A hot summer for France’s dynamic start-up scene

Summer in Paris might make you think of a leisurely walk in one of the city’s beautiful parks or just watching the world go by from a pleasant café. But don’t forget about technology and innovation – France has a dynamic start-up scene and the momentum never stops. Recently I attended Futur en Seine, the largest free open meet-up on innovation in Europe. The event was held in Paris from June 9-19th and brought together French inventors, developers and major players with innovators from around the world. It was total immersion in demos, conferences, workshops and non-stop networking.

I worked in Silicon Valley for 10 years before moving to Europe. I’ve watched the increasing vitality of tech entrepreneurism in France. In the past, if you wanted to create a startup in France, you had to fight against the fear of failure and a mountain of bureaucratic challenges. Today, everything has changed. OK, it’s still not 100% perfect, but we have a government that is encouraging intelligent risk-taking in business and entrepreneurial growth. Things are happening…

I read some statistics that 75% of French graduates with MBAs want to create a startup as soon as they finish school. 15% of the 2015 graduates from the number one engineering school in Europe, Polytechnique, spent six months of their curriculum at the Center for Entrepreneurship at University of California in Berkeley, learning how to create a startup. Now they are back in France and building their own tech success story.

During Futur en Seine, Axis Innovation held its 4th annual Axis Cap Digital Paris event, a unique forum for French and European startups to pitch their technologies to top-level venture capitalists and industry leaders. I participated as a panelist in a “Fireside Chat” session on how France can grow its startup success and I interviewed Sébastian Burlet, Founder and President of Lemon Way.

Chatting with Sébastian Burlet, CEO of Lemon Way at Axis Cap Digital Paris

Lemon Way was founded in 2007 and was a fintech pioneer. Lemon Way is a mobile payment service provider that lets users pay and transfer money with their mobile phones. The company has been called a French version of PayPal but less expensive. I would call it very successful – the company had 4 million in revenues in 2015 (revenues tripled in 1 year)!

  • The first French fintech start-up
  • 1,8 million customer accounts opened in France and Europe
  • The payment system is operating 30 countries and is gaining new customers in African countries.

Sébastian Burlet shared many interesting lessons learned from his entrepreneurial experience and one tip was for a startup to go international in scope right from the start. Some companies think it’s safer to build market share in their own country or region and then expand. Sébastian initially had greater success with his service in other countries and later Lemon Way made strong gains in France. In general, fintech was a little slower to catch on in France than in other countries and there’s been resistance from the traditional banking sector.

Fintech is a special interest of mine; I’m an advisor for WeCashUp, a rising star start-up that is based in Marseille and has its sights on global success.

If you’d like more info on the startup landscape in France, please contact me. I work with companies and development agencies on communication-related projects. If for some reason I can’t your question, I’d be happy to put you in contact with the right resource.