategy, and the benefits of opening a subsidiary in France. Finally, to promote the economic image of France, we conduct many communication initiatives. Indeed, France is witnessing reform at a rate never seen before, we need to pass the message of those changes.”
As for the road ahead, Business France considers Expo 2020 Dubai to be the perfect opportunity for France to showcase its innovations, and promote its industrial and technological leadership, sharing the nation’s vision of progress, and the future in digital transformation from small towns to large cities. Directed by Erik Linquier, Commissioner General of the French Pavilion, France’s participation will be dedicated to mobility and under the theme of Light, Enlightenment (Lumière, Lumières). “The French Pavilion will be celebrating Dubai’s ambitious visions of mobility bridging the latest technology to universally connect the world, innovate and revel in the art-de-vivre,” says Lecourtier. “The state-of-the-art projects that will be unveiled at the French Pavilion will showcase the ingenuity and expertise of the French economy’s flagship digital transformation and sustainable urban development. The Smart City à la Française model will demonstrate how major global connectivity issues in the 21st century can be solved.” That’s something to look forward to.
Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.