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Vivatech concentrates France’s booming tech scene, and its minds

TechCrunch TechCrunch 1/07/2016 Mike Butcher

Over the last 5 years something big happened in France. Perhaps it was the economic crisis which added some much-needed shock-therapy. Perhaps it was an increasing friendliness towards tech entrepreneurship by the government. Whatever happened, France is now well on its way to creating a far better environment for startups. Yesterday the government passed a seismic new bill – the so-called “Digital Republic” bill allowing far greater to public data, net neutrality and much more. At the same time the Paris tech scene is picking up speed, with many large tech companies now accelerating, such as companies like Withings, Gameloft, Happn, Deezer, Parrot drones and BlaBlaCar all now motoring along.

What Paris needed was a big event to bring this all this together. With the demise of the long-standing Le Web conference, there was a big gap to fill. In addition, France has no DLD, Davos, CES, IFA (the list goes on) to concentrate the tech scene, while at the same time bringing France’s considerable big-company culture to connect with startups. The irony is, just as the UK “Brexits”, France is getting it’s act together.

This was the vision of Maurice Levy, head of the marketing and communication giant Publicis. without any history in the space it would have been hard to get something really big off the ground in France. But this is effectively what Levy has manage to pull off, from a standing start, together with major newspaper Les Echos.

“We don’t have the same ecosystem as the US” He admitted in an interview with TechCrunch, “which is why it makes sense to combine startups with the large corporate sector. Levy’s vision is not to is to offset the relatively (to the US or UK) smaller size of the French VC market with much greater corporate engagement and funding.

Viva Technology Paris, or Vivatech for short, is somewhat akin to a TechCrunch Disrupt, but with a broader mix of corporate and government involvement.

While the event is still in its infancy, this week, 35,000 people registered for the three-day conference (around 15,000 passed through the doors each day) which will also open its doors to the French public on the last day, a Saturday. The impact of this kind of act can’t be underestimated. France for a long time has been renowned for its engineering skills. On Saturday, moms, dads and kids will flood into the pavilions to get a taste of what tech entrepreneurship looks like.

Levy has also been putting his money where his mouth is, announcing a 10 million Euro fund to back startups.

And today 90 startups were showcased as part of the Publicis90, a global initiative to support 90 start-ups (so named after the company’s 90th anniversary).

Some 90 of the most innovative startups or scale-ups were selected jury composed of executives such as, Stéphane Richard (Orange), Carolyn Everson (Facebook), Carlo D’Asaro Biondo (Google) and SY Lau (Tencent). Other parters included Henner Group and Iris Capital.

Over 20% of all submission came from the US, 18% from France and 14% from the UK

Twenty five projects were “intra-preneurs” (entrepreneurs from within Publicis Groupe), while the remaining 65 projects were from outside. The full list of the 90 winners is available at

The top three winning startups:

  • Emerald Medical Applications: "an Israeli startup specialized in dermatology that uses state-of-the-art image recognition technology for faster, easier detection of skin cancers."
  • Recast.Ai: "the first French startup founded by School 42 graduates, is a collaborative platform allowing developers to create a bot and implement it on any messaging service. Developers can extract usable data from textual and voice expressions through vocal recognition technology."

  • Wiseye: "an Israeli startup specialized in retail and the Internet of Things providing retail and store chains with a customer behavior platform that draws in data from various sources like point-of-sales, wireless devices and other available inputs."

The background to this has been a gargantuan effort, and one which till now has been somewhat alien to French corporate culture. Some 76,000 Publicis Groupe employees were able to submit their ideas for a startup, as well as taking submissions from around the world. This amounted to 3,732 applications from 141 countries.

This boiled down to 320 applications, which was whittled down to 90, with Publicis Groupe employee submissions amounting to 20% of the total shortlist.

Each of the 90 finalists selected will be awarded between €10,000 and €500,000, of investment, with other services from Publicis thrown in.

Publicis and other are now in the process of creating a big fund which will have a first closing in September, but which is on its way o raising about 550 million Euros.

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