Paris Capitale Numérique (formerly called Paris Capitale Startup) is a governmental initiative that originates from the observation that the digital sector doesn’t contribute as much to the economy in France as it does in other countries. The idea of the government’s proposal is to bring together, at the same location, all the types of actors that make up the digital sector. It’s hard to guess what’s exactly on their mind (do they know themselves?), but I do think that it makes sense for this project of a tech hub to have an international dimension — hence the post in English.
Following some harsh criticism on the blogosphere, the Ministry of Digital Economy put up a survey to ask for general feedback on its proposal. Recent news on the expected location of PCN (possibly here) reminded me I still hadn’t completed the survey, which I just did today. Here is a post to explain the ideas I submitted.
Two things come to mind: getting investments from abroad, and helping domestic businesses make money abroad. First, Living in a global world and economy, it makes sense to facilitate connections between startups and investors all around the world, and PCN could be a first port of call for international investors. Second, When a product has proven successful in the domestic market, the next step is to expand to international markets. This is best done with people who know and have firsthand experience with the target markets, and also have connections in those markets (think Ubifrance). PCN needs these people.
Besides that, I think that general coaching (whether business or tech) by foreign advisors would also be useful. There’s much to learn from people who have a different perspective, who can challenge our knowledge and the way we are used to do things. I have the feeling there aren’t that many connections between the different European startup communities. For instance, the European startups I know about who are not French, I know from US tech blogs. How about inviting European startups and mentors to events at PCN and sending our own abroad?
In terms of location, the international dimension implies that the place should be easy to get to for people abroad, and this probably is the most important criterion.
Finally, the survey asks how we should attract people from abroad. I don’t have a strong opinion on that, but I’d say how about we ask them and involve them in the process of creating PCN? Good thing that the survey is also available in English…
Free advise on subsidies and admin matters
There’s a connection to be made with the SayOuiToFrance campaign, which objective is to attract investments in France. One of the arguments that have been put forward in this campaign are the tax credit schemes for young innovative companies in France. Yes, these are very interesting schemes, there is also money to get in the form of grants and loans, but the general feeling here is that the workings of these public means of funding are way too complex.
Therefore, I think it would be a huge help if PCN would give access for free to advise from civil servants who would help startups raise subsidies and coach them in public innovation funding. More generally, I think that further help on admin matters would also bring some relief to many founders, and it’s the kind of help that the State is in a good position to offer.
Universities and schools
Arguably, most of the top graduates in France come from schools rather than universities. And the schools with the highest reputations are usually public. This is where the talent that our startups are made of comes from. So obviously, public schools have a prominent role to play in a public initiative such as PCN.
Schools and unis do two things: they do research and they teach students. Giving public research labs a presence at PCN would be a good way to connect business and research (think of the ties between Google and Stanford for instance). Regarding students, here’s a tip. Recruiting is not easy. How do you attract top talents when you’re on a budget? Lure students who are full of promises into internships at your startup, seduce them before they graduate, and hire them. Now you just need to meet students. You could come to them, but how about they come to you (since you happen to be at PCN)?
My last idea is that PCN can play a role in helping students start their own businesses by facilitating connections between different types of schools (business, engineering, design). Education is very compartmented in France, in comparison with the US and the UK (I don’t know much about the rest of the world). For this reason, students don’t mix, and entrepreneurial projects at school always have all-business or all-engineering teams.
- 10 GB/s internet connection? Yes please! Who deserves fast internet connections more than people who work in the digital sector?
- Flexible office space? Yes please! Coworking spaces and shared meeting rooms are the norm. Ability to expand easily as a startup grows would be most welcome.
- Incubator? Well, if this is a startup place, there should be seed startups as well, no?
- A partner to give publicity to PCN? How about LeWeb?