Time to update your list of French Tech initiatives. And the new one will be of particular interest to those entrepreneurs focused on battling climate change.
The French Government has launched a new startup program called “French Tech for The Planet.” The goal is to find 20 promising Green Tech startups and give them a boost through a mix of financial and strategic support.
The initiative is a joint venture by France’s Minister for Ecological Transition Barbara Pompeli and the Secretary of State for Digital Transition, Cédric O. According to Le Figaro, the pair says “the French Tech ecosystem is a source of innovation and is essential to accelerate the ecological transition. It must be both the driving force behind this transformation by offering solutions to citizens and businesses, while itself being part of a positive impact approach.”
This echoes a concept that President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized during this year of pandemic. Namely, that technology must play a key role in the fight against global warming.
“I do believe it's important to follow tech and to try to be part of it in order to make tech a solution for a better world,” Macron said last week during an interview. “And not just a solution for some people to earn more money, which is fine for me. It is part of the game. But to be sure that it is the best possible contribution for climate change in order to address CO2 emissions, and to deal with inequalities in order for society to have a more inclusive society.”
The “French Tech for The Planet” program is also part of a broader effort to shape France’s startup image on the global stage around the embrace of ethics and positive impact. Almost 2.5 years ago, the Macron government announced its Tech For Good program with the idea of enlisting tech companies to seek solutions to pressing social, economic, and humanitarian problems while attempting to ensure that more consideration would be given to the impact tech has on the world.
The Macron government also created an AI for Humanity initiative that tries to position France as an AI hub in the hopes of influencing the development of AI along more ethical guidelines.
The hope is that doing good for humanity can also be good for the economy. In a sense, France wants to be the un-Silicon Valley. Some of these announcements have been accompanied by modest job investments or expansions in France. Whether these branding and strategic efforts pay economic dividends remains to be seen.
Still, the push continues. In late November, Macron convinced 75 tech CEOs to sign a new Tech for Good pledge. Collectively, the group agreed to commit to addressing privacy, diversity, and discrimination, while also promising to pay their fair share of taxes in countries where they have operations.
“Recognizing that such progress may be hindered by negative externalities, including unfair competition such as abuse of dominant or systemic position, and fragmentation of the internet; that, without appropriate safeguards, technology can also be used to threaten fundamental freedoms and human rights or weaken democracy; that, unless we implement appropriate measures to combat it, some individuals and organizations inevitably use it for criminal purposes, including in the context of conflicts,” the pledge reads.
Those signing included Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft President Brad Smith. Notably missing were Apple and Amazon.
While Reuters reports that talks with Apple are still ongoing, it would seem that Amazon is AWOL for now.
There has certainly been some frostiness between Amazon and the French, who fear the online retailer has been using the pandemic to crush local merchants. On the other hand, Amazon last month agreed to the government’s request that it delay Black Friday sales by a week because the nation was still under a national lockdown. A gesture of goodwill, even if it was a modest one.
Selecting Green Tech Startups
Following the announcement of the Green Tech program, applications are being accepted until January 31. Details and a portal for applying can be found on the French Tech website. Officially, the program is searching for startups that have a product or service that helps with the “ecological transition.” That could include carbon-free hydrogen, recycling, sustainable food, innovative buildings, pesticide alternatives, and mobility. To be eligible, the company must be based in France.
The startups selected will get a grab bag of goodies, including the chance to collaborate with various French Tech partners and advisors (dubbed “correspondents”) to help cut through red tape, teams from the Ministry of Ecological Transition, bask in the media spotlight, and participate in various events. Even better, the package includes advisory services from the Banque of France about financing, support from Business France to reach overseas markets, recruiting support, introductions to research organizations, and access to bidding systems for government contracts.
In other news…
Macron spokesman Gabriel Attal made a visit to the Toulouse region earlier this month, and as part of his tour, he stopped by the offices of La Dépêche newspaper to answer questions from a handful of selected readers. In general, things seemed fairly cordial considering the massive COVID-related anxieties rippling across the nation.
But the transcript of his interview contained an interesting little factoid for the digitally minded. A reader asked Attal if the government’s talk of digital transformation and helping businesses move online was mostly linked to the pandemic or whether there was a longer-term commitment.
Naturally, Attal said it was definitely longer term. But while responding, he noted that just 30% of small and individual businesses in France are able to sell products or services online. That compares to 70% in Germany, Attal said.
The bigger picture: That 30% is a shockingly low number. It’s even more so 9 months into a pandemic that has accelerated the shift to e-commerce. Anyone who has lived in France for a while won’t be surprised by this lack of progress among small businesses. Even the websites that do exist for small businesses often look like they were legacies from the Geocites-era of web design and just about as useful.
On the other hand, this surely represents a major opportunity for someone who can get these merchants and service providers online. Attal noted that this isn’t really a choice anymore.
“We speak often of these big platforms who compete with our small businesses,” he said, without mentioning Amazon directly. “But these platforms will always exist. What matters is finding a response to be able to confront them.”