Walking around CES this year, it’s impossible to avoid the Gallic roosters and lilting French accents—especially at the Eureka Park startup area. This year there are more than 200 French companies exhibiting in Las Vegas, an increase of more than 65 percent over last year. It’s the second-largest delegation at the show, behind the U.S. And that’s no accident.
Many of the startups are here under the banner of Business France and La French Tech, governmental organizations designed to connect French start-ups with the market, investors, and each other.
“Our goal is to make them visible,” said Muriel Pénicaud, French Ambassador for International Investment and CEO of Business France, said of the country’s start-ups. “They need to be global.”
To facilitate that, the French government has invested €200 million (about $218.4 million) since 2013 to set up 15 La French Tech incubators in every region of the country. Since then, Pénicaud said, it has been like “putting fire on wood” as France is home to more than 10,000 startups.
Business France has also paired with the French Public Investment Bank (BPI) to help startups get 0% interest loans. Pénicaud said the businesses must also get some private investment, but the BPI can provide loans, credit, and equity to entrepreneurs.
Also, she said, when the BPI gets involved, it tends to spur other investors to get involved.
“They helped me by investing in the program,” said Frederic Sudraud, CEO of the ITI Communications. In September, his company launched FACIL’iti, an algorithm that works through your web browser to help make websites more accessible for people with 13 different disabilities, like color blindness, cataracts, Parkinson's disease, or even dyslexia. “They helped me to create my own team.”
FACIL’iti received a total of €450,000 from BPI, money he used to hire more staff, including an International Sales Director. Sudraud also said the La Tech France in his region helped put him in touch with some of the doctors and scientists he worked with to create his product.
“We are very lucky in France,” he said.
Pénicaud said another purpose of the government investment is to “accelerate” young companies. Novathings CEO Christphe Guionet said this was very helpful for him as he brought his product, the Helixee, to CES and to market this year. Helixee allows families to connect to a single hub to store and share photos and other information with each other through a WiFi connection.
“Thanks to La French Tech I had a call with a specialist in encryption,” Guinot said, adding that through La French Tech he has been able to network, exchange information, and meet other industry partners that helped him get to market. “For startups like us it’s very easy to access big companies.”
Yet the goal is not just to help startups, but to draw international businesses to France and to encourage French engineers and entrepreneurs to stay and work in France instead of leaving for larger markets. Pénicaud said the country graduates 70,000 engineers and 60,000 Phd’s every year, but until recently, many would leave for greener pastures—like Silicon Valley—convinced that was the only way to make it.
Now she sees the start of what she calls a “shift of generation,” as more of those graduates are choosing to stay in France because successful startups in the country have convinced them that there is a future in France. In the past six months alone, major companies like Sysco, Intel, Facebook, and others have invested in France because of what Pénicaud calls “potential and talent.”
On Thursday, Emmanuel Macron, the French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, visited Eureka Park wearing a Business France rooster pin—a symbol of the country—to reinforce the country’s dedication to its blossoming tech industry.
“Innovation is the best way to provide opportunities for all in the future, in particular for the youngest,” he said later in an email. “France is an innovative country: remember 'entrepreneur' is a French word.”