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Au revoir, French entrepreneurs – except for a bastion of robotics innovators in Lyon

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25 March 2014



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In a serious critique of French business practices, the International New York Times wrote about a brain drain from France – a migration of aspiring entrepreneurs feeling that they have to leave France to have a chance to get their ideas off the ground and into the marketplace. The Telegraph, from which this cartoon came, had a similar article: Down and out: the French flee a nation in despair.

One man who moved to London said:

“Things are different in France. There is a fear of failure. If you fail, it’s like the ultimate shame. In London, there’s this can-do attitude, and a sense that anything’s possible. If you make an error, you can get up again.”

French migration figures are up 60% in the last decade with top destinations being Hong Kong, New York, Silicon Valley and London. Many of those migrants are saying that they may not ever return because of French bureaucracy, high taxes, regulatory hurdles, excessive non-wage costs for employers, and social shame of failure. The latter is often punished by preventing people who have failed at one start-up from ever obtaining money for new projects.

“In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here. In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”

The recently successful IndieGoGo funding of EmoSPARK, an artificial intelligence home console by UK-based Emoshape, is another example. French CEO Patrick Rosenthal said Emoshape couldn’t have happened in France and that he was forced to move to London to get it started.

Yet in Lyon, France, things are a little less dreary. Two energetic women, the city government and a couple of ex game-software executives have cobbled together a consortium that seems to be working for (mostly) French service robotic innovators. Innorobo 2014, their creative annual trade show and conference, just concluded with a banner attendance, a strong exhibitor list, and an interesting group of innovators focused on stimulating and creating service robotics businesses.

Although the show was energetic and comprehensive — with an attentive crowd and lots of young people, and where one often saw people talking and doing business, nevertheless, the exhibitor list was heavily populated – 31% – with universities, research labs, venture-based support groups and governmental support agencies and not that many start-up companies. This seemingly helpful group of supporters could also be viewed as thwarting the development of independent entreprenurial energies.

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Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.





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