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French Startups Venture Abroad for Chance at Global Recognition, Investment


At a recent event in New York City, a mix of French startup founders, venture capitalists and media gathered to honor the first U.S. winner of the Creative Next Challenge.

Launching a startup is no easy feat. Launching one outside your native country is even harder. But for certain French startups, the French government is there to help. A government-sponsored competition that began last year offers startups marketing and promotional assistance.

The Creative Next Challenge is a series of competitions sponsored by Business France, the nation’s international business development agency. Each competition offers French entrepreneurs working abroad the chance at official endorsement and international exposure.

French startup founders who have set up shop outside of France (prior winners include entrepreneurs in India, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates) become global ambassadors for the “Creative France” marketing campaign. Winners are profiled on the Creative France website and their startups are featured in exclusive advertising campaigns. The free marketing and promotion also extends to public relations events, press reports and press releases.

Raising profiles and cash

The competition aims to raise the profile of French-founded startups and encourage outside investment. In France, the startup scene represents a cultural shift, according to Henri Baissas, executive director of Business France in North America.

“Twenty years ago, for the young generation, the ultimate goal was to be a civil servant and now it’s to be an entrepreneur,” Baissas said.

At a recent event in New York City, a mix of French startup founders, venture capitalists and media gathered to honor the first U.S. winner of the Creative Next Challenge. Among the contenders were augmented reality advertising startup Augment, personal robot manufacturer Blue Frog Robotics and sports-centric crowdfunding platform, Sponsorise.Me.



To qualify, startups had to have registered their company in the U.S. and have at least one founder of French nationality. The competition also included a social media component, with entrants taking to Twitter and Facebook to make a case for their startup’s inventiveness and ingenuity.

In the end, biotech startup Hemarina claimed the prize. The company, which started in France in 2007, develops hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier products that aid in medical efforts such as organ transplants and wound treatments. Hemarina CEO and president Dr. Franck Zal told VOA a combination of government initiatives had helped his company through the years.

“We have a very good thing we call crédit d'impôt recherche,” noted Zal, referring to the tax credit French businesses receive for research and development initiatives. “We invented it in France and [President] Obama brought this idea [to] America.” The Creative Next victory was significant for the startup’s efforts to build global brand awareness, “Hemarina is well known in Europe, and we want to be more known in U.S.,” Zal added.

Investment booster

Overall, French startups have experienced a significant increase in investments that have allowed them to expand. French tech companies captured $2.88 billion in investments in 2016, up 80 percent from $1.6 billion the prior year, according to a report by Tech.eu, an online publication covering the European tech industry. Among the top five countries, France ranked third in investment volume, trailing only Britain and Israel.

“What you have experienced in Silicon Valley with the third or fourth generation of entrepreneurs, we are at the stage of experiencing in France with the second generation of entrepreneurs, and so the ecosystem is going to grow,” Baissas said.

Station F will add to that growth. Billed as the world’s largest startup campus, the 34,000-square meter tech incubator will soon open in Paris. When it does, it will house over 1,000 startups. Additionally, apartments for 600 entrepreneurs are planned for 2018.

Still, global ambitions mean startup founders will venture beyond their borders. A study commissioned by online payments processor Stripe and market intelligence platform VB Profiles found that 98 percent of the 329 French startups in operation since 2014 have customers outside of France.

The “Creative France” global ad campaign gives entrepreneurs and their businesses a presence outside of France. Baissas stressed the importance of effective marketing, especially for French companies entering the U.S. market, “It’s a big challenge. The U.S. companies are very good at that. It’s really inspirational for us.”

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