Is France ready for start-ups?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Arnaud Montebourg

I’m not liveblogging this session, because I’m not well-versed enough in French politics to be confident of doing it justice. There’s a fascinating battle breaking out on stage, though.

Arnaud Montebourg, Minister of Redressement Productif in France, is on stage trying to defend France’s reputation for being hostile to start-ups. He’s taking a robust approach to it: he’s accused Loïc of being unFrench for thinking that “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” should be updated.
The example of Über keeps coming up – and the fact that France is moving to reduce its competitive example with the local taxi operators, by forcing Über cabs to wait a set amount of time. Plenty of people are arguing that defending existing businesses like this seems to be more important to the French than supporting new business.

He’s arguing that you should target your innovation at creating new businesses and sectors and not disrupting existing businesses – and giving a clear warning that if you launch against existing businesses, they will be protected. It’s a cultural thing, he suggests, in defending the right of people to make a living.

He describes it as a balanced approach. It’s fairly clear that the room doesn’t agree.

The VCs

And another issue has arisen: one questioner suggests that from tomorrow any French civil servant will be able to access his digital documents without reference to a judge. Montebourg fell back into French to deal with that. He seemed to be arguing that there were both protections in place, and new avenues for challenging the government on this.

But this clear picture to this Brit is that the tension between the French Government and the start-up community is high and not easing at all.

Fleur Pellerin

UPDATE: And now we get a completely different message from Fleur Pellerin, the Minister Delegate with responsibility for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy.

She’s trying to boost and support the venture capital industry in France – because she wants to make France the start-up centre of Europe.

You need to start in schools, she suggests, by helping children learn how to pitch and giving them the aspiration to try. France needs to work on the culture that you just become a salary man after business school – they need to stop the fear of failure stopping people becoming entrepreneurs. A very different set of messages from this morning’s talk.

And she was surprisingly happy to let random audience members get on stage and ask her questions – and ask for money…


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.