How France mis-understands “innovation”
Over the past few weeks, France has been in a mess regarding the policy to adopt regarding the support of start-ups. The tax privileges have been dismissed but may be on their way back (JEI), and many existing support mechanisms are being reviewed/discussed by the newly born CNN (Numeric National Counsil).That’s fine with me. But they’re not tackling one of the core subject in my opinion.
In France we have built a very scholar and elitist vision of what “Innovative” is. And it is utterly wrong. Unfortunately all the support mechanisms for start ups are built around that definition.
Innovative (n.m) = which is the outcome of ideally years of research, ideally by Ph.Ds and that may have a market application (or not)
Everyone will basically judge your project – and wether it’s innovative or not – according to this definition. For instance, Diveboard would not be innovative. Although we are creating a real-time view of the evolution of the marine species biotope by empowering scuba divers with mobile and pc tools, connecting their dive computers and crunching impressive amounts of data, it’s a social network so it’s not innovation. This is one of the reasons while I decided I won’t be spending even 1 second making a business plan or assembling a file to ask for grands and support : it would just be a waste of time.
This is the big difference between France and US and while France produces amazing tech startups that largely fails (of course and fortunately some succeed) : US focuses on market innovation. The objective is to disrupt a market, and a technology might be the tool that gives you an edge in that disruption. It’s by disrupting a market that you create opportunity, gain momentum and ultimately create a valuable business. That difference also profoundly changes the way research works in France v.s. US where in France we focus on writing papers and staying at a very theoretical level while the US researchers work around innovative use-cases and concrete real-life problems solving (MIT media lab is amazing on that regards).
As a conclusion I’d say that I don’t really expect behaviors to change, France is not really the kind of country where minds can switch to entrepreneurial and consumer oriented spirit that easily… but who knows!