It is an oft-cited fact that London is France’s six largest city. While the legitimacy of this claim has been much debated, there is no denying that some 270,000 French people call London home, and I, says Albin Serviant, President, French Tech London, am proud to be one amongst them.
Inevitably, even today Brexit prompts the question from strangers, colleagues and peers, ‘Will you stay?’ Largely, the answer amongst my social and professional network of French entrepreneurs living in the UK is a resounding ‘Yes, ideally!’. Even if Brexit is creating a fair deal of uncertainty within the community - a recent survey reveals that 54 per cent of French in London will leave if current concerns become issues up from 48 per cent in 2017 - and France is undeniably becoming increasingly appealing. We love the UK and many of us have made friends, started families and built successful businesses here. We’re attracted by the dynamism, business opportunities, and access to international talent that hubs like London, Manchester and Leeds offer. And we’ll stay, because we believe in the country and the opportunity it affords to build a successful business.
I’d even like to believe that our active presence here helps add to the vitality and appeal that makes London, and the UK more generally, such an international business hub. We make valuable contributions either as individual multi-sector tech start-ups, VC investors, or more broadly the insights and vision we bring through our open panel debates, labs and workshops, all adding to the UK economy as we build our businesses, grow our workforce, and ply our trade. And then there are mutually beneficial knowledge sharing cross-border projects such as the one launched recently around a collaboration between British and French tech sectors with a view to seizing new opportunities in AI, cyber security and digital skills.
That said, a love of the UK doesn’t and shouldn’t bring into question our French patriotism. In fact, some of us, me in the forefront, actively promote France as a great place for innovative business, for both French and international start-ups, including those ‘made in Britain’. It is indeed essential for us to develop our presence abroad to better position the French Tech ecosystem on the map as an international start-up and innovation driver and indeed incite more investors to look towards France to invest. The recent reforms lead by President Macron are drawing significant attention on the international scene and creating great pride within the expat community.
The French Tech initiative was launched by the French government in 2013 to federate, promote and accelerate growth in the French startup and innovation ecosystem worldwide. It’s a flourishing movement, a network of ambassadors who are entrepreneurs, founders of French unicorns, VC investors, designers and a whole lot of other talented people. We take every opportunity to tell the world’s entrepreneurs that France is open for business and embraces cultural diversity. France has rewritten its laws and reinvented its processes to make it easy for start-ups from France or from overseas to start up and scale up businesses internationally. Through our network of 22 French Tech hubs around the world, including a vibrant one in the UK, we help French entrepreneurs take off wherever they choose to set up business.
As president of La French Tech in London my role has two primary strands. The first is to help French entrepreneurs succeed. We host around 200 networking events every year, connecting entrepreneurs with top VCs, facilitating pitching sessions, panel discussions, and delivering insights from top calibre experts direct to our members. What started out as a French entrepreneurs’ event has been expanded to include investors and senior business decision makers of French origin, UK Francophiles, and multiple other nationalities that potentially have something to offer the ecosystem. In total, some 5,000 entrepreneurially spirited individuals with a willingness to network and do business, coming together in the UK capital is a great sight to behold, and the fact that we are growing by 20 per cent per year shows the clear appetite for Franco-British relations that exists. But French Tech London, as the flagship brand for the French entrepreneur community, is just one demonstration of the vigorous French ecosystem in the UK. French Connect London, Frog Valley, French Digital, the French Chamber of Commerce, the French Institute and the French Embassy, among others, all play a role in helping French and Franco-British entrepreneurs take off and grow in the UK, and build successful businesses here.
Beyond networking, and community engagement, I also play a more practical role along with the supporting teams here, providing information on setting up a business in the UK and guidance on administrative issues like when to file a tax return, how to contact HMRC, or put people in touch with employment specialists. In short, we do what we can to help UK based businesses with a French connection run successful enterprises on these shores.
The other strand is promoting France as a place where entrepreneurs can succeed. Whilst Emmanuel Macron was still Minister for the Economy, and long before any notions of him as a potential future President of France, La French Tech was already beginning to see the positive fruits of its labour in this domain. France currently boasts some 300 incubators and accelerators across the country, there is bpifrance, the French investment bank dedicated to supporting startups and SMEs, not to mention special research tax credits and the French Tech Visa, a simplified and accelerated procedure to obtain residence permits in France for entrepreneurs, employees and international investors.
These positive enhancements to French business life means that today France boasts the highest number of tech start-ups in Europe and succeeded in raising 3.2B in venture capital in 2017 (almost double the 2016 figure) while Station F, Europe's biggest startup project, a 34,000-square-metre space that, 1,000 tech start-ups from around the world inhabit. All this is helping the country to pivot towards a more international environment which is precisely what France needs to boost its appeal.
On top of this, one of our most popular initiatives we have is the French Tech Ticket, a programme designed for entrepreneurs from all over the world who want to create their start-ups in France, offering 45,000 Euros, visa facilitation, incubation and mentoring. One of the 2017 winners is the international film start-up, FilmDoo. The UK founders spent the past year in a Parisian incubator and as the programme came to an end at the end of January their positive experience has persuaded them to set up a more permanent base there, which is opening development potential in Europe, whilst still maintaining a small UK presence. The third annual competition is about to be announced in the coming weeks.
With opportunities offered by La French Tech like French Tech Ticket French, the French Tech Visa I believe that an entente cordiale that is beneficial to both countries, but most importantly to the entrepreneurs and the businesses that thrive there, will survive, So, Brexit or not.
More details about La French Tech Ticket can be found at https://www.frenchtechticket.com/