French Tech Austin – March 15

FABCA’s value proposition was confirmed by the overwhelming response to its French Tech Breakfast panel on Tuesday March 15. The fact we were oversold, and had people crowded into every corner of the conference room at the Cultural Arts Division offices for the City of Austin, proves there is a need for this type of content on the French startup ecosystem and how it compares with our own. The audience included the startups who won a juried competition with Business France to be at the trade show, investor and sales and marketing experts, engineers from Dell, a mechanical engineering professor from the University of Texas, and decision-makers from Austin Community College.
Christophe Daguet, leader of our French Tech Austin committee and FABCA Board member, and I moderated the breakfast panel. Austin Chamber of Commerce statistics show there are 46 incubators, accelerators, co-working and maker spaces in the Austin area, but we selected 3 of the most prominent accelerators for the Austin part of the panel: International Accelerator, Tech Ranch, Capital Factory—each with its own strengths. The renowned ATI (Austin Technology Incubator) and IC2 Institute also were in the room. Michele Skelding, Senior Vice President for Global Technology and Innovation at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, opened the panel discussion by highlighting the many changes in the Austin tech landscape since the bubble burst in 2001 and the diversification Austin had to embrace as an economic development policy to become the tech hub it is today. Local French entrepreneur Thierry Daupin gave a robust endorsement for Austin, describing the rapid growth of his own career and his startup’s fund-raising efforts in just his first year in Austin and calling his move to Austin as the best decision he ever made. Tech Ranch’s Kevin Koym described the hallmark of Austin’s unique style of entrepreneurship as based in the open and generous spirit of the hippie and musician culture of Austin; International Accelerator’s Angelos Angelou let us know about some immigration reform for entrepreneurs that should greatly improve non-U.S. entrepreneurs’ access to setting up subsidiaries or creating their companies here; and Capital Factory’s Ali Syed spoke about the entrepreneur-in-residence program and the Touchdown Austin program.
To outline various angles of the French tech sector, including the investment deals getting done these days, Grégoire de Padirac of Orange Digital Ventures outlined trends in funding, including the weakness in the angel investor network, and Orange’s creating a fund of 100 million euros for this purpose. He is one of the team of just 10 people who runs that fund with considerable independence. While Total and energy sector giants have been doing corporate venturing for some time, Orange has led the way with a model for how to stay on top of cutting edge technologies by tapping into the startup sector. Yann Bonnet – the Secrétaire général of the Conseil national du numérique—outlined tax advantages and public policies encouraging innovation, including the tax credit for anyone who invests in a startup. Roman Navalpotro of Paris’s NUMA described how NUMA’s highly selective process for cohorts in their accelerator program—only 20 out of several hundred are selected—results in seed funding within 6 months for the selected companies. NUMA has expanded its vision and model all over the world. I continued that conversation about NUMA and the Paris ecosystem the next day when I interviewed Roman and NUMA’s communications manager Tristan Lebleu, at the recording studies at Capital Factory.
The take-away: We have much to learn still about what is happening in France. The conversations will continue throughout the year. I am hopeful that a May trip to France will take place and allow me to visit with contacts in Nantes, Angers, Paris—and now Marseille—which will accelerate FABCA’s growth and importance as the Texas hub for French tech initiatives.

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