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Technology france 24

French tech investment pays off at this year's CES

© AFP/ Robyn Beck | An attendee looks at the Activité Pop smartwatch by French company Withings displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 7, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-08

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has a distinctly Gallic air to it this year with some 190 French startups represented at the technology industry’s gala event, as a drive to invest and promote French tech begins to pay dividends.

Startups from France make up around a third of those taking part at this year’s CES, which began on Tuesday and runs until January 9, with only the USA better represented at 42 percent. It’s a significant rise from last year, when France accounted for a quarter of firms at the trade show, with 66 taking part.

And from drone-maker Parrot to Belty, a “smart belt” that automatically adjusts itself to changes in waist size, product stands run by French companies at this year’s CES are turning heads.

“The winner of CES will be France,” wrote technology editor Jason O. Gilbert in an article on Yahoo’s US news site.

“French entrepreneurs … have reimagined the home computer, home gardening, and weight loss. Their products reliably blend ingenuity, cleverness, design smarts, and a vision of the future,” he wrote.

Severin Marcombes, 28-year-old owner and founder of digital storage startup Lima, is taking part in his second CES this year.

“I’ve had quite a few comments along the lines of: ‘You French, I love what you do, you have the gift of making nice products,’” he told FRANCE 24.

It was not long ago, however, that France was considered something of a backwater when it came to innovative tech companies.

“Ten years ago, saying ‘I work in tech in France’ would elicit a frown,” said Marcombes.

‘La French Tech’

That the image of French tech is now being transformed is attributable, in part, to a concerted effort by the French state to do just that.

In 2013, it launched “La French Tech”, an initiative to promote French startups with a big red cockerel as its logo.

The idea is to “enhance the international image of France, which has long been viewed as old-fashioned and hostile to innovation”, said Aurélien Pérol, adviser to France’s minister responsible for digital affairs, Axelle Lemaire.

While the French Tech initiative also helps French startups access funding, it is above all a marketing tool to help firms increase their visibility on the world stage. It acts as a common brand that French tech startups can rally behind.

"Unlike the US giants like Apple and Facebook, French startups are the new players who need a spotlight to exist," says Pérol.

France’s tech revolution has already had some notable successes. The BlaBlaCar ride-sharing service, for example, recently became the first French startup to be valued at over $1 billion.

The end goal is to win foreign investment for nascent French tech firms so that they can grow into fully fledged giants like BlaBlaCar.

“Most tech sector investors come from the Anglo-Saxon world,” says Pérol. “They share a common legal culture and financial tools.”

Before schemes like French Tech it was “very hard for French entrepreneurs to gain a foothold as the French system looks complicated seen from abroad”, he said.

Marcombes has already noticed the difference.

“The Americans are becoming better aware that France is something of a tax haven for startups because there is a lot of help from the state, and the quality of our engineers and sophisticated design is appreciated,” he says.

Ultimately, however, it is the quality of the product, rather than its country of origin or a smart logo, that is the key to success, Marcombes believes.

"We try to be judged on our product first rather than a national 'brand',” he says.

Date created : 2016-01-07

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