The herd continues to grow. Emmanuel Macron wanted 25 in 2025. They already had 26 at the beginning of 2022. These French unicorns, young technology companies whose valuation (before the stock market) reaches one billion euros, extremely smart and efficient, are the new stars of French economy. Investors around the world now put Paris on a par with London and Berlin. “Funding increased by 30% in the first half in France, while it fell by 20% in the UK and 30% in Germany, says Arthur Porré, partner at investment bank Avolta Partners. Those worth over 100 million euros have even doubled since January. »
The path to success is no less risky. Each year, about thirty startups drop out of the ranking of the 120 companies that had the greatest growth. “That doesn’t mean these companies have failed. They were often outclassed by better performers than they were.”, says Louis Fleuret, deputy director of the French Tech mission at Bercy. Some will slow down, others will be bought, they will just change models or even disappear. The start-up nation produces unicorns, but also mules.
Sigfox, Zely, Morning, Remade… These fallen French tech stars
Imagining a product, creating a market, launching a new technology inevitably involves some risk. Sigfox envisioned planting antennas around the world to create a network meant to connect objects to the Internet. In January, the company found itself in bankruptcy. Six years earlier, its co-founder Ludovic Le Moan was in Las Vegas, for the world’s largest exhibition dedicated to technological innovation, when the entire room rose to welcome future candidate Macron, then Minister of the Economy.
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A CAP holder before becoming an engineer, Ludovic Le Moan has the profile of a successful entrepreneur. Sigfox invites former Areva boss Anne Lauvergeon to its board of directors and continues to raise funds. Two years of a pandemic, a shortage of semiconductors and a debt of 150 million euros will put an end to the start-up’s ambitions. When it filed for bankruptcy, Sigfox had 350 employees, in Toulouse, Boston, Tokyo or São Paulo. Bercy first turns down an offer to take over Singapore under the control of foreign investments. Then eventually give in.
For Zenly, the takeover bid for American Snap, parent of the Snapchat app, is a consecration. In May 2017, six years after its creation, the geolocation app among friends joined the top 10 of the most expensive French startups in French Tech history, like SeLoger, Meetic or Dailymotion before it. In March 2022, it became the tenth most downloaded social app. It will be overcome by the difficulties of its American shareholder, who is laying off 1,200 of its 6,400 employees. Among them, the 70 installed in France that, two months earlier, the CEO of Snap personally congratulated.
In the online banking sector, France will also believe for a while to keep a champion with Morning. When it was acquired by Banque Edel, a subsidiary of the retail group E. Leclerc and Crédit Coopératif, the neobank had 100,000 users. Two and a half years later, in May 2020, it ended its online payment accounts and pots of money activities. “Strategic Refocusing” for gift card offers, then announces management. Six months later, she closes all customer accounts.
The mules also include in their ranks those start-ups that are struggling to manage the money that should run the machine. In nine years of existence, TheFamily, the French subsidiary of the specialist in coaching startups, has never made a profit. At the end of 2018, nobody is worried about it: it raises 15 million euros from high-ranking investors. Your budget is exploding. It went into liquidation this summer. Three million euros are missing from the coffers. Two co-founders, Alice Zagury and Nicolas Colin, are filing a complaint against one of their former partners for breach of trust, forgery and use of forgery.
At the Remade factory in Manche, near Avranches, the 400 employees also did not see the industrial collapse of the smartphone refurbishment company come. Renamed in 2016, Remade has positioned itself in a growing industry. In 2019, it recorded a turnover of 80 million euros, but also 130 million losses. Wages are no longer paid, justice is seized. A judicial investigation against X was opened.
Parrot, Blade, Frichti: Resilience and Redemption
Of the thousands of companies that are created each year, the breakdown remains limited. Taking a harder-than-expected trajectory does not necessarily lead to disaster.. “Startups have the ability to adapt to new trends. Losing may require adjustments, not to mention the business model is bad. They can reduce the team before the difficulties become too great.”observes Clément Benoît, a serial entrepreneur who has just raised more than €100 million in twenty-four months for Not So Dark, his fourth company.
The award for the most resilient French Tech start-up goes unquestionably to Parrot, created in… 1994. Henri Seydoux’s drone maker keeps reinventing itself, rescaling its ambitions, moving from the general product audience to innovation for professionals .
Blade, a French start-up specializing in cloud gaming, has never doubted its technology. But it failed to roll out its offering on a large scale. Founded in 2015, it filed for bankruptcy at the end of March 2021 with no money. A French businessman will allow him to continue the adventure. Octave Klaba, founder of European cloud champion OVH, presents a preferential offer to Xavier Niel. The buyer promised Blade’s 100 employees the means for its development.
In the hypercompetitive food delivery sector, Frenchman Frichti also imagined a unicorn destination. It will be illustrated by three fundraisers in three years, including €30 million in 2017. At the time, its courier army had 300 couriers on permanent contracts. The arrival on the French market of international competitors and dark stores will weaken the French company. In January, it was bought by competitor Gorillas.
“A new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging. These are employees who have spent a few years in a start-up, gained experience and are ready to start », believes Antoine Poirson, a partner at Antler, a newly established pre-seed fund in Paris. For him, French Tech is just at the beginning of an adventure and failure is definitely an option.