Jan 2017

French IT – just the ticket

Written by Paul Maher

French IT – just the ticket

One of our French clients remarked our tour blog post was too UK-centric. On re-reading our rallying call for European tech, we agreed and we need to address this for two reasons.
Firstly, we should recognise the French Government is these days more determined than most to win in the Post Trump scramble for tech jobs. Its French Ticket initiative to attract tech talent is truly world-class. Secondly, at Positive, French-founded tech companies make up a quarter of our client base. We should have known better, so here goes.
Let’s start with some stage setting. Anti-French tech snobs with long memories may recall French state-run or aided disasters of yesteryear, now mostly acquired and their brands forgotten. Anyone remember Groupe Bull, the PC ‘ flag carrier’, now a small part of Atos, a vast global consultancy headed by a former French Government minister, Gemplus now Gemalto or Alcatel, now Nokia?
But there are also clear successes. Let’s not forget Business Objects, bought by SAP for $6.8bn, Dassaulte in computer aided engineering and notable successes in the videogames market with UbiSoft and others.
The French then, a nation with amazing engineering chops, is now serious about becoming tech player once more, just as the dominance of others is waning. Last year, even the mighty Silicon Valley was pushed from its perch with 25% less funding available for startups.
French tech shone at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the bellwether of consumer electronics. The hot areas of the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and voice enablement proved a “tour de force” for Gallic entrepreneurship with some 248 French companies exhibiting – versus a paltry 53 from the UK.
The UK media, who once again prefered to look for UK tech talent out in sunny Las Vegas, rather than in frozen British towns served by poor railway lines found time to wrestle with robots and report on ‘smart toothbrushes’. The state broadcaster though did balanced this frivolity with mild rebuke to ministers suggesting the UK government, could and should have done more to help its B2C tech entrepreneurs.
So well done to the French. The opportunity is being seized by ‘Les Bleus’, who kindly remain just a Eurostar away from London post-Brexit. France has come a long way since a US president once reportedly said ‘The French do not have a word for entrepreneur’. There are lessons here to be learnt across the Channel in the UK and perhaps even across the pond as Mr. Trump tries to have tech friends other than the litigious and contentious Peter Thiel on his side.
Will this confidence survive the upcoming elections in Europe? There, eye-catching politics could distract from the much-needed economic reforms required to keep entrepreneurs and their R&D teams in France. Much of France’s tech talent has fled to the US and even the UK. One French entrepreneur we worked with moved his company to China as soon as the business took off, citing punishing taxes as the reason to employ Chinese-based engineers over French ones.
Many French entrepreneurs privately admit they avoid hiring top talent in France due to punishing employment laws. It is not helpful, when even those with French parents doubt the ability of a rejuvenated Paris to take on London, there is work to be done.
So to make good on all this promise, the French will need to create freer labour laws, maintain equal footing on visas and regulation, even if they are well on their way with a sense of national pride in their tech. France is rightly proud of both its culture and its engineering. So we admiringly say in pidgin Franglais the strategy has to be ‘Liber-IT, Equal-IT and Fratern-IT’. You’ve got the engineers, allez les techpreneurs.

Our newsletter

Sign up to our monthly industry insights