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French Tech News: Beyond Aero Flies The Cleaner Skies

Also inside: A French FoodTech fight; Techinnov tries to build bridges between corporates and startups; Earlybird Venture Capital expands in France; and GenAI takes over the country.


👋 We kick things off with a French FoodTech fight!

Last week, French regulators published a new rule that prohibits the producers of plant-based protein products from using the classic names of their meat equivalent to label their products. So, no more vegetable steak, veggie bacon, or vegetable ham.

Why? Too confusing for consumers! Or, at least that's been the argument from farmers and the agricultural industry, who are displeased both with the specter of more competition, but also yet another movement that tags them as climate villains.

In making the decision, the government found itself squeezed between two constituencies it was courting heavily. Farmers, in case you have not heard, are not in a happy place. Since the beginning of the year, farmers in this struggling sector have been staging big protests over what they see as unfair competition and lack of government support. They have been trying to make their case on food labeling rules for years.

While the rules had been in the works for a couple of years, the publication just happened to coincide with the annual Salon International de l'Agriculture, a massive event that gathers farmers and politicians wanting to kiss some agricultural butt. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal spent the week petting cows, drinking artisanal beer, and furrowing his brows in an attempt to convince this audience that the government was doing all it could to address their problems.

"It was a request from our breeders: the decree banning the names steak, escalope, or ham for plant products was published today," he tweeted.

At the same time, President Emmanuel Macron's government has been all about startups. FoodTech and AgTech have received special focus as the key to helping improve health, protecting French food sovereignty, and fighting climate change. And so, there is a new breed of startups developing food products using alternative protein sources such as plants, including Umiami, La Vie, and HappyVore

The Alt Protein industry is flabbergasted for a couple of reasons. First, their products are pretty clearly marked "vegetable steak", or whatever. Second, the rules only apply to such foods made in France. If the plant-based food is imported, then they can still use the vegetable steak label.

Stepping back, this industry represents only 1% of the French food market. Inflation has already put it under pressure. A coalition of food startups says they are planning to appeal the rules, which take effect in 3 months and give them a year to sell off their stocks with the old labels.

"This decree is completely out of step with the country's ambitions in terms of reindustrialization and the climate," said La Vie CEO Nicolas Schweitzer in a statement. "Under the guise of transparency for consumers, this decision slows down the ecological transition and endangers a booming local industry. With its agricultural and culinary assets, France nevertheless has all the resources to become a key player in plant proteins."

Image of Food fight!

Hopefully, that's built up your appetite for all the goodies in our latest newsletter:

  • Deep Dive: Beyond Aero staged the first successful test flight of its hydrogen-electric plane. CEO Eloa Guillotin talks to us about France's sustainable aviation ambitions.
  • Spotlight Interview: There has been a growing emphasis over the past year on getting France's corporations to get more active with startups. The Techinnov event has been trying to facilitate this dynamic since 2007. As the latest edition approaches, Techinnov head Aurélie Hard breaks down why France's corporations are still lagging.
  • International Investor Intro: Earlybird Venture Capital is a pan-European early-stage VC that is aggressively expanding its focus on France.
  • The Big Deals: Unseenlabs, Planity, Photoroom, Bioptimus, Filigran & more!

Tech Talk

And it's (still) all about AI...

👩‍❤️‍💋‍👨 ⬆️ Tech giant Microsoft announced Monday a multi-year partnership with Mistral AI granting it access to Azure’s AI infrastructure to boost next-gen large language models (LLMs) & open new commercial avenues. A mutually beneficial partnership that could also end Microsoft's reliance on OpenAI...if all goes ahead. Tuesday, the EU Commission announced that it will be eyeing the deal in its role as anti-trust enforcer🕵️‍♂️

😽 ⬆️ Speaking of Mistral AI, the startup also just unveiled "Le Chat," its sassy conversational AI bot challenging Open AI's Chat GPT. Available in 5 languages, the bot is dubbed "a fun and pedagogical way to explore Mistral's AI technology." It's also hilarious 🙄 to anyone in France because "chat" means cat. See, even algorithmic geniuses can be funny. When asked whether it's superior to Chat GPT, the boastful bot purred "not superior, just more advanced." The feline's got claws! 💅 🐈‍⬛💬

🛒 ⬆️ Leading restaurant growth platform, Zenchef, is on fire having just acquired Tablebooker, a Belgian hotel table booking platform. Adding to their success story after acquiring Resengo and a previous merger with Formitable, this comeback kid is defying its once-predicted shelf life. Read all about Zenchef's recovery and resurrection here. 🚀🍽️

🥳 ↔️ Google's Sundar Pichai was in Paris last month for the grand opening of a new AI hub. The hub will host 300 researchers and engineers. However, according to TechCrunch, these are not part of a new AI team but rather existing members of Google Research and DeepMind, YouTube, and Chrome settling into new office space. Artificial Intelligence hub or artificial buzz? 🐝📱

The Deep Dive: French Sustainable Aviation Plans Take Flight

Beyond Aero's Blériot prototype hydrogen-electric plane.
Beyond Aero's Blériot prototype hydrogen-electric plane.

Beyond Aero recently staged the first test flights of its hydrogen-electric system for low-carbon airplanes. With aerospace a major piece of the French economy, the nation is counting on such aviation innovation to secure the sector's future.

