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French innovation hub launched in Seoul

France, which has Europe’s second-largest venture capital ecosystem, launched a start-up incubator called French Tech Hub Seoul last week to bolster partnerships with small and medium-sized Korean enterprises in high-tech industries.

A key part of the France-Korea Year 2015-16 celebrations marking the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations, the platform will bring together venture companies in the information communications technology, financial technology and electronic commerce, as well as medical tech, biotech and clean tech sectors.

Entrepreneurs, advisers, investors, engineers, designers, Web developers, scholars and other stakeholders from public and private sectors will be part of the hub’s dynamic community, exchanging information and keeping close contact online and offline. 

Jean-Marc Ayrault, French minister of foreign Affairs and international development (second from left), attends a ceremony marking the launch of the French Tech Hub Seoul at Yello Mobile HQ building Thursday. In the picture are, from left: David Pierre Jalicon, chairman of the French Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Ayrault; Pascale Buch, head of the economic division at the French Embassy; and French Ambassador Fabien Penone. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)
Jean-Marc Ayrault, French minister of foreign Affairs and international development (second from left), attends a ceremony marking the launch of the French Tech Hub Seoul at Yello Mobile HQ building Thursday. In the picture are, from left: David Pierre Jalicon, chairman of the French Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Ayrault; Pascale Buch, head of the economic division at the French Embassy; and French Ambassador Fabien Penone. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)
Jean-Marc Ayrault, French minister of foreign Affairs and international development. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)
Jean-Marc Ayrault, French minister of foreign Affairs and international development. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)

“France and Korea are commemorating the last 130 years of official relations today, while at the same time laying the foundation for the next 130 years of partnership,” Jean-Marc Ayrault, French minister of foreign affairs and international development, said in a keynote speech at the inaugural ceremony at the Yello Mobile headquarters Thursday.

“We should not be passive in confronting our insurmountable challenges in anemic growth, terrorism, demographic decline, poverty, climate change and resource depletion. We can overcome them using our innovation, proactive mindset, courage and hope.”

Noting that “France and Korea share the same values, desires and will in this regard,” the minister argued that the two countries could utilize their “political and economic proximities” to find common solutions to these problems.

The French Tech Hub Seoul is part of the “French Tech” initiative, an ambitious state-sponsored scheme to bolster international collaboration in high-tech, innovative industries, with 215 million euros ($240 million) in funding.

In November last year, French President Francois Hollande and Korean President Park Geun-hye signed several agreements to push forward bilateral cooperation in innovation, technology and culture, with the French Tech Hub identified as a keystone enterprise.

Launched by the French Ministry of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs and directed by Mission French Tech, the vibrant commercial community joins a global network of innovation hubs in New York, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, San Francisco and Moscow.

Other French Tech initiatives include the French Tech Tour, which organizes overseas business trips for French information and communication technology companies; the French Tech Ticket, a 30,000-euro program for foreign entrepreneurs to establish start-ups in Paris; and French Tech Days, which presents the latest French technologies and innovation worldwide.

(From left) Korean Deputy Minister of Cultural Content Industry Yoo Tae-yong, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Korean Vice Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Woo Tae-hee and French Ambassador Fabien Penone. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)
(From left) Korean Deputy Minister of Cultural Content Industry Yoo Tae-yong, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Korean Vice Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Woo Tae-hee and French Ambassador Fabien Penone. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)

“We have achieved a great deal of collaboration in energy, nanotechnology, digital technology, health care and electronics, and will continue the momentum,” Ayrault said.

“The aim of the hub is to be a working platform for talented young people of both nations. It will be integrated into the larger innovation ecosystem around the world, spurring growth in the creative and cultural economy and other high value-added industries.”

In France, the envoy noted, the French Tech initiative had contributed a great deal in helping new generations of entrepreneurs to reach global heights. With 86 companies in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, France claims to have the most business-friendly research tax credit in the world, covering 30 percent of all research and development expenses up to 100 million euros.

Since 2012, the French government has adopted policies targeting the creation of 71 innovation clusters, ultrahigh-speed online networks, crowdfunding sources and venture capital funding mechanisms worth over 500 million euros across the country.

Fourteen French cities and provinces -- municipalities of Paris, Lille, Nantes, Rennes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier, Aix-Marseille, Grenoble, Lyon, Brest and the provinces of Lorraine, Normandy and Cote d’Azur -- have been labeled as Metropoles French Tech clusters.

Paris was ranked the world’s third most attractive city for foreign investment according to KPMG. Home to more than 100,000 researchers, the French capital is a creative mecca with over 40 business incubators. The Halle Freyssinet in Paris will open in 2017 as the world’s largest incubator, hosting over a thousand start-ups.

Bilateral trade between France and Korea surpassed 8 billion euros last year, and some 200 French companies are based in Korea, creating more than 25,000 jobs. The French Embassy in Seoul, Asiance, Business France, the French-Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Orange Fab are sponsors of the hub in Seoul.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)
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