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French-american Digital Lab Paris 2016: Highlights Of The French Edition

From December 12th to December 17th, Paris welcomed the French-American Digital Lab, a program for startups from the cultural and creative industries created by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York and co-produced by Business France and the Institut français. The program has been open for two years to startups in France wishing to promote their projects abroad. As part of the Tandem Paris-New York 2016 last year, the program enabled 4 young American entrepreneurs to present and promote their innovative projects to the Parisian tech and cultural scene. Their trip included a number of individual meetings with professionals from their respective fields, conferences, and workshops, along with site visits to Paris’ cutting edge tech institutions. The startups were thus given an opportunity to discover what the French market - and more broadly the European market - has to offer to entrepreneurs, and how to adapt their products to foreign audiences. 

4 Americans in Paris

The American team has been selected for its creative propositions, whether in the domain of education, museum, media or virtual reality:

Bluecadet is an Emmy winning strategic innovation company that partners with leading museums, cultural institutions, universities, and nonprofit organizations, inventing technology solutions that enable them to bridge that gap and connect with, inspire, and educate a new generation of visitors.

DreamAI is a digital AI powered platform that delivers engaging and educational multicultural storybooks, audiobooks, music and video/animations that addresses the lack of global distribution and access for African content.

Emerging Market Media is a firm dedicated to journalism, production, content creation and other forms of media and special events involving the emerging and frontier markets, BRIC nations. Through innovative methods and custom API's the firm seeks to target and deliver the most relevant and actionable journalism and content to a niche audience.

Holojam is a technology platform that's changing how people experience virtual reality together. Made for in-person collaboration, it enhances in-person experiences by giving people who are in the same room the ability to move seamlessly between the real world and an immersive virtual world.

6 Days to Discover the Parisian Tech Ecosystem

Only seven hours away from New York – the length of a flight to Silicon Valley – Paris is today home to the second largest tech entrepreneurs community in Europe thanks to the dynamism of the City of Paris, which is very involved in making the capital more attractive to foreign startups. Deputy Mayor for International Relations welcomed our 4 American startups at the Hôtel de Ville for the Digital Lab opening cocktail with the French Alumni (2015 and 2016) and partners of the program.

Impressed by her visit to the Cargo, the biggest incubator in Europe, the founder of Emerging Market Media Dawn Kissi already envisions leaving London, made less attractive by the Brexit, to open offices in Paris. A number of training sessions were designed to give visiting entrepreneurs the keys to successful business ventures in France: Understanding the Market with Business France, French Taxation with Patrick Maupard (Maupard Fiduciaire), and Intellectual Property Rights with Olivier Hayat (Hayat Avocat). This introduction to French fiscal and legal regulations, that are often perceived as a burden to entrepreneurs, did not discourage Tim Pearce, COO of DreamAI, who considers that “the government gives true assistance to businesses set-ups” (Christophe Bys, 4 Américains à Paris louent les vertus de l’écosystème numérique tricolore, L’Usine Digitale, December 19, 2016).

Beyond professional counseling, the American entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to receive feedback from individuals with first-hand experience in the field. They met their compatriot Liam Boogar, a former entrepreneur (Rude Baguette) currently working for Algolia, a true success story à la française. They also spoke with Nicolas Meunier, who decided to create Talent.io, a startup in significant expansion today, after his entrepreneurial experience in the US. Pierre Yves Meerschman (Daphni), Laura Roguet (360 Capital Partners) and Alba Beccaria (Partech Ventures) participated in a panel on fundraising in France and in Europe.

The French-American Digital Lab is also a hands-on program where the startups can work on their projects during practical workshops. During a half-day visit to Havas headquarters, all 4 entrepreneurs benefited from the expertise of over 20 mentors from every division of the company. Divided into smaller working-groups, they were able to receive personalized advice on how to better adapt their products to French consumers.

Journalists Julien Bergounhoux (L’Usine Digitale) and Gabiel Vedrenne (Europe1) concluded the visit with a presentation on how to best pitch an innovative project to the press. The participants then traveled to the Orange headquarters for a lecture on the use of portable devices in France and a presentation of Orange’s Content Division, animated by Laurence Le Ny. They also exchanged ideas and prospects on virtual reality with Morgan Bouchet’s team. Finally, once more as an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Parisian tech ecosystem, the startups were given a tour of the Google Cultural Institute, a platform of exchange with the cultural community, to study the use of new technologies in the Arts and discuss their future evolution.

A number of networking events marked this week and gave the four participants the opportunity to meet with the local ecosystem. They pitch their ideas at the Vivendi offices in front of division leaders and David Bitton, CEO of MyBestPro, who introduced them to the company and more particularly to the Vivendi Village, “which promotes a spirit of innovation, as American startups do” (Vivendi Village hosts US-based startups during the French American Digital Lab, Vivendi, December 14, 2016). 

The startups were invited to the Grand Prix de l’Innovation at the Docks, organized by Paris&Co, an event that celebrated the best of Parisian innovation in every field. A joint pitching session with startups from 104factory (incubator of CENTQUATRE-PARIS) provided an opportunity for fruitful exchanges with French startups from the cultural and creative industries. The French version of Digital Lab concluded with a Demo Day at the BPIfrance Hub, a new and final opportunity for startups to present their projects to a group of professionals of the tech and cultural sectors, VC, and media in the fields of technology, the arts, and the media. 

A Successful First French Edition

This rich experience offered new perspectives to the American startups. Extremely satisfied with his experience and with the dozen individual meetings organized according to his interests, Michael Gold, General Director of Holojam, confessed to journalist Iris Maignan from Maddyness: “The introductions to content creators and large companies like Orange, Havas, and Vivendi have been extremely helpful. I’m seeing a number of opportunities for potential partnerships.” (Iris Maignan, Le French-American Digital Lab, une aubaine pour les startups ?, Maddyness, January 10, 2017). Likewise, Bradley Baer (Strategy Director of Bluecadet), said to Maddyness: “We were excited about the opportunity to work directly with the French Embassy and Business France to identify several organizations that could be good potential partners and to learn about opportunities to integrate technology into their institutions.” World capital of culture, Paris successfully satisfied the young entrepreneur and erased his concerns: “Historically, there have been some hesitations regarding the introduction of digital products, especially in the most conservative museums in Paris” (Roberto Torres, Bluecadet is scoping out business opportunities in Paris, Technically, December 15, 2016). Baer’s exchanges with different museum curators and directors reassured him, and he's now “confident in the fact that [their] technology will soon be soon as present in French museum as it is all over the United States.” The only regret of the participants after this week of intense training: That they didn’t have enough time to enjoy the city itself. They promise to return to Paris soon, and this - we hope - with the intention to settle there for good.