C as in curiosity, C as in creative. C as in this collection launched by Creative France devoted to education, healthcare, green economy, technology and industry … made in France. Overview of today’s France, foreshadowing tomorrow’s.
France’s future is green
There is now broad agreement that the future of our planet will have to be green if it is to have any future at all.
The green economy was born out of a growing awareness of the need to conserve the earth’s natural resources and to protect the environment. The “green” economy refers to the color of nature, and encompasses businesses that enhance human wellbeing and social equity while minimizing threats to the environment and preserving the world’s natural resources; in other words, it is destined for a bright future.
In France, at least, the green economy creates jobs and fosters innovation, and already accounts for 13.6% of all vacancies filed with the French national job center (Pôle Emploi). 90% of French green businesses are SMEs or micro-businesses, and two thirds provide innovative goods and services.
In 2010, the French government introduced its Programme d’Investissement d’Avenir (future investment program), an industrial policy scheme designed to bring about a new model for growth. The program encourages innovation as a driver for social and economic growth by funding businesses as they transition from innovation stage to market launch. The program is expected to create over 10,000 new jobs and generate €10 billion in revenues between now and 2020. Meanwhile, the French Energy Transition Act 2015, which put France at the vanguard of efforts to combat climate change, has undoubtedly created momentum within the sector. Indeed, France can already boast a number of success stories, such as startup company EcoCinetic, based in La Rochelle. The company has developed a ground-breaking water turbine that harnesses energy from river or sea currents to generate electricity, providing a fully natural resource that has been largely overlooked up to now. The potential for such innovation is clear when we consider that almost 1.3 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity, and that many of them live close to running water.
Based near Bordeaux, French company Exosun designs and delivers solutions for optimization of solar energy production in the form of solar tracking systems: motorized structures which automatically turn solar panels to face the sun as it moves across the sky, thereby increasing power generated. Exosun was founded ten years ago, and now has subsidiaries in the US, South Africa and Brazil.
In Southern France, the Pôle Mer Méditerranée, supported by the French government, has developed Vertiwind, a floating wind turbine adapted to coastal geography. Vertiwind is a game-changer for the maritime energy sector, generating power at costs comparable with nuclear power and costing 30% less than its competitors, while producing 15% more electricity thanks to its power.
Also in southern France, a self-taught farmer in Aveyron has developed a way of increasing soil’s natural fertility by producing humus (organic matter found in the soil’s surface layer). Described as the “third agricultural revolution”, the system reduces use of chemicals by 50%, thereby halving greenhouse gas emissions.
In Gironde, in the southwest of France, skipper Yves Parlier hopes that his “Beyond the Sea” kite propulsion project will reduce ships’ fuel consumption. This novel solution will turn a profit in the short term, reducing fuel costs by 20%, and the technology has many more potential uses.
With a thriving green economy, it’s little wonder that French President Emmanuel Macron has invited US scientists, students and business people looking to save the planet to come and work in France under the slogan “Make our planet great again!”.
France prepares for the next industrial revolution
Skeptics and pessimists may be surprised to hear that industry in France is doing well; in fact, it’s thriving. France’s economic and industrial prowess can be illustrated in numbers: industry generated revenues of €274 billion in 2015 (14.1% of GDP); it employs 3.1 million people, most of whom work in highly skilled positions; and industrial products account for more than two-thirds of France’s global exports (€420 billion), with the food sector taking the lead. And last but not least: France has been the leading European recipient of foreign investment in industry for more than 15 years. That’s just a brief overview of industry in France; today, the country is looking to the future, determined to make the most of new opportunities in industry.
Take, for instance, the Internet of Things. It’s thought that 80 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. France has already made its mark in the sector – eight French connected devices won awards at the 2016 CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the number one event in the high-tech world. Although the French city of Angers may not have quite the same cachet as Las Vegas, its “Cité des objets connectés”, an industrial innovation accelerator, is now open for business. Designed to enable companies to develop connected devices quickly, the “Cité des objets” is also one of several planned projects to reindustrialize the region. And though he may not look it, NAO – the world’s best-selling companion robot – is in fact Parisian.
Another industry of the future is big data, estimated to be worth about €9 billion. According to predictions, the sector will create 140,000 new jobs by 2020. A number of former French startups are now major players in the industry. One such company is Criteo; employing 2,000 people in 31 locations, it has become a world leader in digital advertising and is a remarkable success story in the French data industry.
Urban living, energy, resources, mobility, transport: France has set out its stall in each of these areas, and it’s undeniable that it has plenty to offer. Energy transition is a key sector, and France is aiming to achieve a 36% decrease in energy consumption in the building industry. Ten French companies are already among the industry leaders in this area.
France is also making its mark in the development of renewable energies and sustainable development. It is Europe’s second largest producer of biofuel, and French company Neonen is the country’s first independent producer of renewable energy. Ten years after its foundation in 2008, the company is now working on its first international projects and has a presence in seven countries.
