What could be more French than an "entrepreneur"? The word itself is a loanword; when first coined by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say around 1730, the term signified both a "planner" and "risk-taker"--the defining qualities of leadership today.
Yet in spite of the word's roots, entrepreneurship is finding an increasingly hostile environment in France today. In fact, many entrepreneurs are leaving the country to try their hand at business elsewhere, namely in Britain and the United States. There are around 50,000 French nationals living in Silicon Valley alone, and some 350,000 in Britain. Many expats have dubbed London the "Paris on the Thames," due to its increasingly French population.
French President François Hollande is being encouraged by his deputy finance minister for business innovation to make Paris more of a tech hub, but evidently this isn't happening fast enough. Here's why French entrepreneurs are moving out of France, and what Silicon Valley, London and other places are getting right:
The French Government Is Not Supportive Enough.
While there's plenty of innovative spirit in France, the government makes it difficult for businesses to get started. According to the New York Times, entrepreneur Guillaume Santacruz had to wait 6 months to obtain a license to open dental clinics in Marseille--a process that was supposed to take him only one. And once a company is up and running, there are a host of social taxes which delay hiring. Studies show that 33 percent of French nonwage costs go to funding unemployment, education and healthcare, compared to 20 percent in Britain. Government regulations are a problem for business owners everywhere--think Aereo--but France's are apparently more onerous than most.
Entrepreneurship Is Less Culturally Acceptable.
It's not just French bureaucracy that makes starting up a business so difficult--it's also the surrounding culture. Erick Rinner, an executive at Milestone Capital Partners, told the Times that the French are typically very suspicious of those who are self-made. French executive recruiter Diane Segalen added that, unlike in the United States and Britain, there's a sense of "what's yours should be mine" attached to the national mantra of liberté, egalité, fraternité.
Santacruz also claims in that article that the French are also afraid of failure. And let's face it: as an entrepreneur, the odds are rarely in your favor. The grim statistic that 50 to 70 percent of companies fail within the first 18 months is one that the French--and especially the parents of young innovators--do not take lightly. In the US, a recent survey of 1,000 small businesses saw that many owners would rather embrace the possibility of failure than never try at all. The French, it seems, don't share this belief.
On Thursday, Google announced on its blog that it's opening a $100 million Venture Capital fund in London, or "Paris on the Thames." The tech giant sees great potential in European entrepreneurs, pointing to successes like Spotify, SoundCloud and Supercell. So the future looks bright for entrepreneurs--but that future, it seems, is increasingly not in France.