• French start-ups have experienced strong growth in recent years and are attracting more and more investors.

  • The measures taken during Emmanuel Macron's five-year term have helped, but we must not forget that the movement was launched long before his election.

  • As part of the presidential campaign, digital technology is present in “all” programs, welcomes Maya Noël, general manager of the France Digitale association, who invited the candidates to an event this week.

June 2017. Just elected president, Emmanuel Macron goes to the VivaTech show in Paris, which is the French equivalent of the famous CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas.

He walks the aisles for hours and ends with a vibrant tribute to "hyper-innovative France", the one that undertakes without setting limits and that he intends to boost with tax cuts and reductions in charges.

The last part is spoken in English.


This is the moment when the new Head of State calls for the birth of a “start-up nation”.

The gimmick stuck to him.

And even if the Covid-19 and then the Russian escalation towards war in Ukraine took him away from this image, and he decided to talk about pension reform and audiovisual license fees for his official entry into this campaign, Emmanuel Macron does not never misses an opportunity to salute the health of young French shoots.

As in January, with the announcement of the 25th tricolor “unicorn” – a start-up whose valuation reaches at least 1 billion dollars.

A goal he had set in 2019 when there were only five and which was achieved three years in advance.

Icing on the


, a 26th has further swelled the ranks since – Spendesk, a platform that centralizes all the expenses of a company's employees.

25 French unicorns: here we are!

These 25 startups valued at more than a billion dollars, and with them all of French Tech, are changing the lives of French people, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs all over France, making our sovereignty!

It's only a beginning.


— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) January 17, 2022

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So isn't the start-up nation beautiful?

But if, my good lady, the ecosystem is doing like a charm.

Start-ups raised 11.6 billion euros in 2021, an increase of 115% compared to 2020 (5.4 billion), according to the latest barometer from the EY firm.

According to this same reference, there are now 27,000 start-ups, compared to 9,400 in 2016. They have created a total of nearly a million jobs, and will create 250,000 more by 2025, according to forecasts. .

A final figure for the road: one in four French people uses the services of at least one unicorn each week (Doctolib, Blablacar, Lydia, Deazer, etc.).

This dynamism, we must admit, is obvious when you arrive at the premises of PayFit.

The young Parisian box, which has been offering payroll and human resources management tools to VSEs and SMEs since 2016, joined the unicorn club at the very beginning of January, after raising 250 million euros thanks to an American fund. .

She took up residence last year in the 8th arrondissement, a stone's throw from Saint-Lazare station, in what was once a huge hangar where trains were repaired.

Entirely renovated, the offices with huge glass roofs extend over two floors and reflect quite well the image that we have of this kind of place where we speak “to date” of “

 late-stage ” investments.

 » (which intervene from the second round of table) or « scalability » (ability to evolve).

The financial results are displayed in real time above the doors, the employees, whose average age must barely reach 30, navigate between open offices, "phone boxes" and cozy sofas, when they are not having a little nap break or table football.

Thomas Jeanjean welcomes us in a large meeting room.

At 44, 20 of whom have worked in tech, this former Criteo (world leader in the field of online advertising targeting) with a “grandpa profile” – he says it – was recruited last June to the post of COO (Chief Operating Officer, "director of operations" in VF) to "take the company to the next stage".

“We have 6,000 customers, we are present in four countries [France, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain].

We are going to hire another 400 people this year, which means that we will be more than 1,000, he lists.

We are experiencing very strong growth and we have before us a monstrous market, since we can potentially meet the needs of millions of small businesses.


“A strategic economic issue”

The objective of PayFit is to offer these small structures the same HR tools as the larger ones, despite human resources that are by definition more limited, allowing their employees to have access to the support necessary for their well-being and their performance. .

“It is an aspect that is often complicated to manage for these companies.

Helping them makes sense because, in my opinion, they represent the real economy,” explains Thomas Jeanjean.

“Start-ups have created accessible and popular services that are used massively.

They have become a strategic economic issue,” says Maya Noël, CEO of France Digitale, an association representing more than 1,800 French digital entrepreneurs and investors.

Proof of this is that the structure saw five presidential candidates (Yannick Jadot, Anne Hidalgo, Valérie Pécresse, Eric Zemmour, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan), as well as representatives of Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Mélenchon parade through its event on the digital economy, entrepreneurship and innovation, last Wednesday.

“In 2017, digital was only present in a few programs.

