3Belles in Paris

Paris: city of love, light.. and now “startup nation“. Indeed, the innovation scene in France’s capital is quickly proving itself to be more buzzworthy than fashion week. 

A decade ago, the French government established a new business status making it simpler for startups to register (“the auto-entrepreneur”), and more financially appealing for startups to do business by offering tax breaks including those that incentivize innovation via tax credits to cover as much as 30% of R&D costs (below 100 million Euros that is).

Now, French President Emmanuel Macron has created an investment fund of $12 Billion to back the tech startup ecosystem. And – coupled with tech flight from the UK (with Brexit looming, startups are opting to stay in the EU) – France has surpassed the UK in terms of number of VC-backed companies.

Oh, and the city is cheaper than the Valley (engineering salaries in Paris can be half of those in Northern Californian, for example). While there is already a rather robust supply of local engineering talent, organizations like  WonderLeon are going a step further by actively recruiting and supporting talent from abroad to relocate to Paris. 

While France still presents its fair share of bureaucratic hurdles for companies to navigate, we were impressed by the startup scene’s momentum – and it produced a palpable excitement and sense of pride distinct to the Parisian startup world.  

Perhaps the most symbolic and noteworthy player in the French innovation world is Station F  – a former railway depot-turned Euro startup mecca the length of the height of the Eiffel tower. “The world’s biggest startup campus” houses more than 1,000 startups, 30 startup programs and 40 VCs. If we’re being honest, after spending over a day at Station F and frequenting it’s ultra-cool “La Felicita” resto for lunch (…and several coffees), we were ready to move to Paris just to work there.

As our focus is specifically on sustainability, we were also interested to learn more about the triple bottom line startup scene. From our conversations with companies, we heard repeatedly that France is one of the strongest ecosystems in the world when it comes to sustainability-focused innovation. Unlike the U.S., Western Europe has a stronger culture of socialism – which at its core is about investing in community well-being.

This heritage, combined with France’s embrace of innovation, has produced some of the incredible entrepreneurs, investors and professionals we met. Here’s a quick recap:

INSEAD alumni:

BlaBlaCar – We spoke with France’s (and INSEAD’s) celebrated ridesharing unicorn on how the company is making money by reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality. Its 75 million carpoolers have collectively saved 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Five Seasons Ventures – Founding Partner Ivan Farneti shared his vision for investing in companies solving global food challenges including reducing food waste, increasing crop yields and efficiency, transparency in the supply chain, and more nutritious and affordable food. (“Nature has four seasons and technology is the fifth”).

Zephyre – Gaëlle Mettey (founder and CEO) discussed how her startup is taking part in the energy transition by offering turnkey services for electric vehicle installation. 

OECD – Shivani Kannabhiran light on the role of international organizations in driving sustainability at a global scale. She is working with key stakeholders in government, business and civil society to implement frameworks for more responsible and accountable value chains.

ChangeNow – Founder Kevin Tayebaly shared how he is creating a global forum for organizations addressing big societal challenges to come together.

INSEACT – Recent alumns and venture competition winners Tim Van Vliet and Saby Maity discussed their approach to developing sustainable protein for animal feed and cleaning up palm oil waste in process.

IdInvest – Partner Fabio Mondini explained how this leading private equity firm is tracking the triple bottom line.

We also met with:

Kadalys – Founder and CEO Shirley Billot shared how she is employing a circular economy approach by making high quality lotions from the incredible properties found in banana peels.

Flowlity – Founder and CEO Jean-Baptiste Clouard discussed how he is developing a smarter method for stock optimization through machine learning and cognitive computing.

Demeter – Partner Riadh SHAÏEK explained how this firm is investing in the “energy and ecological transition” by backing startups focused on smart cities, clean energy, agriculture and food.

ResponsAbility – The company’s Head of Impact, Paul Hailey shared how this major player in the impact investing space is thinking about measuring and reporting outcomes while still turning a profit.

NextProtein – Former UN FAO professional turned startup founder, Syrine Shaalala discussed how she is leading the charge to leverage the potential of insect protein to address major global food challenges. 

Stimergy – Founder and CEO, Cristophe Perron explained the potential of cloud computing as source of renewable energy and how his company is generating heat for buildings through datacenters.  

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