Less than two months ago, French president François Hollande made a speech in front of the tech community at the Élysée to show his commitment to La French Tech. As a reminder, La French Tech is a publicly funded initiative to promote French startups under a single brand in France and abroad — or at least, that was the plan.
For the last few days, sources have told me that the Government was thinking about pulling La French Tech’s $20 million initial funding (€15 million). Scality co-founder and CEO Jérôme Lecat confirmed that in La Tribune.
Many in the French tech community have already weighed on this issue, arguing whether the ecosystem needs public money to thrive. But there is a bigger question on this topic: what is La French Tech team supposed to do?
Even though the team has yet to receive its budget, it already started promoting French startups abroad with the help of other financing sources. For example, La French Touch conference was supposed to bring together French and American entrepreneurs and VCs in New York. While La French Tech couldn’t fund the conference, it played an important part in promoting it.
Yet, La French Touch Conference was a disappointing event and it is one of the reasons why the Government is considering pulling the funding, a source told me. According to people who were there, the content of the conference was actually quite good.
But the main goal of the conference was to present French startups to American VCs and entrepreneurs. In the audience, you could mostly find French people who flew to New York, and French people who are living in New York. Update: La French Touch Conference creator Gaël Duval sent me some numbers. 40 percent of speakers were American, and between 20 and 30 percent of the 450 attendees were American (I think this last number is still not enough for a U.S.-based conference).
That’s why I believe La French Tech shouldn’t organize conferences like this one in New York. It shouldn’t go to CES or MWC with a bunch of French entrepreneurs. It should focus on what it can do best: lobbying French officials.
Firing La French Tech’s team would be a terrible idea. It’s a lean and capable team that has already achieved a lot of things.
France Digitale has been the main startup lobbying arm for the past couple of years, but it’s composed of industry insiders. La French Tech can lobby the Government from within, and this is key. I can see both living side by side. France Digitale might be more effective to lobby big French public companies, while La French Tech might be able to bridge the gap between innovation and power.
La French Tech’s budget comes from the Invest in France agency, which already lobbies the National Assembly on foreign investment policy. La French Tech could do exactly the same to help startups. For example, why are Uber, Chauffeur-Privé and LeCab having such a hard time operating in France? La French Tech should educate deputies.
Finally, La French Tech was designed by then digital economy minister Fleur Pellerin’s team. Now that Axelle Lemaire is in charge of the digital economy, we can see why La French Tech’s team can be useful. It brings continuity. The team can provide accurate information about French startups to bring the new minister up to speed.
So here is what I think about La French Tech’s $20 million: firing La French Tech’s team would be a terrible idea. It’s a lean and capable team that has already achieved a lot of things. Funding conferences abroad is a useless task. But lobbying the Government is essential. I don’t know if $20 million is too much or too little for that, but the Government should definitely provide the appropriate budget for this mission. Entrepreneurs and VCs deserve to be represented.