There is mounting evidence for a French fascination with IoT. There are dynamic startups including SigFox, Netatmo, Parrot and Withings. But who else are on horizon?
PARIS – Several weeks ago, Matthew Quint, my long-time friend and ‘thinking’ high-tech pitchman in Silicon Valley, asked me, “What’s IoT in French?”
“Internet of Things” turns out “L'Internet des Objets” in French. So, it’s technically “IdO,” not “IoT.” But Laurent Massicot, Freescale’s spokesman based in Paris, assured me, “Even in France, we also call it IoT.”
There is, in fact, mounting evidence for a French fascination with IoT. Even casual attendees of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas might have gotten the feeling that, in the last few years, the number of French startups at “CES Unveiled” has increased.
Well, they weren’t imagining it.
In the 2015 International CES, 160 French companies and startups came, and French startups snatched up 23 awards, according to French Tech, a group working with startups both in France and abroad to build an ecosystem.
Inside Cité de l'Objet Connecté
In June, 2015, the French built Cité de l'Objet Connecté (the city of connected objects) in Angers (a city approximately 185 miles southwest of Paris). Its mission is to create a site – currently as large as 22,000 square feet, with room to grow to 86,000 square feet -- where people with a variety of skills including electronics, mechanics and design gather and work. It would give entrepreneurs access to different services (including machines/equipment and consultations with experts) so that they can advance their ideas, build prototypes and eventually commercialize products.
Cité de l'Objet Connecté has received government subsidies, but it’s also important to note that it was co-founded by 17 partners as diverse as Eolane, Orange, Bouygues Telecom, Air Liquide and other private investors.
Of course, a growing number of incubators and fab labs exist in different parts of the world. “But I challenge you,” said Philippe Ménard, director of La Cité des l’Objet Connecté, “if there is one site that’s entirely dedicated to accelerating IoT. As far as I know, Anger is the only one.”
Ménard, an ex-Motorola executive of 23 years, was here Thursday for an event called “Designing with Freescale.” He explained the new IoT site in Anger, and how it is set up. In an interview with EE Times, he expressed high hopes for a fast ramp-up. “We expect this project to start bringing in annual revenue of €3 million three years from now.”
Ménard isn’t alone in pushing a fast transition to the digital economy in old France.
The current French government includes a young generation of leaders, particularly Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron and State Secretary for the Digital Economy Axelle Lemaire, both in their late thirties. “These politicians have spotted the trend and are working to revitalize the ‘France’ brand among entrepreneurs,” according to a website called “Decoding Europe.
Locals are also abuzz with a project developed by Xavier Niel, founder of French telecommunication giant Free. Niel purchased an old industrial site, called the Halle Freyssinet building located in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. He is revitalizing what was once a warehouse for delivering parcels, closed in 2006. It’s now a gigantic digital incubator scheduled to open in 2016 with 1,000 startups. Niel reportedly said to the French media that the project was not a financial investment, but a way to offer young entrepreneurs their best chance to succeed.
La halle Freyssinet where 1,000 startups are said to be housed.
As though that’s not enough, France has now rolled out a new program called “The French Tech Ticket.” It’s designed for non-French entrepreneurs from all over the world to launch startups in Paris. Offered in the “ticket” is prize money of €12,500, awarded to each founder, renewable once at the end of the 6-month program. It also includes a fast-track procedure to obtain a French residence permit, and an individualized program of events and mentoring, according to French Tech Ticket’s website.
The point here is that changes appear to be in the air in France. Ten years ago when I lived here, I never imagined that France would proudly call herself "a new startup republic." But that’s what French Tech says now.
Of course, the strength for the French Tech ecosystem won’t be measured by the size of an incubator or grants given to entrepreneurs. What matters is the ultimate success of their commercial products.
We know France already has globally recognized, dynamic startups including SigFox, Netatmo, Parrot and Withings. France is proving that it has a role to play, especially in the IoT area.
In the following pages, we will list a few French startups we happened to come across at Freescale’s event. They’re the tip of the iceberg but they offer some innovative ideas.