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France investing in its start-ups, launches new visa

The Economist recently had an interesting piece on multiple initiatives (by government and private venture capital investment alike) to encourage a blossoming of start-ups that Paris has not seen in years.

How this impacts you as potential or current expats: “Axelle Lemaire, the (Canadian-born) minister visiting NUMA, has launched a “tech visa” for foreign entrepreneurs.”

To learn more about this visa and the overall project to support French tech start-ups, you can peruse La French Tech.

Also of note: France is embarking on a “Come Back Home” campaign abroad to try to convince accomplished French expats to return to their homeland to help take the start-up economy to the next level.

I’ve included the Economist text below. Have any of my readers attended recent events in France (both Paris and other cities) related to start-up and tech investment?

Reinventing Paris
Start-up city

A capital seen as a museum develops new pockets of high-tech modernity
Jun 13th 2015 | PARIS | From the print edition

THE café is organic, the décor industrial loft-style and the furniture artfully mismatched. This is NUMA, a digital hub in Paris, where facial hair is abundant and ties are non-existent. Perhaps it is insouciance, ignorance or quiet concentration, but when a government minister turns up, nobody notices. A new generation is trying to reinvent how Paris behaves and looks.

It may not be Berlin or London, but something is taking place in the capital’s fringes and deserted industrial spaces. A city with more beauty and heritage than most, Paris is trying to shrug off its staid image. Scarcely a week goes by without an event devoted to start-ups in a converted dock or warehouse in an unfashionable area. On Paris’s eastern edge, Xavier Niel, an entrepreneur who heads a €12 billion ($13.5 billion) communications group, is building a start-up incubator with floor space equivalent to four football pitches. In the first quarter of 2015 a Paris venture-capital firm was joint-top investor in European technology start-ups, with two German companies, according to CB Insights, an American research group.

“There has been a transformation of mentalities in France,” says Mr Niel, who urges young people to take risks, think big and break conventions. “Entrepreneurship is a state of mind” reads a banner at NUMA, also home to Google’s Paris campus. The outlook is anti-hierarchical and anti-conformist. “Our force is cultural chaos,” says Frédéric Oru, a co-director. Another NUMA executive adds: “It’s not very French.”

One reason for change is that the young are no longer drawn to corporate life. Unemployment among graduates is 10%, and one in five of those who create new businesses are jobless. But some just want to do their own thing, away from the strict hierarchies of corporate France. A quarter of recent graduates of HEC, the top business school, have started their own company, up from one in ten a decade ago.

Second, successful entrepreneurs and investors now show what is possible. Mr Niel, who also built a software-development school in Paris, is one. Sigfox, a start-up that runs a cellular network for connected objects, pulled off the third-biggest European tech deal in the first quarter of 2015 when it raised $115m. BlaBlaCar, Europe’s biggest car-sharing service, raised over €100m last year. Incubators with names like TheFamily have grown. Facebook is opening a research centre on artificial intelligence in Paris.

Third, the Socialist government, which once whacked entrepreneurs with taxes, has changed. Instead of lamenting the loss of fine brains, it hopes to lure in foreign ones. Axelle Lemaire, the (Canadian-born) minister visiting NUMA, has launched a “tech visa” for foreign entrepreneurs. A public-investment fund, BPI France, is promoting start-ups. Early efforts to back incubators met “indifference and scepticism”, recalls Jean-Louis Missika, a deputy to the Socialist mayor, because “that wasn’t the image of Paris.” City Hall now wants to show that Paris is not just a living museum.

It is odd that the city lost its reputation for innovation. From avant-garde art to industrial engineering, it used to push the boundaries. The 1878 Paris World’s Fair showcased electric light; in 1889, the Eiffel Tower became the world’s tallest man-made structure. More recently, the urge to preserve has stifled innovation. Yet Paris is learning to reconcile history and modernity. On the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, a park, an elegant glass-and-steel structure designed by Frank Gehry for the Louis Vuitton art collection has met with admiration. Slowly, almost despite itself, Paris is rediscovering an innovative spirit.

Should more women be on corporate boards in France?

It is no secret that there is gender inequality in many areas, including in the work world where talk of a “glass ceiling” is a reality for many women on the corporate ladder. But things may start to get better for women in France, a traditional bastion of male dominance. However, it is better not take things at face value and look at the pros and cons of policy.

In their May 6th, 2010 edition, The Economist published a piece about just this issue entitled “La vie en rose: French companies get serious about putting women in the boardroom.”. Excerpts below (with my emphasis in bold).
What do YOU think?

…MOST French bosses have little time for a new law, now going through parliament, which would compel listed companies to lift the proportion of women on their boards to 40% by 2016. Xavier Fontanet, chief executive of Essilor, an eyewear firm, has quoted Charles de Gaulle as saying, “One may not command without having obeyed.” His point is that few women have had the 30 years or so of experience climbing the corporate ladder that a good director requires.

Nonetheless, the government is determined to make France the second country with a compulsory quota for women in the boardroom. (Norway was the first.) At the start of the year women occupied just 11% of the total of around 580 board seats at France’s biggest 40 firms. Now bosses will have to find as many as 170 new female directors in six years, according to OFG Research. “We are looking for women to fill every seat vacated by a man,” says Diane Segalen, vice-chairman of CTPartners, a headhunting firm in Paris….Some recent appointments have certainly raised eyebrows…

…In March Dassault Aviation, a manufacturer of fighter planes and corporate jets, said it would nominate Nicole Dassault, the 79-year-old wife of Serge Dassault, its controlling shareholder, to its board. Mrs Dassault has little hands-on business experience. LVMH has nominated Bernadette Chirac, the 76-year-old wife of the former French president…Companies with no family controlling shareholder, to be sure, will be expected to propose more qualified candidates. But finding them is not always easy….

….Because companies must find a lot of them in a short time, some women will gather many board seats. One female director, indeed, has had seven offers since January. A perverse effect of the quota, therefore, says Mr Gomez, may be to reduce rather than increase board diversity….”

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