Do We Need French Tech Hubs?

There is no love, only proof of love. This week, the President of France, Francois Hollande wanted to prove his willingness to make entrepreneur's life in France easier. This state visit to Washington and the Silicon Valley was also the occasion to celebrate French awesomeness. Don't you dare to forget how great our engineers are or how plentiful our talents and resources are. The French government wanted to trigger a new impulse as Fleur Pellerin, Minister of Digital Economy and Small Businesses, explained in a recent interview in Challenges. French entrepreneurs and investors have the responsibility of fueling it. The inauguration of the first French Tech Hub incubator in San Francisco last Wednesday was part of this new entrepreneurship friendly policy, complemented by the launch of a FrenchTech label whose vocation is to become a strong brand everywhere in the world.

French Hub, French Tech, the rooster is puffing its chest. I always say that even if I have been living in the Silicon Valley for the last three years, I will always feel French and my strong French accent is here to remind anyone who can hear me. But I also feel that my roots allow me to know where I come from without being scared of being transformed and influenced by different cultures. Innovation is openness. I do not believe you can innovate if you are not willing to leave your comfort zone. An innovator is first of all a constant learner, an ever growing mind nourished by the unknown. Silicon Valley is an innovative hub not because its an American place, but because it has been shaped by its diversity. Steve Blank, the infamous entrepreneur, specialist of the history of the Silicon Valley affirms that

"no successful startup ecosystem was built from local talent."

Silicon Valley is drawing talents from all over the world and it makes it such a unique and stimulating place. Being confronted by different cultures and talents opens your mind and transforms you. I am still French but I am way less scared of failure than I used to be. Interacting with this mindset here taught me this. When I arrived in San Francisco three years ago, I became a resident artist in the digital gallery GAFFTA. I was the only French person there, I was jumping into a fascinating artistic and technological community. I was so far from me and home, it made me able to find myself. It was the opportunity of a life time.

That is what I wish any entrepreneur. Creating a French Tech Hub is great for building confidence of French entrepreneurs, but we should think startups first, French second. This does not mean we will be less present in the new innovative economy, quite to the contrary. A young startup I advise, Amazers, created by two young Swiss entrepreneurs just moved to Berlin. They are not looking for a Swiss network there, they want to get the best of the Berlin creative hub. Does it put Swiss talent in danger? No, your success will be your message. Action can be more powerful than attention. When I lived in London, everybody was always asking me where I came from not what part of town I lived in. My roots will always be key. I feel so French and I love it but going out of my comfort zone, discovering others and collaborating with many nationalities challenged my perspective. I grew with multiple influences, as do my ideas.

I wish the French Tech Hub was open to foreign startups. I hope the ambitious 1000startups incubator of Xavier Niel in the heart of Paris, described as the world's biggest incubator will be about the world not only about Paris. I would love to see startups from emerging economies and settled innovative hubs joining with excitement the Parisian hub of innovation. That would be true success. Not simply 1000 French startups with French founders leveraging French resources. When I see some of my friends excited to explore Berlin, San Francisco, New York or Tel Aviv, I do not see this as a depressing brain drain. I just believe it is awesome, that we will bring our Frenchness and culture to the mixed communities there. That we will learn a ton while transforming on an individual level. Those who want to change the world must start with him or herself. That is the real victory. Becoming part of the multicultural urban hub and becoming an indispensable force is the best path to making the French innovative touch a reality. It is funny to see that open source is globally recognized as a motor to build innovative products. Why do not we think the same principle applies to human beings? I am open source, I have a strong structure, but I am open to improvement through different influences.

It is very hard for any human being or any institution to learn to let go. But in the age of interconnectedness where the digital generation accesses the world in one click, that is the only way to thrive.

Many people of my generation, call them Millennials or the Digital Generation, define themselves as much by where they have chosen to live as where they were born. I chose to live in San Francisco, this is part of who I am. Cities are interaction machines, like the internet. More and more of them are opening up, New York and San Francisco have official "Innovation Officers". The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China. The age of nations is over according to Parag Kahnna. What matters is the urban local hub and ideas. Many millennials see themselves as the citizen of the internet with a city allowing them to grow their talent. I recently wrote about how that the digital revolution is the overview effect of our generation.

The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight. From space, national boundaries vanish and the need to protect the pale blue dot becomes obvious and imperative. (Wikipedia)

This does not mean I do not feel French anymore. It means we feel our success lies beyond ourselves, seeing more value in collaboration than competition, celebrating our common points more than our differences. Building the Europe of innovation would seem so appealing to me. Living abroad makes you always want to learn more from others, not only remind them of your background and skills.

During his speech to the French community in San Francisco last Wednesday, Francois Hollande affirmed that to conquer the world, you have to leave home. This is so true. But we also have to have a desire for the future and its quest. That is the only way we will create desire from entrepreneurs and investors from all over the world. If FrenchTech and French Tech Hub allow us to tell our entrepreneurial story and passion, I think it could be great. But hugging an entrepreneur or launching a new local incubator will not be enough. What matters is how much we want it on a collective level. We cannot proclaim ourselves an innovation society if we do not replace the fear of the future by curiosity. For that we have to embrace experimentation and failure.

"There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period." says Brene Brown.

This culture does not start in an incubator. It starts with our education, with our relationship to play and work, with our self image and relationship to failure, with our public policy and institutions. Fleur Pellerin loves to use the hashtag #startuprepublique. I am wonder if what shouldn't rather focus on #curiosity, #innovationLove, #failureMakesYouStronger.