Growing awareness of start-up activity within France, fuelled by Minister for the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs Emmanuel Macron’s ‘La French Tech program,’ is finally helping to place French start-ups on the international radar.
France has long been known for the high standards of its education system. In fact, the country has long attained renown as a leader in R&D activities, especially in technology, biotech and medical spaces, with “a higher percentage of employees engaged in R&D activities as compared to the international average,” according to the findings of a 2016 study conducted by KPMG.
“Overall, I have been immensely impressed by the quality of the workforce in France,” enthuses Andrew Obenshain, general manager for France and the Benelux at Shire. “I find the people here exceptionally talented and, in fact, if we look at Boston and San Francisco, both considered to be strong biotech hubs, there is a noticeably significant amount of French talent there. I believe that the French mindset transfers well in these fields of engineering and technology, which could account for this trend…and if I were to compare and contrast a college graduate in the US versus that in France, I would no doubt end up picking the French graduate given the sheer quality embedded in the overall education system,” he reflects. “The talent here is not only incredibly well-trained and articulate, but also includes a strong work ethic.”
The French government has also been making recent investments, looking to encourage homegrown entrepreneurs and boost innovation. “As an entrepreneur myself, I have personally benefited from the research environment that has been created by the French government. France has a tax credit research program, the Credit d’Impot Recherche, and for the first 7 years of any new start-up, there is also the status Jeune Entreprise Innovante (young innovative enterprise), which reduces considerably your level of social charges and taxes. This allows you to invest in pure research, a system which is rather unique in the world,” reveals Mr Martinez of Santen. But government support now runs far deeper than just tax incentives. According to KPMG, in 2015 the French government invested to the tune of 200 million euros in accelerators and incubators, alongside provision of a range of grants designed to assist new entrepreneurs in getting their start-ups off the ground.
Yet for Francois Sarkozy, the highly esteemed president and founder of FSNB Health & Care, a renowned boutique healthcare consultancy, the problem lies not so much with a lack of entrepreneurial potential, but rather with the conversion and commercialisation of that talent. “I believe we already possess the highest number of youth entrepreneurs in Europe, surpassing both the UK and Germany. The critical issue is that we lack the proper follow-up conditions and infrastructure to facilitate the cultivation and maturity of these budding entrepreneurs. We unfortunately do not know how to grow innovate start-ups into successful companies.”
“France has more or less the same number of biotech companies compared to other advanced west European economies. Yet if you look at the capital and turnover of French companies, they are smaller than many other European markets. There is a gap between invention and innovation,” concurs Philippe Lamoureux, general manager of Les Entreprises du Medicament (LEEM), the only professional industry association representing the pharmaceutical industry players locally. Ministers argue that state is very much aware of this shortfall and specifically created the BPI (Banque Publique d’Investissement) in 2013 guaranteeing access to financing for small innovative biotech companies. Yet “Germany has traditionally done a better job in combining such companies in order to diversify risk and create synergy, which also helps them obtain more funding,” observes Mr. Sarkozy. Now all hopes rest on ‘La French Tech’.