France is the world's second-largest aeronautics exporter with a 22% market share, lagging only the U.S. with 35%. France's national statistics agency said that as of 2020, the nation had 4,480 aerospace companies that employed 263,000 people.

The problem, however, is that the products being made by this industry are terrible for the environment. So the French government is making a big push to support a sustainable revolution for this critical industry.

"This is a really good moment for us as founders," said Eloa Guillotin, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Aero. "I truly believe in us as a company. It's a big milestone. But for the industry, it's just the beginning."

Spotlight Interview:
Techinnov's Aurélie Hard

Aurélie Hard, project manager at the Essonne CCI and the person in charge of organizing Techinnov.
Aurélie Hard, project manager at the Essonne CCI and the person in charge of organizing Techinnov.

Over the past year, the French tech ecosystem has shown a growing focus on the challenge of accelerating relations between large corporations and startups. While the government has been pushing this concept for years, there is still a feeling that the nation's biggest companies are too slow to embrace innovation and still too reticent to partner, invest, or acquire startups.

This subject will be at the forefront later this month at the latest edition of the Techinnov convention. Since the first edition in 2007, the event has had a core mission: Forging links between startups and incumbents. The event is organized by the Essonne Chamber of Commerce and Industry on behalf of the Paris Ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry and will draw a mix of about 2,000 attendees from large corporations and startups.

Aurélie Hard, project manager at the Essonne CCI and the person in charge of organizing Techinnov, breaks down the challenges and opportunities for corporates and startups.

"We're lagging behind foreign countries and we need to catch up," Hard said. I think the major groups are becoming aware of this, but we need to catch up with countries like China or the United States, and that's undeniable.

International Investor Intro

Who: Earlybird Venture Capital

What: A pan-European Earlybird early-stage VC

Where: Berlin, Munich, London, Istanbul, and a growing presence in Paris

Founder (s): Dr. Hendrik Brandis, Dr. Christian Nagel, Roland Manger, and Rolf Matthies

Investment thesis: Pre-Seed to Series A

N° of funds:  5

Amount under management: +€2 billion

N° of portfolio companies: 118

Sectors of interest: AI, Deeptech, Enterprise SaaS /Productivity, Climate & Clean Tech DeepTech (including SpaceTech), FinTech/InsurTech, Industrial Tech (robotics & hardware) Medtech, FoodTech & quantum computing.

How to pitch the French team: Reach out to Earlybird Digital West Principal Dr. Marie Thérèse von Buttlar and teammate Ferdinand Dansard; Earlybird Health Partners Florent Gros and Lionel Carnot; and Earlybird-X teammate, Viktoria Beck.

Notable facts: Earlybird Health recently announced the closing of a €173 M fund to support healthcare innovations with strong patient outcomes in Europe and beyond. Check out the news coverage here.

Earlybird Health will cohost the upcoming Breaking 7% Paris dinner on March 6, 2024. Register here and learn more about this initiative here.  

The Big Deals

Unseenlabs satellite

What: Unseenlabs, a satellite network to enhance maritime security.

Why: Ships have ways to disable official tracking systems when doing clandestine or illegal activities. Unseenlabs' constellation of satellites is designed to detect ships.

Funding: €85 million (including 25%-30% debt)

Who: Co-Founders & Brothers CEO Clement Galic and CTO Jonathan Galic.

Investors: Supernova Invest, ISALT, and UNEXO led the funding round, which also included money from previous investors 360 Capital, OMNES, Breizh Up, S2G Ventures, and Bpifrance. 

What's Next: The company has 11 satellites in orbit and will use this new financing to launch 10 more, which will allow for improved precision and boost the company as it expands into new markets.

What: Planity, a SaaS online beauty appointment booking platform.

Why: Enables beauty professionals (hair salons, beauty institutes, barbers, etc.) to efficiently manage their activities and optimize their work agendas and time.

Funding: $50 million

Who: Co-Founders Jérémy Queroy, Antoine Puymirat, Paul Vonderscher

Investors: InfraVia Capital Partners, Revaia, Crédit Mutuel Innovation, & Digital Ventures (Bpifrance).

What's Next: The platform will use the cash to continue developing its product, expand its presence in the German and Belgian markets, make potential acquisitions, and invest in new verticals.

What: Photoroom, a GenAI-powered photo editor for small businesses.

Why: Revolutionize product image creation and management for businesses selling items online.

Funding: €43 million

Who: Co-Founders Matthieu Rouif & Eliot Andres

Investors: Balderton Capital, Aglaé, and YCombinator

What's Next: The new money will be used to accelerate the development of its Generative AI capabilities, including investing in more Graphics Processing Units (GPUs); secure imagery from leading image providers and photographers, and double the size of the team by the end of 2024.

What: Filigran, a cybersecurity platform that coordinates and simplifies threat management.

Why: Building a platform using innovative open-source solutions, designed specifically to address the complex challenges organizations face in anticipating cyber risks and threats.

Funding: €15 million
Who: Co-Founders Samuel Hassine & Julien Richard

Investors: Accel, Moonfire Ventures & Motier Ventures

What's Next: The funding will be used to fuel the cyber tech's expansion to the US and Australia, further develop its open-source “eXtended Threat Management” suite, and grow its team.

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