The French tech scene seems to be on a roll, with the President visiting Silicon Valley in February, the launch of "La French Tech" by the government, an official label for its community, and new startup accelerators starting on both sides of the Atlantic. France also made its first official appearance this year at the now famous tech festival SXSW in Austin, Texas, with the "French Tech Hub". This first edition was an attempt to bring the French tech scene together, and make it more visible on an international stage.
The French Tech Hub was the very first official French pavillion at the interactive festival, which has become over the years the "Mecca" of the technology industry. Examiner.com met French entrepreneur Cédric Giorgi there, one of the founders of the movement, to talk about this first SXSW experience.
Cédric Giorgi, founder of startup Cookening, Anthony Gongora, of Sounderbox and Louis Montagne, founder of AF83, had worked really hard to get an official French presence at the festival, after realizing in 2013 that France was nowhere to be seen. "If you are not at SXSW, you don't exist [in the global tech scene]", Cédric Giorgi explained. After months of intense lobbying, the team couldn't get French private partners on board due to lack of time and last minute organization. "On such short notice, big tech companies, not only French ones, didn't see the value in our proposal", he admits.
The French public sector saved the day, as often in France, (a pattern that is widely criticised by some French entrepreneurs). Ubifrance, la French Tech, Inpi, Invest in France and others paid the bill. The event was 80% funded by the public sector and 20% by private companies such as La Poste. "In the future, we'd like our SXSW presence to be half funded by private companies and half by public organizations," Cédric Giorgi explains.
"The hard thing at SXSW is to get people to come to your event, it's a lot more complicated than we thought it would be, there is a lot of competition. At one given moment, you could be going to 100 different places", he adds. However, this first edition got some attention to the French tech community, which might then benefit from the same reputation as the German delegation, whose "German Haus" at SXSW always draws a crowd.
"We improved the French image in the tech circle. It's the same with Hollande coming to San Francisco, Criteo going IPO... Little by little, we're improving the French tech ecosystem's reputation. For all the skeptics it's important because we [entrepreneurs] benefit from that," he added. The venue, located in the heart of downtown Austin, was also a meeting point for the French community at SXSW and an object of pride. One of the goals was indeed to rally the whole French community behind its innovators. Over 2,000 people walked through their doors during the event's three day run, says Cédric. The ultimate goal is to attract about 10,000 visitors.
Cédric Giorgi and Anthony Gongora have plenty of ideas on how to improve the event in 2015. With more preparation time, they hope to partner with big French companies and have them demo their products at SXSW. "Renault could showcase its connected car, Withings could demo its connected objects..." Cédric dreamed out loud. For the French Tech Hub to become a success, communication and audience targeting are going to be crucial. "You need superstars who are going to stay here. The Paypal lounge had Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, Brian Solis...", Cédric explained. Even if the funds and preparation were lacking this year, Cédric Giorgi and Anthony Gongora are confident that this first experience was much needed and overall very positive. One small step for the attendees, one big step for the French tech ecosystem..? In 2015 the French Tech Hub is going to need all the help it can get to truly shine at SXSW.