France also has green transport in its sights. French researchers have developed the first prototype for a sodium-ion battery that can store renewable energy. And who knows – Navya, a French startup that develops robotic, driverless electric vehicles, could be a future leader in smart transport. Let’s not forget that France has the third largest railway industry in the world, and that its aerospace industry generates an annual turnover of €40 billion. French startups are every bit as creative as more established companies. Founded in 2010, startup company Vaylon, based in Alsace, has launched the Pégase project, which aims to design, industrialize and market a new method of transport in the hope of making obstacles on the ground a thing of the past. Taking inspiration from French writer Jules Verne, its objective is to invent the world’s first flying car.
Finally, an overview of industry in France would not be complete without mention of the food industry in general, and the agrifood sector in particular. Sustainable food is a key issue that needs to be addressed to feed a global population of 10 billion people between now and 2050 while, at the same time, conserving and protecting our planet. France has set itself ambitious targets in this regard: restoring competitiveness in the meat market, opening up the functional foods market, gaining a foothold in the packaging of the future, providing leadership in sustainable refrigeration, and ensuring both the quality and the safety of food and drink. There are many challenges, but France is intent on meeting them with innovative and – in some cases – unanticipated industrial solutions. For example, while global demand for protein is due to increase 40% by 2030, 7 million tonnes of vegetable proteins are already produced in France each year.
Rest assured: quality will always prevail. The Auvergne area in southern central France is still renowned for its high-quality beef. Animal well-being is taken seriously there, and is what enables Puigrenier, a family-owned company, to produce top-quality meat that is ideal for “hand-chopped steak tartare”. The company has industrialized the technique used to make the traditional dish without having any impact on product quality.
When faced with a choice between past and present, it would seem that France has once again opted for the best of both worlds!
France is in great shape!
Did you know that France has more fast-growing tech companies than any other country in Europe? And that 275 French tech companies attended the CES in Las Vegas – more than any other country apart from China and the US, which hosted the tech show? And did you know that five of the 12 bestselling smart devices sold on the Apple Store in the US are French? Or that French internet companies earn 39% of their revenues abroad, on average, compared with 3% for other SMEs?
The French startup ecosystem has been incredibly dynamic over the past ten years, buoyed by a competitive clusters policy to attract both large and small businesses, research labs and training institutions to specific target locations to work on shared development strategies and joint projects. Today, France has 71 competitiveness clusters comprising 7,500 companies, 86% of which are SMEs. The number of patent applications filed by such companies is testament to the vibrancy of the French tech sector. Major players in the automotive industry are ranked among the top patent applicants, and France is also at the cutting edge in the following sectors in particular: cosmetics, aeronautics, telecommunications, electronics, chemicals and energy. In addition, four French research institutes are included in the Top 25 companies to have filed the most patents.
Ile de France (Paris region) epitomizes this burgeoning, broad-based startup ecosystem; it has 12,000 startups, more than the Greater London or Berlin regions. A technological revolution is underway in Paris. The world’s largest startup incubator, Halle Freyssinet, recently opened for business, and NUMA (a contraction of the French words for “human” and “digital”) has become a hub for both early-stage and growing startups. Alongside national success stories like Orange and Criteo, French startups have earned over €2 billion in revenues (including €460 million for French Tech startups alone), making France a leader in new technologies.
The French digital ecosystem has raised its profile under the French Tech brand and is gaining visibility overseas. With 22 hubs in major metropolitan centers around the world, French Tech has built a network of growth drivers for French startups internationally. In a similar vein, the French Touch Conference, a roadshow conference founded by (yet another!) French entrepreneur, aims to bridge the gap between France, Europe and other startup ecosystems around the world.
France is on a roll, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. With an estimated 28 billion connected devices to be installed by 2020, at a potential market value of €3.6 billion, French startups are eager to seize the opportunities coming their way. This should reassure foreign investors – but, it seems, they don’t need reassuring. 74% of them have already invested in France in the belief that its economy is innovative. The country is currently ranked second in Europe for venture capital investment in startups. All in all, the future looks bright for technology and innovation in France.
Innovation – the name of the game in French education
It’s stating the obvious, perhaps, to say that students of the present generation have grown up with digital technologies. For a long time, the use of digital devices was confined to life beyond the school gates, but digital tech has finally entered the classroom, and its use as an educational tool is becoming more widespread.
A Digital Education Plan, unveiled by France’s President in May 2015, aims to help teachers and students reap all the opportunities that digital technology can offer. The objectives of the plan are ambitious – it aims to develop innovative learning methods to promote academic success and foster independence, and to train responsible and independent citizens in the digital era in order to prepare students for tomorrow’s digital jobs. Committed to the plan and determined to see it succeed, France has launched numerous initiatives in the area, and the program is already delivering results.
One example is the “Grande École Numérique”, which brings together more than 400 training programs open to all throughout the country. Its goal is to meet the growing needs of the labor market in digital skills and to promote social and professional integration among those for whom access to employment and training is difficult. Training is aimed primarily at young people without qualifications or diplomas, with a particular focus on communities in disadvantaged areas. The “Grande École du Numérique” brings together digital champions, stakeholders involved in digital transition in France’s various regions, regional representatives and employment and training experts. The goal is to have 10,000 students trained through the “Grande École du Numérique” by 2018.
