How is French innovation reinventing itself?

While French reindustrialization and the climate challenge are among the government’s priorities for this five-year period, Emmanuel Macron can be proud of having achieved one of the objectives of the previous one: French-style innovation has become reality.

Last November, the Global Innovation Index (GII), published annually by Insead, ranked France as the 11th most innovative country. A monstrous evolution compared to the previous decade, when France occupied 22nd place in this ranking.

In 2016, whileEmmanuel Macron, candidate for the presidential elections, admitted wanting to “make France a start-up nation”, the country occupied the 18th place of the GII. In a few years, movements such as French Tech emerged, policies were implemented, incubators such as Station F or Paris&Co were born, foreign and national investors followed the trend, a complete ecosystem emerged that gave rise to notable French successes such as BlaBlaCar, Lydia and Deezer.

For Peter Zemskyvice-rector of Insead, responsible for innovation, the technological ecosystem that France has managed to build is “one of the obvious successes of the first term of President Macron and his ministers”.

According to him, if France has advanced so much in such a short time, it is because “talent is a key factor for the success of technology, and France has always had great assets in this area”.

Thanks to its sectors of excellence such as Polytechnic, HEC Where Supelec Center, France trains real talent every year in research and development, commerce and digital technology. And if the French who graduated from these prestigious schools previously chose to settle on the other side of the Atlantic once they finished their schooling, in recent years the country has equipped itself with the appropriate institutions to promote an innovative activity that has nothing to envy to the United States. It is there, tells us the dean of Insead, “that the French government has made real progress”.

Already in 2017, Emmanuel Macron announced during his first presidential speech in Living Technologythe creation of an innovation fund with an endowment of 10 billion euros in partnership with the BPI as well as the introduction of the “French Tech Visa”, valid for four years, which helps attract talent to our country. “France has implemented a set of global policies ranging from improving funding to streamlining administrative processes and fundamental reforms in the organization of its universities”, recalls Peter Zemsky. With regard to research and innovation, “the government has been taking a series of effective measures, namely the tax credit for research”.

In addition to government actions, some institutions allowed French innovation to emerge on the European and even world stage. French technology is one of the most striking illustrations of this. This movement brings together and supports French technology startups in their development, in their visibility, but it is also a true network of entrepreneurs, investors, decision makers and community builders. According to Peter Zemsky, “French technology shows how the government has really opened up to collaborating and listening to the ecosystem to develop effective policies. A good example of the fruits of this collaboration is the French Tech Visa program, which invites innovators to come to France to stimulate the growth of French startups and the ecosystem as a whole”.

Just like French technology, the creation of Station F in 2017 was of great importance. Created by Xavier Niel and led by Roxanne Varza, the largest incubator in the world is proof that “if you build the ecosystem, they will come”, according to Peter Zemsky. “The scale of Station F clearly shows France’s ambitions in terms of technology. Suddenly, the French were speaking the language of technology, where we know that scale is the key to success. And Station F is not just a symbol. At Insead, we opened an incubator there early on. This has allowed us to be at the forefront of developing the French ecosystem and has provided an effective launching pad for many of our alumni. »

Viable companies, won investors

With €11.57 billion raised and with almost 800 operations, the financing of French start-ups broke all records in 2021. In the first quarter of 2022, nuggets of French technology had already raised 8.5 billion euros. This dynamism is explained in particular by the fact that at the beginning of the year money was “cheap”. The availability of capital in the financial markets and the maintenance of interest rates at zero by the ECB made the investment favorable. And if investors chose to position themselves in France and not elsewhere, it is because the young French technological launches are as attractive as their European neighbors and the maturity of the hexagonal ecosystem is no wonder. .

To break into the top 10 of the Global Innovation Index ranking despite the disruptions of 2022, France, which continues to benefit from strong momentum and has the potential to progress further, will have to “accelerate the transformation of ‘many of these traditional companies, who now have better access to start-ups and scale-ups to partner, acquire and hire. For Peter Zemsky, “The key success factors for technology are shifting in favor of France. Technology must increasingly be about profit and progress for the planet and its people. This fits well with France’s culture and values. Regulating technology is a challenge given the complexity and speed of change. A fascinating space to look at is cryptography, the web.

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