Today, it is in everyone, ”welcomes the leader.

🚨 We peeled all the digital programs of the presidential candidates!

Discover the comparator 👉 https://t.co/gr3eqfIE7c #numérique2022 pic.twitter.com/L5HJIzFkvF

– France Digitale (@FRdigitale) March 9, 2022

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This is where we must put an end to a fairly common shortcut.

The start-ups did not grow as if by magic thanks to the arrival of a forty-something president who sometimes wears the suit without the tie and uses English words in his sentences.

The movement, stammering in the 2000s, accelerated sharply during the five-year term of François Hollande.

The Banque Publique d'Investissement (BPI), specifically responsible for financing the growth of French companies, was created at the end of 2012, then the Minister for the Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin, launched the "French Tech" operation in 2013. Objective: “To make France one of the most attractive countries in the world for start-ups that want to get started and set out to conquer international markets.

" Just that.

The Philippe then Castex governments continued the momentum with, for example, the vote of the Pacte law in 2019 containing six measures intended for start-ups and the establishment of a system called the "Tibi initiative", to encourage investors institutions (banks or insurance companies) to put money in rounds.

Because it appeared that to raise funds in excess of 40 million euros, French start-ups often had to call on foreign capital.

“Yes, there is clearly a political voluntarism over the last five-year term, but it is all the successive efforts since 2010 that explain this success, says Maya Noël.

And then it's a general trend, not just French.

If the amounts invested in start-ups doubled in France last year,

Investors for all stages of development

In reality, France is only catching up with its European neighbors – not to mention the aliens of Silicon Valley.

But it is starting to have its napkin ring in this global market.

130 French start-ups were present at the last CES in January, the second largest contingent behind the United States.

“There is a whole marketing campaign carried out around French entrepreneurship which has really helped all the companies that launched from 2014, 2015 to deploy”, estimates Alexandre Martin.

The 30-year-old knows what he's talking about: he founded Colonies with two friends in 2017. His company offers a new concept of housing, halfway between a hotel and a roommate.

Customers, mainly young workers,

Thanks to several fundraisers, Colonies is now present in Ile-de-France, Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Berlin, while waiting for Lyon, Nantes, Montpellier and Brussels in the coming weeks.

“All the investors we need to finance the different stages of development [venture capital at the start, then growth capital] are there now.

They weren't before, there was a kind of glass ceiling because it was difficult to get big investors, he says.

Today, you have all the European and American funds present on the Paris marketplace and that you can request.

This is one of the big changes of recent years.

“Fifteen years ago, it would have been complicated to create PayFit, confirms Thomas Jeanjean.

Not sure we would have found enough to raise money so easily.


The talent war

However, there is still a lot to do to continue this ascent.

At the moment, the war is raging to poach "talent", as they say in the industry.

“The main obstacle to development today is finding the right ones, observes Maya Noël, CEO of France Digitale.

There is great tension in the market, because there are a lot of demands and the skills are changing very quickly.

“It is on training for new digital professions (the profiles of product developers, data analysts and salespeople are the most sought after today) that we must put the package, insist our interlocutors.

But "we can't just wait for the next generation to arrive and be ready, we have immediate needs," claims Maya Noël.

She recommends in particular a simplification of employee shareholding, "a real lever when you do not have the means to align at the salary level", and the implementation of tools to bring in more easily talents from the foreigner.

The “French tech visa”, put in place at the end of 2016, made it possible to prime the pump but its framework became too narrow.

Our file on the presidential

These are the challenges of the next five-year term, with or without Emmanuel Macron.

Because the middle of the start-up is not to wear t-shirts "with you" to support the re-election of the outgoing.

“What was most important, beyond the person, the image of youth, were the facts, summarizes Thomas Jeanjean.

La French Tech had already started, what really mattered to us was to see if we were going to accelerate further.

It was.

For us, from the inside, his "start-up nation" was not just a side effect.

But if tomorrow another president arrives, older and with a different language, if he continues all that, that's good too.

The tech “grandpa” is not worried.

"We'll see what the campaign does, but there's no reason for it to stop," he says, smiling.


“France 2030”: Can the country become a leader in innovation start-ups like the United States?


Five reasons that show that France does not have everything to gain from being a “start-up nation”

  • French Tech

  • Emmanuel Macron

  • Economy

  • start-up

  • Presidential election 2022

  • Elections

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