The French authorities have recognised the growing importance of the crowdfunding phenomenon. This at least is the overriding impression conveyed by the work being done by public sector financing and investment group BPI in support of collaborative finance players in France.
At the first-ever Paris Congress on Participatory Finance, held on 30 September at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, BPI announced the launch of a new online platform – TousNosProjets (All our Projects) – designed to centralise information on collaborative financing projects. This is not, however, a crowdfunding website like the private sector platforms in existence, but a site which draws together information on projects put forward for financing, in order to try and give the potential investor a clear, comprehensive picture. If this initiative seems like a halfway house, merely playing the role of facilitator in the transaction, we should not overlook that perhaps the most important aspect is that by setting up the new platform, BPI is giving clear recognition to the public utility of this socially-oriented, collaborative means of financing.
Facilitating contact between private individuals and project originators
Benjamin Richard, Head of Project reporting to the BPI CEO, explains that the aim of the initiative is to “provide a one-stop-shop for those who wish to help finance a project.” While there are already a number of robust and reliable crowdfunding channels, and some very efficient providers, the overall picture is still highly fragmented. The aim of the TousNosProjets site is therefore to counter the risk that each platform will develop a narrow ‘community’ approach –which would run contrary to the basic idea of broad-participation finance – and help project originators raise the profile of their projects, over and above the communication capabilities of the private platforms on which they feature. However, this claim requires some qualification. In fact the BPI site lists only players whose activities have attained sufficient scale to make them truly credible. Already fourteen have joined the site: micro-credit company Babyloan and fan-funded music-label MyMajorCompany, plus startup and smaller company crowdfunding site SmartAngels and the KissKissBankBank collaborative platform for funding innovative and creative projects. Any interested individual will now be able to streamline the search for a project using a wide range of filters at his/her disposal, which should help to ensure a closer fit between the needs and expectations of individual contributors and project originators.
The beginnings of a wider policy?
State funds have been used to finance a good many events and symposiums on participatory finance, but TousNosProjets is the first large-scale public sector initiative which is actually aiming to become an integral part of the ecosystem. It is hardly surprising that BPI decided to embark on this initiative as its mission is after all basically to finance small and medium-sized businesses and innovative projects. However, this move also reflects what Benjamin Richard calls “a commitment on the part of BPI France to help develop the social economy and the non-profit sector, whose activities are based on the principle of social solidarity and utility, incorporating a democratic, collaborative management approach.” Given the increasing importance of crowdfunding, BPI could not simply watch from the sidelines. However, rather than regard these platforms as competitors, BPI intends to position itself as a collaborator, helping to “develop financing tools which complement ours,” explains Benjamin Richard.