Fostering Entrepreneurship in East Africa – Interview with Benoît Gauthier

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The French Tech/ La French Tech initiative was created by the French Government in 2013 with the aim of fostering the emergence of successful start-ups in order to generate economic value and jobs.

Carried on by the French Tech Mission in collaboration with the French Ministry of Economy and Finance, the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Commissariat-General for Investment, it supports already existing tech member initiatives in the countries it operates.

The Nairobi Chapter of the French Tech Community was recently launched in Kenya by French and Kenyan players in the tech sector. The Economic Counsellor and Head of the Regional Economic Service of the French Embassy in Nairobi, Benoît Gauthier talks to Footprint to Africa about what it is and its vision:

What is the French Tech Community Nairobi and its mission in the country?

The French Tech Community Nairobi is a gathering of actors working in or for the French and the Kenyan tech ecosystems, and more broadly the East African tech ecosystem which aims at advancing the establishment of French startups in East Africa, and at promoting the attractiveness of France to Kenyan and East African entrepreneurs and investors.

The French Tech Community is also dedicated to the growth of start-ups and their influence internationally, how will it work to accomplish this endeavour in Nairobi?

It will federate all actors of the Tech ecosystem by creating synergies and promoting collaborations between all kinds of actors; accelerate the development of the Kenyan and French startups by connecting them with investors and large companies who are looking for innovative content; and promote the East African Tech’s visibility among the French ecosystem and the attractiveness of France to innovative startups.

Does it target start-ups in any specific sector (s)?

The French Tech Community Nairobi does not target any sector in particular. Instead, it is open to all the sectors – health, environment, mobility and transportation, energy, and others where innovation, whether digital, industrial or marketing can bring economic, social and environmental benefits.

It goes from mobile applications that make people able to better navigate in traffic or to track the delivery of a package, to machines or industrial innovations that will make the industrial supply chain more efficient.

What are some of the activities the Community will carry out?

The French Tech Community Nairobi will host networking events such as Business-to-Business (B2B) meetings and cocktails. It will also call for projects and pick ideal candidates for acceleration programs such as the French Tech Ticket, a 12-month incubation program in France and the Startupper Total, a contest co-organized with Total; as well as other events with founding members.

It will offer services including mentorship and directing Kenyan and East African startups in France, with the dedicated website Welcome to France helping them navigate within the France administration upon arrival.

The Community has launched a design logo contest to brand the French Tech Nairobi open until 31 August 2017.

Does it invite applications from start-ups or head-hunt companies to become members?

The French Tech Community Nairobi welcomes entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, designers, developers, incubators, accelerators, Fab Labs, major groups, media, associations, public operators, researchers and others, generally anyone who has an interest in La French Tech and can help it reach its mission.

There is no such thing as a formal application process, invitation-only membership or head hunting by us. The French Community Tech Nairobi is above all a group of volunteers run by a few people who give of their time, talent and energy.

Do you have any members yet?

The French Tech Community Nairobi is chaired by a Board made up of individuals working for Business France, Engie, the French Society in Kenya which will be the future French Chamber of Commerce in Kenya, Jumia Travel, L’Oréal East Africa Ltd., the French Government, Safaricom, Total and Sagaci Research.

A steering committee made up of individuals working for Business France, Empire Ref, Energy Access Venture, entrepreneurs, Internet Society, LelapaFund, and the French Government will implement the different actions and projects to be undertaken.

All the members of the board and the steering committee have expressed an interest in joining the French Tech Community Nairobi, since all have a direct link with the tech ecosystem, or have developed programs that promote and value innovation, whether digital or industrial.

As such Energy Access Venture, Engie, the Internet Society- Kenya chapter, Jumia Travel, Lelapa Fund, L’Oréal East Africa, Safaricom, Sagaci Research and Total Kenya are the corporate founding members of the French Tech Community of Nairobi.

The 3rd edition of the French Tech Ticket was also launched alongside the French Tech Community of Nairobi. Will it be open for Kenyan and East African start-ups and how will it be beneficial to them?

Kenyan and East African startups are eligible if: they are made up of two or three people and can include a maximum of one French citizen all English-speaking as the program is held entirely in English; they have a project in the creation or growth phase; and team members are ready to live in France for a year, devoting all their time to their project.

Consulting firms and import- export businesses are not eligible to enter.

The winning teams will receive €45,000 funding each over the course of a year, €20k to cover personal costs and €25k to cover professional services, with no loss of equity; fast-tracked French residence permit for team members; tailored program of events including masterclasses, networking events, mentoring sessions and two demo days with investors and corporate executives to support the growth of their start-ups; 12 months in one of the 41 selected partner incubators with dedicated office space and weekly and monthly coaching sessions; dedicated contact to help with administrative procedures; and a welcome guide and special offers from our partners to help with easy relocation to France.

The 2016 French Ticket was won by George Odongo Ahere and Joshua Carl Ayugi Okoth, founders of the Kenyan Startup Weza Interactive Entertainment; and Livingstone BahiguraAtwine and David Madra, two Ugandan nationals who founded the startup Eversend.

Is the French Tech Community active in other African countries and are there plans to launch it in more?

There are twenty-two French Tech Hubs around the world including the French Tech Hub Cape Town and many more French Tech Communities, in addition to the one we have just launched in Nairobi. Usually, French Communities can be labelled “French Tech Hubs”, which is the ambition of the French Tech Community Nairobi. With the labelling comes an official website and some funding from the French Government to organize events.

What have been the accomplishments of the French Tech Community initiative outside France’s borders so far?

France has built a vibrant tech culture outside the country with initiatives like French Tech in the last few decades.

The growth of the tech ecosystem in France over the past five years has been faster than the rest of Europe. The best proof of La French Tech’s success is the number and growth of our companies.

For the sixth year in a row, France dominated the rankings of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 EMEA, which identifies the fastest-growing technology companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. With 94 ranked companies, we were the country with the greatest number of winning submissions.

Many young French technology companies are expanding their global footprint with BlaBlaCar, a long-distance ridesharing marketplace now present in 22 countries.

Investors are opening their wallets and betting on the future of La French Tech. In fact, investment in French tech companies reached more than $1.6 billion in 2016, a 90 percent increase from 2014. France now ranks first in Europe for a number of investment deals.



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