Why You Need to Be Paying Attention to the French Tech Scene

The past two years have seen tremendous growth that shows no signs of stopping.

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By Aladin El Hedri

Patrick Tourneboeuf/STATION F

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The French tech scene is on fire. In 2016, there was an extraordinary growth in startup funding in France; seed rounds tripled, according to data from Dealroom.co, resulting in by far the largest cohort of French startups, ever. Early stage also doubled that year. This was all while Brexit was unfolding across the channel, leading investors to increasingly keep their eyes on France.

It was also the year when Facebook opened its AI lab in Paris. Yann LuCun, the company's head of AI (himself a Parisian by birth), told Wired that its plan was to tap into the research talent dwelling within Europe. Then in 2017, we saw Station F open in the heart of Paris. Its 34,000 square meters of space encouraged the likes of Microsoft to set up an on-site AI program.

That growth is continuing into 2018. At the opening of CES 2018 in early January, nearly 30 percent of all exhibitors were French. "This is a huge jump, more than 50 percent from last year," pointed out Adrien Cabo, head of international development for La French Tech. "And for the first time at CES, French startups now represent one-third of all the international companies showcased at the Eureka Park, far ahead of Holland or China."

Those in Silicon Valley are also starting to look to France. Take the rapidly scaling messaging app Symphony for example. The company's French founder and CEO David Gurlé has mentioned that the company faces high salaries for engineers in Silicon Valley as well as relatively high turnover rates -- and those numbers are far lower in France. Symphony is opening a research center at the Sophia-Antipolis technology park in Nice, taking advantage of the talent here as well as financial incentives such as the credit impot recherche (tax credit on research and development) that cuts R&D costs by 30 percent.

A view from the inside

I run a startup from the southern French city of Toulouse. Our city has always been a tech hub -- but you could argue that today we're moving into a golden era of innovation. We're already the European capital for aeronautics and space: Airbus and EADS are based here. The city is renowned as a place to study technology and we have the likes of Jean Tirole, a Nobel Prize winner for economics, teaching at the Toulouse School of Economics.

Toulouse is also becoming a hub of startups. Sigfox, a global leader in IoT, has its headquarters here, which has led to a lot of local growth. And we're seeing a real shift in how young French startups operate. France has long been criticized for having top-notch research but being slower at moving from research to market. That's rapidly changing. With social networks, we think and act globally and talk to clients and users all over the world -- and we're scaling fast.

Here are five people whose names you should know in the wider French tech scene:

Cédric Giorgi, director of special projects, Sigfox and head of Sigfox Sunrise
Cédric Giorgi is a big name in the French tech world. A former writer for Techcrunch France, co-founder, curator and host of La French Touch Conference in New York City, and a regular speaker at SXSW, he's an insider when it comes to emerging trends. In 2014, Giorgi moved to Sigfox, which has pioneered a low-bandwidth dedicated network for the IoT globally. In September 2017, the company launched what they call the world's first "IoT network-as-a-service".

Roxanne Varza, general manager, Station F
Roxanne Varza is the general manager of what may be the coolest startup space on Earth. Station F is a massive piece of architectural might in Paris with more than 3,000 desks for startups and a roster of startup programs with the world's leading tech companies. The project was backed by French tech billionaire Xavier Niel. Varza originally hails from Palo Alto, Calif., and Iran. She's the co-founder of StartHer and Tech.eu, and spent time at TechCrunch France and Microsoft Ventures before landing at Station F. This project is definitely one to watch, and if you're planning on visiting Paris, make sure you take a look.

Antoine Martin, CEO, Zenly
Zenly is a geo-location company that allows users to share their location in real-time. It was the first French startup to raise investment from the Silicon Valley VC Peter Fenton and was acquired by Snapchat in 2017 for approximately $300 million. Martin speaks at conferences and regularly offers inspiring advice on building successful companies.

François Grante, CEO, Hunter.io
Hunter is an email lookup tool that is being used increasingly in the U.S. Founder Francois Grant is a digital nomad, who has a semi-permanent space in Chiang Mai, Thailand, although that could change any moment. He writes about his travels and startup projects on his blog.

Julien Hervouet, CEO, iAdvize
iAdvice is a world leader in conversational commerce. It's been named by Gartner as a Cool Vendor and is showing some serious metrics: iAdvize says it drives more than $1.2 billion in additional sales for its 600 clients every month. And it has raised nearly €50 million in funding. It's a great company in Nantes in the west of the country and is fast opening offices around the world.

To really understand a scene, you've got to get to know the people. Seek out the French startup tribe on LinkedIn, follow their blogs, seek them out at conferences and tap into the growth occurring this side of the Atlantic.

Aladin El Hedri

CEO of Bridget, CEO of Siberian

Aladin El Hedri is the CEO of Bridget, a B2B platform that connects companies based on their target client profiles -- allowing businesses to launch powerful, co-marketing operations. He is also CEO of Siberian, an open-source CMS for creating cross-platform mobile apps.

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