Although the French and Israeli startup ecosystems are very different, there is nevertheless a lot of scope for the two countries to help each other in this field.
Interview with Daniel Bessis, Chief Representative in Israel for the Paris Region Economic Development Agency, during the Axis Paris 2014 event, partnered by L’Atelier, which brings together international investors and French startups and was held this year on 17-18 June.
L’Atelier: What does your role in Israel at the Paris Region office consist of?
Daniel Bessis: The Paris Region office in Israel enables Israeli companies to get to know the innovation ecosystem in France and fosters technology partnerships between Israeli and French companies. We also provide support to Israeli companies wishing to set up in France. Our aim is to bring the ecosystems of the two countries closer together.
What attracts Israeli companies to France and vice versa?
In Israel, once small startup companies begin to grow, they don’t stay at home. There are very few medium-sized companies in the country, and even entities with over a hundred employees are quite rare. So they come to France to look for markets or technology partnerships. Many are also looking for distributors and integrators to drive their businesses forward.
Going in the other direction, Israel isn’t really a market in its own right and it’s rare to see major French companies actually set up there. Nevertheless, French startups that become attracted to the country do go there, as Israelis are very keen on innovation. They really like to try out new products, which makes the country a good platform for testing and piloting. The promising sectors are not so much ‘tech’-oriented. The focus is more on well-being aids and sport.
What motivates Israeli and other international investors to invest in France?
You have to remember that in general investors like to invest in companies that are close to them geographically. However, this rule is riddled with exceptions. France is one of them. The excellence of French engineers, their creativity and professionalism, is beginning to be recognised internationally. Events such as Axis Paris are very valuable and they bring together both international and French investors.
What are the strong and weak points of the French ecosystem compared to others?
We need to recognise that there’s more money around for investment in English-speaking countries than in France. There’s more venture capital and also funds for supporting startups available in these countries. And the business culture in Israel is very similar to these countries as well. It’s quite clear that business codes in France are quite different and foreigners don’t always get it. One example is that in France the further up the decision-making tree you are, the less accessible you are. This is an idea which completely baffles Israelis.
Moreover, in France, people tend to talk first about things that are not going so well, despite the fact there are real successes, such as the stock exchange listing of [personalised ad retargeting specialist] Criteo. Anyway, there’s certainly less money in France available for startups, but the French market is nevertheless really developing.