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Paris isn’t dead yet

Paris_deviantart_ride-side-fallsIt might not make much noise, but don’t write off Paris just yet writes Adam Westbrook.

Paris gets a hard rap in the tech startup scene.

adamwestbrookIn fact it’s worst than that. It hardly gets noticed at all.

While London and Berlin – and now apparently Stockholm – are all the rage, Paris still seems to be a city beloved by artists, 20-year-old American girls and soon-to-be-retiring footballers.

In fact, one capital investor, Marc Simoncini once wrote France off as “the last country an entrepreneur wants to go” (a claim made more potent by the fact he’s French).

Cliches

In trying to explain it, it’s easy to jump to cliches: the french prefer literature and wine, love bureaucracy and work just 35 hours a week, while the Brits and Germans are industrious, creative and lean.

Actually none of those ideas are true – well, except maybe the bit about bureaucracy.

I am yet to meet a french worker who clocks just 35 hours week; it’s a myth that has ultimately done more harm than good to the country’s reputation.

Before you dismiss Paris as a startup backwater don’t forget you’re dealing with the people who invented the word ‘entrepreneur’.

Dig beneath the clichés and you find a city with huge potential – and a self-confidence problem.

Le talent brut

I am yet to meet a french worker who clocks just 35 hours week; it’s a myth that has ultimately done more harm than good to the country’s reputation

The one thing France does not have a shortage of is qualified engineers.

While the Silicon Roundabout is awash with humanities graduates harbouring Zuckerberg aspirations, France has focused on the technical skills and produces more engineers every year.

To hammer the point, Xavier Niel, one of the country’s most successful businessmen, has co-funded 42, a school offering training in coding – completely free.

The UK is desperately missing a similar commitment.

Their business programmes are not bad either and it’s common for engineers to take an equivalent of an MBA before combining their two skills.

La Camping et Le Sparrow

This is backed up by a healthy network of incubators and some generous tax breaks for startup enterprises.

Le Silicon Sentier, is perhaps best known, and is behind trendy innovation space La Cantine as well as the 3-month accelerator Le Camping.

The result is a smattering of success stories. Sparrow, the popular email platform was developed in France before it was bought by Google; and most notably, Vente Privée pioneered the idea of flash sales more than a decade ago, long before Groupon and Woot.

vive_le_franceUltimately, though, Paris has yet to produce enough prominent startups to build momentum, and perhaps it knows this.

But don’t write off the french just yet.

Yes London and Berlin are particularly good at blowing their own horn, but we all know that the loudest in the room are rarely the smartest.

Paris, don’t forget, is also geographically a lot smaller. The City of Light may not be shining bright right now, but there’s a lot of raw talent and potential here – not to mention investment capital.

That matters when you consider it’s faster, cheaper and easier to get to from London than Edinburgh or Manchester.

Tube signals

Anyway, we can talk startup lingo all we want but it’s also about the practicalities, so let me highlight this stunning revelation as a final note: in Paris, you can use your phone on the Metro.

Yes, that’s right. You can text and call, and tweet on any of the cities’ 14 underground lines.

Remember that the next time you’re stranded in a black tunnel between Stockwell and Clapham North with no way to contact the outside world.

image credits: devianart/right-side-falls/wikimedia commons

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