President Emmanuel Macron has adopted a strong and ambitious plan of action to help France succeed in being the first innovation ecosystem in Europe, in line with its industrial and scientific history. Photo: AP

JOHANNESBURG – Last week, 22 on Sloane start-up campus warmly welcomed the French community to celebrate the launch of La French Tech Johannesburg. 

Among those in attendance were the French Ambassador to South Africa, Aurelien Lechevallier, the MMC for the City of Johannesburg, Councillor Leah Knot, French tech leaders Christophe Viarnaud and Antoine Paillusseau, as well as about 200 guests. 

La French Tech is France’s government-backed start-up ecosystem initiative and La French Tech Johannesburg will see a new community of Johannesburg start-ups joining a network of more than 50 cities around the world supporting tech entrepreneurship. 

The implementation of La French Tech Johannesburg was due to three very successful years of operation in Cape Town. 

Officially launched in 2013, the initiative is to improve the visibility and presence of innovative entrepreneurs in France and abroad, and to enhance the development of coherent start-up ecosystems. 

In 2018, French tech start-up companies raised more than R58 billion with 657 deals, a new record, compared to R9bn and 143 deals in 2013. 

Since the selection of Cape Town as one of the 21 international French tech hubs in 2016, the French tech community, with its dozens of South African start-ups led by French nationals, has been very active in South Africa. 

Through this initiative, France and South Africa are bridging their ecosystems, enabling close collaborations between French and South African entrepreneurs and fruitful business opportunities. 

The development of the French tech community in Johannesburg will provide combined support from the French Corporate and Investor Community and will certainly mean more investment from French tech companies in the growing South African digital economy. 

South Africa is home to more than 370 French businesses employing more than 65 000 people, the majority of which are in the Gauteng region, the traditional business hub of South Africa and the continent at large.  

In his address at the launch, Lechevallier stated that innovation was a major priority for the French government. 

President Emmanuel Macron has adopted a strong and ambitious plan of action to help France succeed in being the first innovation ecosystem in Europe, in line with its industrial and scientific history. 

The development of eco-innovation systems is also an important priority of France’s co-operation policy, in particular with Africa. The Choose Africa programme, announced in March 2019 by Macron, is a strong signal, with some €2.5bn (R40.64bn) to be invested in Africa by 2022, including €65 million to support the development of start-ups. 

The commitment of the French Embassy in South Africa is more than ever part of these priorities. Partnership opportunities are numerous and actions implemented in the areas of digital, artificial intelligence, robotics and, more broadly, technology transfer, meet common challenges on which we will continue to work.

Recently, Macron announced in a speech ahead of France Digital Day that the French government had convinced institutional investors to invest more heavily in late-stage venture capital funds and asset managers in one way or another. Institutional investors have committed to investing €5.5bn. 

Macron said that they would have €2bn that would go in so-called late-stage funds and €3bn for funds managed by asset managers specialising in publicly-listed tech companies.

In addition to that financial pledge, the French government wants to break down any hurdle that prevents French start-ups from raising more than $100m (R1.47bn) in funding around France, becoming a unicorn and eventually going public. 

It is clear that Macron believes the start-ups represent a huge opportunity when it comes to job creation, competitiveness and reshaping the economic landscape in France. 

France continues to position and brand itself as a start-up nation, the ambassador concluded. 

It was both an honour and a privilege to host the La French Tech Johannesburg launch and, as a close-knit, like-minded community, 22 on Sloane start-up campus will constantly work with both private and public sectors to create and nurture a strong African start-up culture, develop better support mechanisms for our start-ups, and build an enabling and conducive environment. 

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus. 

BUSINESS REPORT