France is gaining momentum in its quest to become the next great producer of technology startups.
Last year, it outstripped the UK in the overall number of technology startup investment deals for the first time in five years.
Although the total amount of money invested in the UK’s tech sector was over twice higher than France, with UK tech firms attracting over $4 billion – almost double the total amount invested in 2016, despite Brexit.
On Monday, the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire detailed the funding of a $13 billion investment fund to finance disruptive technology innovations in France, which was first announced last summer.
The initial funding will come from sale proceeds of France’s stakes in energy utility Engie and car-maker Renault – for about $2 billion – as well as a “loan” of its holdings in the other energy utility EDF and defense group Thales, worth about $11 billion.
The latter shares will eventually be replaced with sale proceeds of state-owned companies including Paris airport operator (ADP) and state gaming company La Francaise des Jeux, as well as its holdings in more than 80 other companies (Airbus, Air France, Orange, Safran…) which are worth over $120 billion.
The fund will be managed by France’s public investment bank Bpifrance and is expected to generate annual revenues of $240 million to $365 million to be invested in disruptive technologies, on top of the $170 million it currently invests each year in tech startups.
“The technicalities of this new massive innovation fund will be defined in the forthcoming weeks,” explained Romain Serman, the head of Bpifrance in the U.S. “This initiative is part of a comprehensive governmental policy aimed at fostering innovation and reforming the overall business environment for entrepreneurs in France.”
However, the $13 billion of initial capital is actually not meant to be invested – just the income it generates – and will remain untouched.
In his speech, Le Maire also announced that it will add artificial intelligence (AI) and data protection to the list of strategic industries (defense, energy, health, telecommunications, transport, water) that the French government wants to protect from foreign takeovers.
He said that although France is an open country, “openness doesn’t mean looting. Looting of our technologies, looting of our expertise, looting of our talents.” And that “foreign investors must know that their investments will now have to comply with clear sets of rules, which were presented by the French president in its last trip to China.”