It was 2014 and I am invited to this VC event in London with some friends after a long day. Organised by French Tech London they say. Intrigued, I listen to this crew of french accent english speakers. 5 minutes later I was hooked.
Finally found the french community I missed 10 years ago
Perhaps due to the fact I grow up in the far east part of France and not in Paris, web entrepreneurship in the 2000s wasn’t great. It pushed me out of France and seeking other horizons. But this keynote I was listening to, showed me a panel of 5 entrepreneurs, all successfully representing the best of what France released as startups in the last 10 years, and literally learning from their experience in 40′.
The style, the attitude, the content, the drive. I was truly thinking who the hell are those people behind French Tech?
The community we missed in Switzerland
Let’s face it: Switzerland is great. We know it. But, when it comes to tech disruption, we can’t just use Logitech all the time as the successful story to share in meetups. And yes Nespresso is a great brand, huge website and experience platform, but we miss hearing about the emerging ones, like protonmail for instance, mindmaze and many others. Very hard to get them in a keynote, and if you don’t know someone who knows the founders or an employee, or their VCs, it is mission impossible.
So I decided to go talk to these organisers of La French Tech London. It appears this initiative came straight from the newly appointed French Minister of Economy (Emmanuel Macron) and pushed to the national and international tech communities. I said to myself: great. There is a starting point.
Indeed, I started my career working on digital campaigns for politicians both left and right, don’t be jealous. So my network was pretty hot at that time. I was hoping to re-activate some of my connections and see what happens.
After few phone calls, managed to get introduced to the guy who runs the external communities. Interesting to mention that I was expecting much more structure at that time and it felt to me this was really the beginning of something. So, the first thing I mention is: I am from Switzerland, this country with tons of innovative entrepreneurs? Believe me or not this wasn’t even on the map. Yes London, New York, San Francisco and Israel were the famous hot spot with Berlin starting their ascension to the top of the list in Europe. But Switzerland? Too small? Too expensive? Didn’t got an answer but here was my opportunity.
Action was to present Switzerland, my experience as an entrepreneur and my views on the country as a potential top 3 or top 5 hub in Europe for La French Tech.
It took months to get a chance to present and have the “informal” authorisation to explore the waters. Next on the list: swiss authorities. You can’t start a such venture and community without alerting the authority, knowing that if successful the embassy of France would somehow be linked through Business France, the economic amplification arm of the government.
Here again, it took months to negotiate appointments, presenting the concept and also explaining the value for both parties, as somehow there were fears that this would only benefits the French side and not the Confederation.
The value proposition of the FrenchTech Swiss Hub
First the scope. My vision was to cover all Switzerland as it is small but yet concentrated enough to put it under one hub. Adding small teams per countries such as Basel, Zurich, Geneva and Lugano was in the pipe. Especially to give them specific theme like healthcare for Basel, or Fintech for Zurich. Second, the team. I was all alone and couldn’t get far. Like any new project I had a chicken egg issue. If I don’t have the community, I can’t attract the team and vice-versa. So who was my audience? Startups, of course. Entrepreneurs of all sort, but also providers, corporate, academics, students… The idea was to prove that from learning from entrepreneurs closer to Switzerland, we could benefit from funding not always coming from far, competencies but most importantly markets to accelerate to. If you are looking to launch a startup and stay in Switzerland as a consumer business, good luck. The market is way to small for hyper growth and not all ventures could bet on a high price to function like www.lesroisdupq.ch. The unlocking item was my personal experience and started to reach to entrepreneurs to help them either in business planning, or introduction to potential investors in France. At the same time, the french government was pushing me all the interested people that were willing to give a hand to this movement and this is how the beginning of the founding bureau started. Rafael was already organising great events in Geneva and had the perfect CV to build the community and ecosystem for the Geneva hub and the national one at the same time. We had an offer, a start and the beginning of a team. We started the first event.
It’s alive: join FrenchTech Swiss
Our founding event was great and we had a blast seeing all the people coming and sharing their interest. We were honest on the fact that this was new, mostly messy and looking for feedback. It really created a sense of community and I can only applause the leadership skills of my colleague here who truly knows how to put events in place.
So how can you help? We are building a community that means listening to all of you and see what you can offer and what do you need. Please come visit our website www.frenchtech.ch and if not a member yet, please do to support us in the organisation of events. If you’d like, you can also come at one of the meet-ups to talk to us, feel the vibe and decide for yourself.
In my new role as a President of that hub, I will be careful to make sure we are meeting the criteria for an official label from the government, knowing that I was glad enough to be authorised to use the label as such in a test mode by the Paris team.
See you soon at the next FrenchTech Swiss event.