Will France Hit the Unicorn Target as Envisaged by Macron?

Macron envisages a unicorn country for France

With a multitude of tech startups ranging from a network of hardware manufacturers to a collection of video games developers, apps and streaming sites today, France’s recording of tech unicorns is still very low and slow. At a time when many European countries are tightening immigration rules, France has conversely embarked on attracting more unicorns and transforming the country into a unicorn nation.

France has built a vibrant tech economy in the last few decades but still lags behind in the race to acquire unicorns (tech startups that have successfully hit the billion-dollar valuation target, or as President Macron puts it; those people with innovative ideas and talent who can help grow big companies). French talent often leaves the country probably because the environment isn’t attractive enough and the key is training and keeping talent within the country.

Just a few weeks into office, newly elected French President, Emmanuel Macron is turning France into a tech talent magnet that will attract talent from across the globe. He has also realized the need for France to scale up with other countries such as the US and China in its race to acquire more unicorns in the country.

Paris is well known for its fashion business talent, but on June 15, Paris was out for the tech business. On June 15, Mr. Macron launched a new technology visa, (you can as well call it the ‘talent visa’) which aims to attract international talent into the country. His vision is for France to become a “country of unicorns” and this can only ever be achieved by opening its doors to foreign creative developers.

Macron’s call for a talent hunt from everywhere in the wake of tightened immigration policies among European countries comes as no news as it has long been part of his ideology. As Forbes reports, when Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Accord, Macron released a video on YouTube calling on all US citizens working in the science and climate field to come to France stating in these words “France is Your Country.”

“I want France to attract new entrepreneurs, new researchers and be the nation for innovation and startups,” he told CNBC.

During the Viva Technology Conference (dedicated to startups development, innovation and digital technology) in Paris, France, Macron underscored the need for his government to cut down on complex regulation by making it easier for foreign talent to work and support startups with money in order to create world-leading companies.

According to the conditions spelled out at the conference, this new visa is open to startup founders, their employees and investors. This visa which is expected to be valid for four years will make easy, the complex procedure for obtaining a residence permit in France and it has been given a stunning name, “Talent Passport”.  A European Venture Fund will be made available to young startups in order to help them as they grow.

If this is the case, the African tech startup community will benefit immensely from this new fund as many of them lack funds as well as incubation programs that can help in speeding up their growth. Africa seems to be taking on the international tech scene. Cameroonian startups (WeCashUp Mobile Money and MEDx mobile health platform) won the first and second prizes at the conference. This is just the start of what African techies stand to gain with the new talent visa.

France’s venture capital investment as of 2016 stood at only $1.6 billion, still lagging behind the likes of Germany, US, UK and China who appear to be leaders in the unicorn market.

It nevertheless has its own little share of the unicorn market with its ride-sharing company, BlaBlaCar which happens to be the first unicorn the country could ever boast of. So far, there are only three startups that have surpassed the $1 billion valuation threshold – BlaBlaCar, Vente-Privée and Criteo. In 2009, BlaBlaCar and OVH (the Big Data Company valued at $1.1 billion) were the only two unicorns in France.

With just a few of these unicorns, will France be hitting the unicorn stake anytime soon? Considering the slow pace at which French startups are getting noticed, it is gradually becoming a call for concern among startup analysts and critics. At a glance, the journey to France’s acquisition of more unicorns seems so distant.

My guess is France, like many other European countries will witness more tech unicorns in the near future especially with the introduction of this special visa. More of France’s startups will eventually join the unicorn club though I see a good number of them not being able to cross the $1 billion hurdle but will still be able to build and create very revolutionary products and services for the French community and beyond.

With this new visa at the disposal of foreign developers, startupers and innovators, France might just be able to reach that point; the point where the country surprisingly transforms itself from a non-unicorn nation to the “country of unicorns” and that’s the ‘New’ France Macron envisions.

Leave a Reply