Almost 4.5 years after the launch of La French Tech, the program to accelerate France’s startup ecosystem is getting its biggest overhaul yet with a new director and a long list of new intiatives aimed at tearing down obstacles still weighing on the country’s entrepreneurs.
French Digital minister Mounir Mahjoubi, speaking at the Viva Technology conference last week, confirmed the poorly-kept secret that Kat Borlongan, co-founder of innovation consulting firm Five by Five, had been named Director of French Tech. The position had been open since late last year when David Monteau, who had led the program since its inception, stepped down to join the startup world.
Borlongan inherits a French Tech ecosystem that couldn’t be more different from the one Monteau found when he took the helm in July 2013 and the country was still struggling to be taken seriously among the global entrepreneurial community.
Last year, French startups raised €2.7 billion in venture capital, up from €255 million in 2014, according to research firm Dealroom. Though London is still Europe’s startup capital, Paris is now regularly besting places like Berlin for the number 2 position in terms of amount raised and number of deals. And of course, the opening last year of the mega startup campus Station F has been the source of tremendous global buzz. All of this coincinded with the election last year of Emmanuel Macron, a big champion of French Tech when he was Minister of the Economy, and now determined as president to make France a “start-up nation.”
Borlognan is a well-known face in the Paris startup scene. She co-founced Five by Five in 2013 to advise corporations on entrepreneurial programs and culture. She has also been a French Tech Ticket Ambassador, a Techstars Entrepreneur-in-residence and founding director of the City of Paris’ Civic Innovation Fellowship.
Rather than just continuing to steer the ship, Borlongan will also face the challenge of helping to implement a list of 100 new initiatives that Mahjoubi also unveiled at Viva Tech. Though quite detailed, the overall goal is help address what remains perhaps the biggest shortcoming of French startups: The difficulty of scaling up.
Those big VC numbers tend to be little bits of money given to a lot of early-stage companies. Later round funding is still difficult to find in France, and across much of Europe. More successful startups still gradually migrate to London or the U.S. where they can also find more specialized talent in addition to bigger checks.
Among the most notable intiatives: A program to allow entrepreneurs to apply for exceptions to certain regulations; finding ways to facilitate initial coin offerings; placing a kind of start-rup representative in each government ministry to encourage interaction with entrepreneurs; create a scale-up loan progam with Bpifrance, the state bank, to help companies during later stages of growth; making government procurement rules easier so start-ups can compete for contracts; making it even easier for foreign entprepreneurs to get a French Tech Visa; launch a “scale-up tour” to take the country’s most promising start-ups abroad to meet investors; and make a list of the hottest startups called “Next 40” to also attract the attention of foreign VCs and corporate partners.