‘No more a backend office, more French companies looking at India as innovation hub’

With the recent successes of ISRO, more start-ups in the aerospace sector from France are looking at India as a potential market, says Souad Tenfiche, co-chair at La French Tech India, a French government initiative which operates out of Bengaluru

October 26, 2023 09:00 am | Updated 09:22 am IST - Bengaluru

Souad Tenfiche, co-chair at La French Tech India.

Souad Tenfiche, co-chair at La French Tech India.

Mission French Tech is a French government initiative set up 10 years ago to help startups from France flourish within the country and abroad. Part of the Directorate General for Enterprise within the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industrial, and Digital Sovereignty, the mission coordinates and oversees the French Tech ecosystem with its network of 16 capitals and 99 communities.

The Indian chapter of the French Tech Mission, La French Tech India, was launched in 2019 in Bengaluru with the aim of promoting French start-ups in India, creating a bridge between French and Indian start-up ecosystems and fostering relationships between startups and corporates. It is today a community with more than 600 members.  

As La French Tech celebrates its tenth anniversary in October, Souad Tenfiche, co-chair at La French Tech India and CEO at Link innovations, spoke to The Hindu about increasing interest of French start-ups to start centres in India and changing outlook towards Indian startups in France. 

Do start-ups from France see a good opportunity in expanding to India? Start-ups from which sectors find India more attractive?

 India is a brilliant country for start-ups to scale their operations. More and more start-ups from France are opening units in India. 

I think aerospace is a major sector of interest. Today, a lot of micro satellite launchers are coming to India, finding partners and setting up operations here. Given the recent successes of ISRO and everything that it has been able to achieve so far, there’s a lot of interest here.  

Some of these start-ups become the industrial fabric of large companies that are running operations here in India. 

For example, all the technology suppliers for companies like Airbus find a way to come to India and run operations. One of the driving factors has been the ‘Make in India’ programme, but it is also because of the scale that India can offer to the French start-ups and French technology companies.  

I think it is only the beginning. For many reasons including geopolitical reasons, India today is a very attractive potential market for most of our ecosystem. There is a better understanding of how to operate in India and how to work in India.  

La French Tech India began its operations with its base in Bengaluru which is known as the Silicon Valley of India. Has the location played a role in helping your operations? 

What we are trying to do is to show role models to the French ecosystem in terms of success stories of French start-ups and their peers in India. That helps a lot.  

When we started in 2019 that was our first realisation as La French Tech India. We started in Bengaluru and at that time we were called La French Tech Bangalore India. All the entrepreneurs on the board were from the Bengaluru ecosystem.  

Three years later we became La French Tech India when we started having board members from Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad.  

Having access to the Silicon Valley of India makes total sense. I think there are around 500 research centres of multi-national companies (MNCs) just here in Karnataka, which is the highest in India. The city and the state stand to offer them a lot.  

The Indian start-up ecosystem is growing, even in tier-2 cities for that matter. In fact, there are a lot of interesting tier-2 city ecosystems that would be attractive for the French start-ups. We are trying to build those bridges.  

But Bengaluru is the first destination for many reasons such as the infrastructure, the concentration of tech talent you have in the city, easy living conditions and ofcourse, the weather. It’s a good base for IT, cybersecurity, aerospace, and pharma companies and Bengaluru is attracting more of those. 

Q: Have more Indian start-ups been setting up their centres in France over the years? 

A: Yes. Quite often they come because they have major French clients. The first wave of Indian talent and engineers came to France in the late 90s with the birth of the IT industry. Many of them didn’t have such a good experience due to a host factors.  

But now it’s really changing. 

You mentioned more start-ups from Bengaluru and India at large are setting up centres in France which is today a gateway to Europe. What is the outlook towards these start-ups and their services in France? 

They are trusted. I think things have changed a lot in the last 10 years.  

Earlier a lot of the French headquartered companies were looking at India as their back office due to the concentration of thousands of engineers here.  

But there has been a shift lately. Right now, they are looking at their Indian offices as innovation hubs. When they look for talent internally, they look at India. They are also hiring massively in India. I think they are really confident about the quality of the technology companies that are coming from India.  

Recently we ran this programme with Eura Technologies which has a very large start-up campus in the north of France. They’ve launched specific programmes which provide help and support for budding start-ups, helping them to find their industrial partners and easing their operations. A large chunk of start-ups there are from India. Some of these Indian start-ups are now working with TCS which also runs its operations from this campus. 

It is also amazing how there are tech heroes now from India like Sundar Pichai. People are also realising that Pichai is not an American of Indian origin, but an Indian engineer who graduated from IIT-Kharagpur. The business founders coming from such institutes are very visible in France. A lot of our French startups today have Indian CTOs which makes total sense.  

Q: What is the interest level of investment firms in France to invest in Indian start-ups? 

There are now capitals like Super Capital investing in startups in Bangalore. They have set up operations in India. We can see that there is a curiosity and need to know more about Indian start-ups among capitals in France. Capital will follow business and industrial successes. They are looking at India as the next opportunity.

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