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Nicole Junkermann’s perspective on the French Tech ecosystem

Nicole Junkermann is an international entrepreneur and investor, and the founder of NJF Holdings, an international investment company with interests in venture capital, private equity, and real estate. Through NJF’s venture capital arm, NJF Capital, Nicole oversees a portfolio of over 30 start-ups across three continents, including in healthcare, FinTech, and deep tech.

The French Tech ecosystem is full of great opportunities and potential. The French government, together with schools and universities, have developed the right education policy to encourage and foster bright minds to pursue their entrepreneurial talents. There are so many examples of this approach reaping dividends. For example we saw Facebook choose Paris as the base for its own Artificial Intelligence centre which opened in 2015, before announcing in 2018 that it was doubling the researchers at the facility and investing 10 million euros by 2022 to “accelerate AI” developments in France. It is important that this world-renowned educational system remains widely accessible to the public through grant and scholarship systems.

France also has some fantastic private initiatives, such as 42 – the private, not-for-profit, and tuition-free computer programming school created and funded by French billionaire Xavier Niel – which first opened in Paris in 2013. Upon launch, over 80,000 adults registered with 3,000 going on to complete the four-week boot camp.

Comparing the Tech ecosystems in France and the UK for investors

As a starting point, both sectors are in a great position with a number of similarities; exceptional talent pools, top class universities and research institutions, and governments driving forward schemes to support the tech industry. For example, in France, President Emmanuel Macron announced in September 2019 that France has raised €5 billion of capital from institutional investors to pour into tech companies over the next three years, as the country tries to grow more billion-euro (so-called unicorn) start-ups. As part of the government programme, France has worked with leading asset managers and insurers including Axa, Natixis, Aviva, and Allianz to help start-ups become international successes.

On the other side of the Channel, the UK continues to lead Europe on almost every measure when considering the start-up and tech sector. In 2019, more than £10 billion was invested in UK tech and the sector employs almost three million people. One of the reasons for this is that the UK government has helped enormously and some of the initiatives put in place have genuinely transformed investment in this sector. For example, the EIS (the Enterprise Investment Scheme) and SEIS (the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) have raised over £21 billion of equity capital and have helped more than 42,600 companies, with the tech sector taking an increasing share.

One crucial difference to note, which might well explain why the UK is still ahead of its European counterparts, is the UK’s closer links to the US and therefore access to a game-changing amount of capital.

Introducing OWKIN

I am an investor and a director of Paris-based OWKIN, which harnesses the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for medical research. OWKIN has a singular, but powerful, mission; to use machine learning, integrated with system biology, to develop faster, safer, and more effective medicines and treatments for patients.

The company has created a unique research platform and portfolio of AI models and biomarkers designed to empower researchers in hospitals, universities, and pharmaceutical companies to:
• understand why drug efficacy varies from patient to patient;
• Enhance the drug development process; and
• Identify the best drug for the right patient to improve treatment outcomes.

The company recently launched the COVID-19 Open AI Consortium to bring breakthrough medical discoveries and actionable findings to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. On a corporate social responsibility level, it also helped to provide thousands of masks to a number of French hospitals – including in the badly-hit regions of Mulhouse and Colmar – to support the fantastic medical professionals battling COVID-19 on the front line.