France is a nation of start-ups: Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), said in an OpEd in the Huffington Post on 11 November that France is: “increasingly a bright light for the tech industry in Europe.”
So is France really a figurehead for the “Digital for all, Now” movement in Europe? According to a recent survey by the CEA, 4 out of 5 French people use the Internet – as many as the Americans or the ultra-connected Czech, Poles and Russians. The average online French household was home to 7.7 consumer technology products.
Tech companies in France are also distinguishing themselves in a wide range of sectors, including health and fitness, wearable tech, unmanned systems, 3D printing, and smart home. Shapiro points out that there are 12 French companies among the 100 most innovative organizations in the world as named by Thomson Reuters in 2013, ahead of Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium.
So what would it take for France to establish itself as the undisputed European digital leader?
GOVERNMENT SUPPORT AND FLEXIBILITY
Shapiro notes that only about half – 49 percent – of online French adults agree that there is “sufficient infrastructure in place to support the latest technology in my country,” compared to 53 percent in the US, a stark contrast to China, where 78 percent of people believe there is sufficient infrastructure to support the latest technology.
However, the CEA’s president is on the whole pretty optimistic about the future, particularly in light of “French Tech”, an initiative launched by the French Secretary of State for Digital, Axelle Lemaire, and which has received €22 million in funding.
The purpose of the project is to “develop and spread digital technologies and usages so that they become an economic asset and a source of social progress reflecting the principles of the Republic.” Gary Shapiro believes that: “Embracing innovation as a national strategy is one of the best ways to strengthen your economy and brand your country.”
France is on the right track, but Shapiro thinks it needs to go further and make labour laws more flexible in order to stimulate innovation and competitiveness – particularly in a sector where first to market matters. He concludes:
“France is in a great position. It leads the world in the sensual delights of fashion, food, perfume, wine and simply beautiful merchandising. But the digital arena requires investment, flexibility and a global perspective.”