We French will continue investing in London’s world-beating tech sector no matter what
We are French and, as such, we have a somewhat complicated relationship with the UK.
Waterloo signalled the end of French global leadership, and started 140 years of British supremacy. Adding insult to injury, for a few years the French had to endure arriving in London on Eurostar at Waterloo station. But we fought side-by-side during World War One, you harboured General De Gaulle in 1940 and saved us during World War Two, in the darkest hours the country lived through – and you eventually moved the Eurostar station to St Pancras.
French and British kids go in droves to each other’s countries, often opening up to a new culture for the first time – we remember with fondness carpets in bathrooms, crisps of so many different flavours, fish and chips in Brighton, and parks so green throughout London. And isn’t London the sixth largest French city after all?
Then of course there is the EU. Joining in 1973, a full 15 years later than the rest of us, wanting your money back, requiring passports for us to enter the UK when we can travel freely in the rest of Europe, even in neutral Switzerland and remote Iceland. And what if you’ve voted to leave us? It would be a long and painful process. Some would blame you. Some say they would move thousands of jobs outside. But not us.
At Partech Ventures, we invest in online and tech startups across the world, out of our offices in San Francisco, Paris and Berlin. Over the past 12 months, we have invested in the UK more than in any other European country, and as much as in the US.
We have backed amazing teams at the forefront of their industry: from blockchain applications (Eris Industries, a smart contracts and blockchain application platform) to social media intelligence (Brandwatch, a worldwide leader in enabling brands to understand and act on social data); from online furniture (Made.com, now the leading pan-European furniture brand) to online fashion (Secret Sales, the leading private sales website in the UK); from online medicine (Push Doctor, allowing patients to get a doctor’s consultation and prescription live on their mobile in just six minutes) to mobile dating (Once, an innovative one-date-a-day service); from fintech (Kantox, the largest online foreign exchange platform for businesses) to enterprise software (Blink, a bot-driven messaging platform for enterprise).
Why are we so active in the UK? Because in the land of Excalibur, King Arthur and unicorns, the tech scene is just outstanding. This is where 40 per cent of the best startups across all of the EU are, with more billion dollar companies than Sweden, Germany and France put together. The top 18 UK startups are worth a combined $40bn.
The UK has been unique in nurturing great homegrown talent and in attracting great foreign talent: more than three quarters of our UK-based chief executives are from somewhere else – China, the US, France, Spain, you name it. The UK has also been unique in attracting tech investors, tech bankers and tech lawyers, and unique in its openness to the world, to new ideas, and to trade. Please keep this, whether you decide to remain or leave.
The UK is a great platform for companies to expand globally, both to the US and to continental Europe; it has played this role of cultural bridge for almost a century, and the tech ecosystem has benefited from this since the 90s. We will keep investing in the UK no matter what. Only one condition: do not move the Eurostar station back to Waterloo!
This article was first published in City A.M.'s opinion pages dated Friday 24 June 2016.