The French government’s stamp of approval for Atlanta as a tech hub was renewed for another three years this week, providing a fresh boost to efforts to woo startups and scale-ups from the country.
The “La French Tech” designation, bestowed by France’s economic ministry on 67 communities around the world, serves as a signal that the local technology ecosystem is sufficiently hospitable to French firms.
Atlanta gained the mark in 2021 after a coordinated push by the French consulate, the broader business community and the French-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast, which is helping administer activities under the banner.
The renewal in large part had to do with the success of four French-affiliated companies experiencing rapid growth in the U.S., often after raising large sums of capital for expansion: Sunday, OVHCloud, Exotec and Ringover.
All four companies set up shop in the city after the first La French Tech designation was announced, and now they’re banding together to lead the initiative into the future.
Arthur Bellamy, chief revenue officer of Exotec, has been tapped to head up the board of La French Tech Atlanta, which he told Global Atlanta will promote the French startup ecosystem locally, support entrepreneurs looking into Atlanta and generally help the community work together.
“Exotec has benefited from the startup ecosystem from its beginning, and this is a way to pay back and also continue to help the overall ecosystem rise in the U.S. This is in line with our interests as well,” Mr. Bellamy said.
Exotec, a startup valued at more than $2 billion, recently held a grand opening of its Atlanta headquarters and demonstration warehouse, showing off its autonomous robots and SkyPod storage system, which help fulfillment centers reduce space and cost while overcoming labor shortages.
Mr. Bellamy said that the French entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to grow despite slowdowns in some other locales, building on a strong base of scientific research. Indeed, the Rami Abi Akl, the scientific attache at the French consulate in Atlanta, was the initiative’s biggest champion during the first round of approval.
“In France, there is a very strong culture of engineering and mathematics that results in having a lot of scientific-based, high-degree students, and so that’s a really fruitful environment to start a company, especially in technology,” said Mr. Bellamy.
Despite this, France often faces some “prejudice” about its 35-hour workweek and the perception of a lax, heavily regulated labor regime, Mr. Bellamy said.
That, coupled with perceived difficulties due to language, has sometimes meant less attention than other European tech hubs like the U.K., Ireland and the Netherlands, even as Atlanta has seen French wins from startups involved in aerospace, video games and other fields.
While it pays to understand the French labor system, Mr. Bellamy and others argue that startups there are just as hungry as their counterparts in other parts of the world.
“When you work in a startup, you’ve done 35 hours by Wednesday night. People are worried — am I going to get the right level of energy and commitment from the people if I start company over there? And the answer is definitely yes.”
The credibility afforded by the French government’s imprimatur gives Atlanta some shine in the eyes of French startups, while also giving them hope that they can successfully enter the U.S. market.
“I think it can be an inspiration for more earlier stage companies — it can be also an external demonstration for what success could look like,” Mr. Bellamy said.
He added that the help and linkages should go both ways, with the French business community helping American firms navigate their home country’s intricacies.
“It’s not just about promoting France in the U.S., it’s really about finding a way to work with the U.S., he said.
In that vein, the French-American Chamber, which moved to CuriosityLab in Peachtree Corners just over a year ago in part for its tech connections, will play a key role.
“The consulate and the chamber are the two pillars of La French Tech, and (it) wouldn’t exist without these two entities.”
La French Tech Atlanta will need to be certified again after 2025. Communities receiving the designation must demonstrate alignment with the Mission French Tech’s priorities, garner at least 10 support letters from the local ecosystem and build a board of 70 percent entrepreneurs and at least one-third women.
Beyond the local partners and participating companies, the initiative is backed by the Office for Science and Technology of the French Embassy in the USA.
In North America, the 14 La French Tech communities include:
- Los Angeles
- New York
- San Diego
- San Francisco
Featured photo from Exotec