Simplon.co is a network of “factories” (schools) and is part of the social economy, which encompasses the non-profit sector and co-operative and mutual organizations. Its free training courses, which lead to qualification or certification, are aimed primarily at people for whom access to employment is difficult. Simplon has provided training for 779 people to date, 65% of whom found a job within six months of completing their training course. ZUPdeCO works to maximize academic success among children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The goal is to enable students to obtain the “Brevet des Colleges”; the first diploma of their school career. To this end, ZupdeCO has developed a school support network led by volunteer students and young members of the French National Volunteer Service.
42 is offering the first computer training courses to be made available entirely free of charge, open to all between the ages of 18 and 30. Founded by Xavier Niel, among others, it offers state-of-the-art facilities in a unique and modern setting, and training in line with economic realities. The school’s approach to teaching is based on peer-to-peer learning, and it has an inclusive ethos that allows students to fully express their creativity through project-based learning. In 2016, 42 opened a campus in Fremont, California, exporting its free, high-quality IT training program to Silicon Valley.
MOOCs (massive open online courses) are also enjoying increasing success; OpenClassrooms, for example, is a truly online school. Initially oriented towards computer programming, the platform now covers broader themes such as marketing, entrepreneurship and science. A MOOC leader in France, the site reports that 1 million accounts have been created since its launch, along with traffic volumes of 2.5 million unique visitors per month. In keeping with its role within the social economy, it also offers premium subscriptions free of charge to all jobseekers in France.
Named after Betty Holberton, one of the six programmers of the ENIAC ( the first computer built by the US Army in 1943), the Holberton School uses project-based and peer learning to train the best software engineers of this generation, whose skills are highly coveted in Silicon Valley. The curriculum was designed by three French engineers, and the school has no official “teachers”; instead, it has mentors who are themselves industry leaders and who design exercises and projects which the students work on together. In 2017, the Holberton School raised US$2.3 million to increase class sizes from around 30 in 2017 to 100 in 2018.
Anyone who might have rated the French education system as average will have to think again. When it comes to education, France is intent on showing that it can hold its own and, indeed, take a leading role in the domain.
France is in rude health!
In a country reputed for its food and lifestyle, it’s not surprising that health is serious business that gets a lot of attention.
France has a community-based healthcare system consisting of 350,000 healthcare professionals, 3,111 hospitals (1,416 public sector, 683 privately run non-profit hospitals and 1,012 private clinics), France is ranked fourth among OECD countries for the number of hospitals per inhabitant and is the top OECD country for access to healthcare. France is also ranked fourth in the world for medical facilities and technology, covering products and equipment in a wide field ranging from syringes and in-vitro diagnostics to MRI scanners. There are over 1,340 medical equipment and facilities providers in France earning €28 billion in revenues. Over half these providers are also engaged in R&D. Moreover, 92% are SMEs, helping France to export medical products worth €8 billion per year. For example, Alcis, based in Besançon (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region), may not be as well known as the Vauban citadel, but the heart valves and catheters the firm produces are sold throughout the world. Alcis employs 25 people and earns over half its US$2.7 million revenue abroad in the Chinese, American, Canadian and Brazilian markets.
France is the fifth largest world market and the second largest European market for medicines. In 2015, revenues from pharmaceutical products exceeded €53 billion, nearly half of which came from exports. France’s dynamic and innovative pharmaceutical industry can boast about one of the biggest R&D spends in the French private sector, accounting for 9.8% of revenues of all pharmaceutical companies. France has every justification to be proud of Sanofi, a French company ranked third in the world that spends €5.2 billion on R&D.
People say the French are ageing, and they’re right: the number of people aged 60 and over is due to rise from 15 million today to 20 million by 2030, while the number of people over 85 is expected to rise from 1.4 million to 4.8 million by 2050… all of which promises to be a boon for France’s burgeoning Silver Economy! France has dynamic companies fiercely competing to come up with innovative solutions for new customers in this market worth €93 billion in 2013 that is expected to hit €130 billion by 2020 (up 5% per year).
French creativity has also been noticed by the reputed MIT Technology Review, which showcases the innovative capacity of up-and-coming entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers in a variety of sectors every year. Ten French innovators were singled out in 2016, three of them in the Health Tech category, including synthetic biologist Xavier Duportet, winner of the 2013 “Worldwide Innovation Challenge”. At his Biotech Eligo Bioscience startup, he is working on smart antibiotics for microbiome precision editing (eradicating only antibiotic-resistant bacteria while leaving useful bacteria untouched). If he achieves his goal, he will have found the answer to the huge antibiotic resistance issue the World Health Organization says is the most serious threat of the 21st century.
So yes, the French health industry is in great shape, best epitomized perhaps by the cutting-edge French medical innovation that created the world’s first artificial heart designed by Carmat: proof, if any were needed, that tomorrow’s healthcare is already a reality in France today!
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