When it comes to technology and innovation, France generally hasn't been considered a major player. Up until fairly recently, they haven't engaged with the global technology boom in the same way countries like America and the United Kingdom have, and, as such, their desire to be considered a 'global hub for technology' seems unlikely, at least initially.
It's not just their approach to technology either. When it comes to startups and entrepreneurialism, France has always lagged behind other western countries. A recent survey on entrepreneurship from HM Treasury confirms this, noting, that in 2016, French society was more averse to risk compared to their international counterparts, and that the country affords fewer opportunities to startups, particularly in comparison to the US and the UK.
Despite this, however, France - and in particular Paris - appear to be moving away from their entrepreneurially conservative roots, and are attempting to push Paris as an international center for innovation and technology. This isn't just on an official level either, with subtle shifts in the Parisian youth culture leading to many French students saying they want to be entrepreneurs when they leave school, rather than engineers or - the traditional French choice - civil servants.
Of course, rhetoric and surveys are one thing, but there are also many examples of how Paris is encouraging a dynamic technology sector. The disruptive tech hub Station F is a particularly good example. Built in a former train depot in Paris, this Xavier Niel backed project is designed to house 1,000 new companies, with additional plans for 3,000 desk-shares and 100 shared apartments in its 366 thousand square-foot building. Essentially the world's biggest campus for startups, Station F is indicative of the shift towards entrepreneurship in Paris, and in France as a whole.
But even with the growing rate of startups and disruptive hubs, can Paris really compete with the likes of San Francisco or London? At the start of this month, France has only one startup that's worth north of a billion dollars, whereas America has over 100. Even the United Kingdom has 10, according to the latest figures. France may be the world's most popular tourist destination, but it seems they have some way to go before competing on the startup front.
Still, with new president Emmanual Macron in charge, there is hope for the French capital. The election of Macron was not just politically significant but demonstrated the desire for change and a forward-thinking cultural shift in France. Macron has been a consistent champion of technology and entrepreneurialism in the country, and his leadership has resulted in an economic environment that is far friendlier to startups, entrepreneurs, and technology than at any time in France's history. His so-called 'Macron Law' has made it much easier for companies to hire talented staff and reduced the influence of professional associations, and the industry is clearly responding too, with Paris seeing the second highest number of venture capitalist deals in Europe in recent years, and technology firms in the country raising over two billion dollars this year alone.
Take a visit to Paris and you can feel the change in atmosphere, particularly around hubs like Station F. The area is awash with optimism and excitement, which is a welcome change from the rather hesitant approach taken by Parisian startups in the past. Of course, there is a long way to go - and many details of France's tech revival to be confirmed - but Paris certainly appears to be approaching it with vigour and its typical panache.
It's clearly a good time to be running a startup in France, particularly in the capital, but the world's international tech hub? I guess only time will tell, but there's no question that for entrepreneurs in France, Paris is the place to be.