Techstars is a worldwide network for entrepreneurs, running acceleration programs and events for startups, ranging in time from weekends to three months. Founded just over a decade ago, with a single program in its home city of Boulder, Colorado, the brand is now known across the world, running 1,000 startup weekends and 29 accelerator programs annually.
In 2017, Techstars landed in Paris. The inaugural Techstars Paris Accelerator program was announced in March, attracting applications from 64 different countries. The competition was whittled down to 10 successful companies, six from outside France and four from within. High on the list of motivators for foreign startups was the opportunity to launch in Europe by taking advantage of the exceptional Paris startup ecosystem. A mentorship-driven program, Paris also provided the laureates daily access to world-class French corporate partners, including Total, Renault Group and Accor Hotels, themselves looking for new opportunities and partnerships.
Explaining that the city’s comprehensive tech ecosystem provides “a complete tool set at entrepreneurs and founders’ disposal to establish and launch a business from Paris to the world,” Bertier Luyt, Managing Director of Techstars Paris, hails Paris as Techstars’ natural choice in Europe following successful programs in London and Berlin.
TechStars Paris Graduates Pitch Their Startups on Demo Day
The culmination of one year’s worth of work crammed into three intense months came around on Dec. 6 as the 10 graduates of the first Techstars Paris program took to the stage.
Station F, the world’s largest startup campus, was the setting for the afternoon’s excitement, where media, investors, corporate mentors and startups filled the impressive new theater to hear the pitches. Not all of the startups are looking to raise funds immediately, but most boldly set out their funding goals, from €600,000 to €5 million.
The startups presented a range of products, with a predominance of SaaS (over half), but with connected hardware and apps also represented. Particularly notable were Hydro IQ, a Kenyan team, aiming to reduce waste and enhance the efficiency of African water utilities, Eyelights, demonstrating a beautifully-designed and ‘made in France’ heads-up display for motorcyclists and Zify, a carpooling app for the urban commute, originating from India.
The importance of Paris to Techstars was underlined by the appearance of the founder, David Cohen, who flew in from the U.S. Maybe it was the jet lag, but Cohen riffed heavily on the number one, styling himself as employee No. 1 as Techstars enters its 11th year, with this being the 111th Techstars acceleration program.
International VCs Zero In On France
A panel of four venture capitalists were quizzed about their activity in France. Louis Coppey from Point Nine (Berlin), which focuses on early stage investments, explained that his firm’s interest in France has grown rapidly, so much so, that he is now based here full-time. Point Nine has completed eight investment deals in France, including Algolia and CallDesk.
“So, is French Tech a fad?” Pia d’Iribarne of Accel (London), which invests primarily at Series B and C levels, firmly rebuffed that suggestion, saying her company fully believes in it. Accel started investing in France six years ago and sees the ecosystem as booming. With France having become Accel’s number two geography in Europe, d’Iribarne visits from London every week. Accel has made ten investments in France so far, including BlaBlaCar, Showroom Privé, Doctolib and most recently Payfit.
Asked about the specificities of French talent, Boris Golden of Partech Ventures cited scientific engineering. “The French are very good at maths” and have “great attention to product detail from day one.”
A New Wave of Foreign Startups Are Choosing to Relocate to Paris
Three of the program’s overseas startups decided to relocate their headquarters to Paris as a result of their experience in France.
Be Safe, founded in Armenia, has used the Techstars program as a launchpad to incorporate and move their headquarters to France. Aram Jivanyan, company founder and cryptographer, demonstrated the company’s product on stage. It’s a security solution, enabling the protection, control and tracking of business data everywhere. Their proprietary encryption effectively “wraps” the data at creation, protecting it no matter where it resides or however it is shared.
Lovys, originally founded in Portugal, has created a 100 percent digital, all-in-one insurance solution, with a single elegant interface that allows the customer to see all their different types of cover, combined in a single monthly subscription, and with the control to add or deselect items at the click of a button. They audaciously declare that the majority of claims will be settled within seconds. Lovys decided to launch their global product in France first, setting up headquarters in Paris. One of the employees, an Australian formerly based in London, explained that the uncertainties of Brexit made Paris a better choice for them than London as a base to conquer the European market.
Zify, from India, is a mobile app to facilitate carpooling for the daily commute. Zify’s founding team were winners of the 2017 French Tech Ticket global competition, the program designed to attract international startups to France. They moved to France at the beginning of the year to take part in the 12-month mentoring and acceleration program, with a €45,000 prize and resident permits thrown in. Whilst here, they recruited staff, won a place at Techstars Paris and incorporated and moved their headquarters to France. They have now taken space in Partech Shaker and continue their rapid growth in France. Anurag Rathor, CEO, announced a deal with Francaise des Jeux, their Techstars mentor, to use the vast network of FDJ centers (30,000 across France) as predefined pick-up and drop-off points. Since the launch of the app, Zify has gone from zero to 3 million trips across all the markets in which they operate (France, Germany, Ireland and India) and have the distinction of being the “No. 1 carpooling app in India,” according to Rathor.
TechStars French Startups Demonstrate the Power of La French Tech’s Ecosystem
The Paris Techstars program is open to all, with the four French startups chosen, proportionately outweighing the applications received from within the country, and illustrating the strength and depth of startup talent in France. Aside from Eyelights (from Toulouse), the others were Miuros (Paris), a SaaS solution for improving customer service; Pomp (Paris), a mobile fuel station; and Wakeo (Lyon), a SaaS platform that brings real time visibility to B2B transport flows.
As Luyt states, “that a brand such as Techstars has chosen to set up in France is a clear recognition of La French Tech” and the contribution of all the major actors inside this burgeoning ecosystem.