By Uglobal Staff
French President Emmanuel Macron is wooing technology investors worldwide. Macron recently announced plans to transform France into a start-up nation with the launch of the “French Tech Visa” program which seeks to draw international talent to the city of lights.
Announced in January by the government, the French Tech Visa is a tech extension of the Passport Talents, a new residence permit launched last October. At the Viva Technology conference in Paris in June, Macron said that he wanted France to "become a country of unicorns,” seeking to bring more billion-dollar companies to the nation.
“The tech visa is part of a larger effort by the French government to try and attract tech talent,” said Kate Hooper, associate policy analyst, Migration Policy Institute.
Hooper said this includes increasing venture capital funding for start-ups and running accelerator programs for foreign entrepreneurs, as well as establishing “fast-track routes for foreign tech entrepreneurs or investors to relocate to France, and for tech companies to hire foreign talent.”
The French Tech Visa program is a four-year, renewable, residence permit for start-up founders, employees and business investors and does not require an additional work permit. Families are also allowed to live and work in France, according to the visa’s website.
“France is a founding member of the European Union and its location puts it right in the heart of the export and import industry,” said Katya Puyraud, from the company formation experts Euro Start Entreprises in Paris. “Its current strong economy and its highly innovative pioneering – especially amongst the tech community and green industries – means foreign investors come from far and wide to set up their projects in France.”
Business investors can invest in French startups by opening a venture capital firm in France, investing as a business angel or by being recruited as an investor at a venture capital firm in the country.
“Our targets are experienced investors from VC firms and business angels seeking to invest in French startups,” said Sara Gutsatz, communication officer, Mission French Tech, French Ministry for the Economy and Finance.
Venture capital investment doubled between 2014 and 2015 and remained elevated in 2016, according to French Tech’s official press release. The growth of France’s startup ecosystem has been faster than any other European ecosystem in the past five years and today the nation boasts the highest number of VC deals in Europe, the statement said. Start-ups that turned into unicorns include Criteo, OVH and ride-sharing service Blablacar.
For investors to qualify for a resident permit they must invest some €300,000 in fixed tangible or intangible assets, directly invest or through a company where they have at least 30 percent shareholding, own 10 percent of the company being invested in, and work to create or protect jobs during the four years after the investment.
Hooper says the new program builds on earlier efforts by the French government to draw tech talent, in the form of the French Tech Ticket that France launched in June 2015. For their first round, they received 722 applications, and selected 23. Under the French Tech Visa program, there is no cap on the number of people it can be awarded to each year.
“We received many interesting applications from all continents and some of the applicants selected have already arrived in France,” said Gutsatz.
Venture capitalists invested in 590 French startups in 2016, leading Britain and Germany, according to research firm Tech.eu. That same year, public investment bank BpiFrance spent more than any investor in Europe, with total investment in France totaling 2.72 billion euros, showing a trend that witnessed more deals in France last year than elsewhere, based on Tech.edu.
Industry experts suggest this may be due to France’s generous tax incentives for research and development expenses by companies, the existence of some of the world’s best schools and research centers, as well as privately financed initiatives like Station F in Paris, which has been called the world's biggest startup campus. Station F seeks to create the largest group of entrepreneurs, venture capital firms, incubators and accelerators and has already drawn major tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Ubisoft. Masterminded by Parisian billionaire Xavier Niel, Station F is located in a refurbished train station that can house 1,000 startups and is set to open in June.
During a June trip to New York for the French Touch Conference, the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Mounir Mahjoubi, echoed Macron’s message to American entrepreneurs, saying “Come to France, you have a home here.”
“The recent election of Emmanuel Macron to president will see many changes in the business laws, which will hopefully make it even easier for investors to come to France,” said Puyraud.
Applicants are eligible for permanent residence after five years of continuous residence in France. Once obtaining permanent residence, applicants may apply for citizenship after one year, but must have proficiency in the French language over the preceding 5-6 year period.