By Steve Winter and Kenny Fried, special to wtop.com
WASHINGTON — The annals of mankind tell us that the French Revolution began on July 14, 1789 when Parisians stormed the Bastille prison to secure gunpowder for the uprising to follow.
While that may, in fact, be historically accurate, it’s safe to say that the French STARTUP revolution began on Wednesday, January 6, 2016, 4,700 miles away, at CES in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Of the 4,167 companies and organizations who exhibited at the world’s largest gathering of consumer electronics innovators, 212 hailed from France. Even more telling is the fact that of those 212 companies, 136 – or 64 percent – displayed their products and services from Eureka Park, a specialized marketplace within CES that provides a unique and highly affordable opportunity for fledgling companies to launch their new product, service or concept. And with 478 total Eureka Park exhibitors packing the Sands Expo Center this year, that means an incredible 28.5 percent of those exhibitors were French.
“France is experiencing a phenomenal boom in startups,” said Christian Pineau, president of International Boost, a Paris-based company that brings more than two dozen companies to CES, coordinating a broad variety of activities ranging from securing booths and equipment to facilitating meetings. “The French government is truly all-in on these initiatives and provides support across various levels to help companies get started, secure funding and bring their products to market.”
A major fan of the technology industry, the French government has thrown its weight behind innovators and investors with 40 new measures since 2012, through a combination of financial support, legislation and tax relief. As John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, exclaimed, “The French government truly understands the economic and societal benefits digitization will bring.”
The parade of French achievements at CES actually began on Monday afternoon when more than 30 companies – most repesentatives of LaFrench Tech, exhibited at CES Unveiled. Many more packed Pepcom’s Digital Experience on Tuesday and Showstoppers on Wednesday, all media events designed primarily to showcase startups and their innovations to the press.
Tuesday, at Tech Cocktail’s Startup Night competition at the Gold Spike in downtown Las Vegas, eight of the 20 finalists were French. One of those participants, D-Vine, which swiftly brings wines to their optimal serving temperatures, took top honors.
On Wednesday night, Emmanuel Macron, French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, hosted French Tech Night, a reception designed to showcase more than 15 companies with products that included the world’s first 360 degree set of 3D smart headphones and a portable and personal monitoring device that provides constant connected individual health and well-being assessments
But the government does not restrict its backing to companies; they also support local economic development organizations charged with their own mission to work directly with entrepreneurs from their regions.
One such group is Technopole de l’Environnement Arbois-Méditerranée, which represents the Aix-en-Provence region of Southwestern France near Marseille. “Various regions of France are known for different areas of specialization,” said Technopole President Jean Marc Perrin. “Companies based in Aix-en-Provence, for example, are known for their corporate commitment to green technology. On Thursday night at CES, Perrin hosted a reception for seven such companies, including a virtual prototyping company that brings CAD/CAM software for industrial projects to life and a solar powered fiber optic cabling firm; each of which maintain their own personal corporate commitments to sustainability.
While the special events and receptions helped to bring these activities into major prominence, most of the action took place right where you expected it to – on the show floor at CES. Leading the way was a coalition of 15 award winning startups from the French IoT program who exhibited from La Poste’s digital social hub in Eureka Park, bridging professionals, services and the ever-present Internet of Things (IoT) in a secured digital space.
“While I love traveling to CES because it brings me into an entirely different culture, there’s something familiar and comforting knowing I’m in the company of so many other innovative French startups,” said Antoine Auberton, CEO of Enlaps, a company whose product, Tikee, has simplified the process of time-lapse photography for novices and professionals alike.. “The brainpower and the innovation here in Eureka Park was truly amazing, and we were excited to be a part of it.”
If the French government has anything to say about it, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. With 120 companies exhibiting last year, France already had the largest presence of any European nation, winning 13 prestigious awards. This time around, that number increased by 65 percent with many more – Pineau promises – to come.
Vivez la révolution ?
Editor’s Note: Longtime CES attendees Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are contributing reports from the show. In their day jobs, they are public relations professionals with Sage Communications. During CES they are not reporting on any of their clients’ products or those of direct competitors.