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A country of unicorns – can France make it a reality?

Little over a year since the foundation of the French movement En Marche!, leader Emmanuel Macron sits in the Elysée Palace with, as of this week, a comfortable parliamentary majority under his belt. With the legacy political systems of old significantly reduced in power, undermined by what was a small grassroots campaign, La République is poised for disruption.

This scene sounds familiar – but not in the political landscape. Most of the time, it belongs to young startups making waves in the technology industry – your Ubers, AirBnBs and Facebooks of this world.

Macron embracing new technologies

Notably, the majority of these success stories come from Silicon Valley. But no more. The president was very clear in his address to the VivaTech conference last week – France is open and ready to give birth to a ‘country of unicorns’.

The optimist in me is hopeful. The likes of BlaBlaCar, Criteo, Devialet and Happn have all demonstrated what France is capable of producing. La French Tech – the umbrella brand for France’s burgeoning tech scene – is also gaining traction and momentum. Expectations are growing.

Macron has meanwhile reiterated that he wants to reduce bureaucracy making it difficult for young businesses to hire people. He’s confirmed that entrepreneurs from abroad will be welcome and can apply to the French Tech Visa. And for those who successfully grow and exit their business, or for those who invest, there’ll be financial incentives.

The sceptic in me, however, questions whether the dynamic president alone will be enough to tackle the core issue of ambition. Simply put, many French companies are happy to stay put and cater to their native market’s needs. Globalisation – dare I say, more often than not – is not on the agenda.

This may stem from the French love for locality – for example, going to the village bakery for bread or the neighbourhood farm for groceries, and being compelled to listen to French-language music on the radio (35% of the time, at least). There’s a strong sense of duty among the French to nurture the home-grown – but this could well be coming at the cost of stunted, insular growth.

The Gallic Rooster – or is that a Unicorn?


The mind-set needs to shift if France is to truly become the land of the elusive ‘unicorn’ dream. But if there’s ever been a time for the Gallic rooster to crow, it’s now. As London’s tech prowess wobbles in the face of Brexit, Europe is looking for a new, continent-based leader to combat the dominance of the US. And France promises both high-growth and sustainability – because, in Macron’s words, ‘you don’t get to be greedy and selfish because our societies don’t accept that anymore’. 

Macron has the mandate to invoke change, and the passion to galvanise the French startup community so the door to globalisation is ready to be opened. The question is whether businesses will follow him through the looking glass – I guess that’s something only time will tell.

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