After the U.K.'s big Brexit pushes London toward the fringes, many are wondering which European capital will rise as the E.U.'s next big startup hub. Here's one check for Paris.

The French Ministry for Economy and Finance last week announced the extension of its "Passeport Talent" program, which was set up last year to attract more foreign workers. Now, as part of the so-called French Tech Visa, entrepreneurs, startup employees, and angel investors can apply to grow their ventures in France.

The visa is valid for four years, and also covers spouses. One way to get the visa is by applying for the related French Tech Ticket program--that is, of course, if you're willing to launch your business in France. Those selected for this program will work with one of 41 partner incubators for 12 months, which will provide mentorship and funding to the recipients. The Tech Ticket comes with 45,000 euros ($48,330) to cover the costs of relocation.

France isn't the only country that offers a visa for entrepreneurs. Canada launched its own startup visa program back in 2013. It sets aside 2,750 visas for entrepreneurs annually. The Canadian government will host up to five co-founders from a single company, along with their families. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security last year enacted the International Entrepreneur Rule, which gives select foreign entrepreneurs the opportunity to live and work stateside for up to five years.

The French startup ecosystem has been growing steadily in recent months. Investment in French startups grew by 200 percent in the third quarter of 2016--reaching $857 million in deal flow, and trailing the U.K. by just $62 million, according to recent CB Insights data. Meanwhile, some point out that entrepreneurship is becoming more socially acceptable than ever before.

"Entrepreneurs and startup creators in France are now the heroes of the modern world, [and] that's a real cultural change," said Axelle Lemaire, France's digital minister, speaking at CES earlier this month. "The government has been very supportive of that trend, not only because we believe that they create the economic value and jobs of tomorrow, but also because it's a way for the youngest people to build their own future and not depend on people who used to not trust [them]," she added.

The U.S. has taken notice of France's burgeoning tech scene, too. Lemaire said that the majority of applications for the Tech Visa program have come from Americans, followed by applicants from Russia, China, India, and Ukraine. And as recently as last week, Facebook announced that it would launch its first-ever startup incubator in Paris this spring. The tech giant's flagship program, called "Startup Garage," will accept 10 to 15 data-driven startups every six months, giving them the opportunity learn from Facebook engineers.

Still, many have expressed concern over what the far-right populist movement will mean for the future of immigration and entrepreneurship. France will hold presidential elections this spring, with recent poll data showing that its own far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, has emerged as a front-runner.

"In the context of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., there will be a strong political temptation coming from some parties to close down the borders," Lemaire warned. "When we live in a digital world, when we want our country to be led by innovation, the capacity for people to move around with their ideas is absolutely key if we want the economy to succeed."

Published on: Jan 24, 2017