Despite an 8% average annual increase in the number of digital entrepreneurs in France, the country still appears to be lagging behind.
One of the main challenges facing France over the next ten years is to drive digital penetration in all types of companies, from the smallest to the largest. Grégoire Sentilhes, CEO of Nextstage, a company specialising in financing small firms, and co-founder of the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit (‘YES’), told a session of the Digital France Day event held on 2 July in Paris that “France has creativity and innovation, but what the country doesn’t yet seem able to do is invest in startup growth.” Nevertheless, France is the number four country in the world in terms of savings, with average per capita savings of 17% of earnings. So the French market needs to grow and France needs to become more digital. Speakers pointed to a number of initiatives that can be implemented so as to help ensure greater availability of digital solutions to support innovation and boost growth.
Encouraging firms to digitise
First and foremost, companies must be encouraged to ‘go digital’. At the moment, only a third of French companies in the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) bracket have a strong digital capability. A recent Capgemini report signalled however that even non-digital firms which nevertheless use web tools internally can thus boost their revenues by 26%. Similarly, estimated savings of €70 million could be made in France if all pay slips were digitised. Still, the French authorities have not exactly been idle when it comes to backing the digitisation process, argued Frédéric Dupeyron, Director of the Digital Economy programme at the French State investment watchdog and advisory body Commissariat Général à l’investissement. He pointed to funding worth €35 billion being raised for universities and research centres, of which €3.5 billion is earmarked for digital development. Action is underway in France in two main fields: the provision of very high speed broadband infrastructure by 2020 across 43% of French territory, including many rural areas; and backing for innovation via government-supported projects, whereby up to 45% of startup R&D spending is subsidised.*
Stock market as growth accelerator
Also speaking at the Digital France Day event, Marc Lefèvre, Head of European Business Development and Client Coverage, Listings at NSYE Euronext, set out to demystify the process of listing a company on the stock exchange. He insists this is “not just for large companies; mid-sized firms can also raise two or three million euro,” he pointed out. The stock exchange provides a useful financial toolkit. It gives a company access to thousands of private investors, enabling a firm to raise its public profile and obtain equity funding. Moreover, companies listed on the stock exchange tend to move more quickly into international markets and also find it easier to attract talent. “The aim is to develop French champions,” underlined Marc Lefèvre. Meanwhile Grégoire Sentilhes encourages French startups to “think global as early as possible, and also raise shareholder capital.” They should “launch on the stock market and go right the way through with your venture,” he advised.
*Running until November 2013, a call for projects relating to embedded software, connected items and digital security:http://www.dgcis.gouv.fr/secteurs-professionnels/appels-a-projets-economie-numerique