Business France takes stock and looks to the future

L’Usine Digitale: What are the results after ten years of bringing French startups to CES?

Didier Boulogne: In 2013 there were around fifteen companies. Today the red rooster is known at all technology fairs in the world. Even the organizers congratulate us. If there’s one state-backed brand that’s been successful, it’s French Tech. And this is obviously explained by the ecosystem, in addition to the brand itself. There are real projects, real start-ups that are recognized by VCs and big clients.

Is CES still an essential step in 2023?

Yes, it is the right showcase to showcase a product, an idea, an innovation. Inside early stage, this continues to be the great reference. And it’s useful both for finding American, British, German and other contractors, but also for seeing what others are doing around the world. This allows companies to benchmark, which is very important.

Has the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic diminished?

The 2022 edition was still mixed, even though we had 135 companies in Eurekapark and 15 for the Automotive part. But for 2023, we have more than 170 French startups in Eureka Park, 16 companies in the Convention Center in the Automotive section and 30 startups in learning expedition🇧🇷 We are back to pre-Covid level. In terms of themes, we are in current trends, with a lot of artificial intelligence, solutions for health and well-being and obviously for environmental transition.

However, the economic context has hardened this year, how do you feel about the French ecosystem?

We had an excellent year in 2021, and in 2022 we are limiting losses. The global environment is really complicated and, even if technology is less impacted than other sectors, such as automotive or aeronautics, we are suffering the repercussions. So we put things in place to be resilient. In any case, betting on exports is a winner for our start-ups, the wrong choice would be to keep looking inwards and not quickly attack the international market. Because a Brazilian or Australian start-up can grow and take its place.

And on China’s side?

It looks like it’s loosening up a bit, but we’re very much at a disadvantage in China. We couldn’t do anything there this year. Planned pavilions were canceled or were operated at a minimum. It also sells few industrial goods with high added value, and less and less about Tech.

On the other hand, doesn’t his confinement represent an opportunity to impose our champions on the rest of the world?

Yes, this could be an opportunity for French Tech, especially for creating European giants. We see the unicorns more and more numerous, but there is still no one in the capitalization of 50 billion euros. The solution is at European level.

The problem continues to be managing to grow while maintaining a European identity…

That’s why the European scale, not just the national one, is essential. On the side of American venture capitalists, in 2021 and 2022 they were investing in us without asking for the physical transfer of companies to Silicon Valley, which was a very positive change from the past. This was in particular in response to the lack of talent problem. However, this can change with the IRA. [Inflation Reduction Act, loi passée en août aux Etats-Unis, ndlr]🇧🇷 This worries us in terms of attractiveness and positioning of the productive units in strategic goods.

Precisely, do you have any project in terms of reindustrialization? Start-ups with “hardware” projects are historically not favored in France…

We are working on the subject and we are following the logic of France 2030. The same goes for the international projection of companies and technologies through fairs or promotion programs. We have acceleration programs that will roll out almost everywhere in 2023. And we’re looking forward to the government’s export plan, which we feed upstream. We are combative in an environment that moves very quickly. If we stay nimble, we’ll be able to get out of the game.

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