While political uncertainties in Britain and the controversial situation in the US with the new administration may not be particularly catalytic for local startup communities, they certainly represent an opportunity for other markets to attract ‘fresh blood’. In that regard, France is one of the countries actively taking steps to bring in the top talent and facilitate the growth of its rich and vibrant FinTech ecosystem. An area of emphasis for the French government is to turn its economy into a magnet for skilled and savvy entrepreneurs that will push the boundaries in high-tech sectors, including financial technology.
The country knows the value of knowledge and has a history of focusing on talent – the foundation of any innovative nation. The approach becomes especially important and fruitful now, in 2017, given an opposite direction of actions from another leading hub – UK – which creates barriers for tech talent immigration.
“France has an abundance of well-known specialists in the finance and engineering industries. It doesn’t surprise me that the FinTech industry became an area of excellence for France. The French FinTech specialists are increasingly making their mark on the national and international landscape. Their new significance, their successes and the emergence of new subjects contributed to the creation of this association. This has now been accomplished,” notes Alain Clot, the President of the France FinTech Association.
Just mid-January, the French government pulled out the political guns to warm up conditions for international professionals – the country has established a French Tech Visa as part of the “Passeport Talent ” scheme which was launched in 2016. The French Tech Visa provided for four years on a renewable basis, aims to attract foreign tech talents: foreign startup and scale-up founders and employees, foreign talents joining a French startup or scale-up, and foreign investors and business angels.
French Tech Visa is not the first politically-bootstrapped initiative to turn the country into a talent magnet – in 2015, the French Secretary of State to the Minister of the Economy and Finance in charge of Digital and Innovation, Axelle Lemaire, announced the French Tech Ticket – a program designed for entrepreneurs from all over the world who want to create their startups in France. The French Tech Ticket is a one year program by the French government to attract gifted and ambitious individuals from all around the world and help them set up and develop their startup in France. The benefits for winning teams are fantastic: those who join the program receive various benefits which include a €45,000 grant per project with no loss of equity, a dedicated resident permit fast-track procedure for the winning teams and their family, dedicated space in one of partner incubators, dedicated workspace for the winning teams, access to services, events and training sessions provided by the incubator network, access to a senior mentor to support the startup’s growth and more.
France takes a strategic approach with long-term beneficial implications – the country focuses on the talent more than on anything else. In the interview with BI, Lemaire emphasized, "We have the conviction that the only way to seize all growth opportunities in the 21st century is to attract as many brains and talents as we can. In the global competition for these talents, we had to boost France competitiveness.”
The whole ecosystem in the country is tuned to create a climate for active, almost barrier-free, growth and development of innovative solutions in the financial sector and beyond. The success of that endeavor is indicated in numbers – from January to September 2016, FinTech investments in France increased by 71%, indicating growing interest in the segment. In Q3 2016, funding to French tech companies passed a record of $1.5 billion.
France also has an extensive incubator network that counts over 41 dedicated incubators (50 Partners, 104factory, Belle de Mai, Savoie Technolac, Paca-Est, EuraTechnologies, EM Lyon, Montpellier BIC, Paris Pionnières, and many more) across 12 major cities nurturing the next generation of innovators. Among other attractive for startups and entrepreneurs hallmarks, Lemaire notes that France offers a truly supportive fiscal and legal framework for startups with entrepreneurs privileges and tax cuts for the corporation. “...and we wanted to complete it with a fast track visa dedicated to those who are likely to boost French startups growth with their knowledge, capital and creativity,” she added.
Additionally, the Paris FinTech Forum, which took place between January 25 and 26 was a great event organized by Laurent Nizri. It saw the who's who of the European FinTech industry but also people from other continents. There were 120+ startup pitches mostly done by CEOs and our (Let's Talk Payments') co-founder Amit Goel was one of the judges. He also spoke at a session on emerging markets at the event.
Not only is the country building a strong and attractive local infrastructure for innovators, France is also building bridges to other ecosystems to pull up its rank and leverage connectivity. French Tech London, an official online hub of the French tech ecosystem in London, is one of the prominent examples of such bridges along with the new initiative to build a €1-billion-dollar French-German fund for startups. Another unprecedentedly large project is expected to launch in April 2017 – Station F, which is bound to become the world's biggest startup campus, will certainly contribute to attracting attention to France as one of the leading startup hubs globally.