London’s French Entrepreneurial Revolution
Guest post by Katya Puyraud
There are a number of things that are so definitively French that when you think of them, you’re immediately transported to the Eiffel Tower with a baguette. Camembert, a glass of Bordeaux and a population strolling around Paris with their own chic style, are not just the reserve of potentially offensive stereotypes, but largely things that the people of France love and enjoy. According to the latest figures from the French consulate, we can now add London to that list of French favorites.
The most recent figures suggests that London – and in particular Kensington – is the largest contingent of European nationals with an estimated 300,000 French people living in the capital.
Paris On The Thames
According to Boris Johnson this makes London the sixth-largest French city with approximately the same population as Nice. So popular has the city become among the French that locals have taken to calling it “Paris on the Thames.”
The figures by themselves of course only tell half the story, the wider political opinion is that France’s taxes are too high, jobs are few and far between and the opportunities for entrepreneurs are better served in the U.K. Considering President François Hollande’s 75% supertax is expected to only effect a very small percentage of high net worth individuals, it’s likely the tax announcement has only had a partial impact. The reality is that a large number of French people have been coming to London for a number of years.
The difference today however is that where most of these expats would have gone back to France after sating their thirst for adventure and new experiences, but according to the Chamber of Commerce & Industry nearly 40% of French people living abroad now say they plan to live overseas for at least 10 years.
The Motivations For Choosing London
A decade ago the employment and business opportunities were primarily based around the financial sector, today however the steady influx of French business professionals covers a wide variety of commercial sectors, from tech-savvy entrepreneurs and startups, to aerospace and car production; two areas where France was traditionally very strong. The legal sector is also getting a lot of interest from French lawyers wanting to cut their teeth and gain experience in common law.
These ambitious entrepreneurs see London as a great place to explore the growth and opportunities throughout the city that continues to attract French talent where experts from all fields can gather. The ease of access to investors is also cited as one of the main attractions within the startup community, and the U.K.’s enterprise investment scheme provides a number of tax breaks that is helping individuals to get their business off the ground. London’s international business appeal also makes it arguably a better base for overseas expansion.
What’s interesting is that in the popular French community of Kensington, the rapidly growing French population is giving rise to a thriving new industry targeting the needs of expats. Services that include doctors, piano teachers, dentists and plumbers are promoting themselves as Francophile’s in a bid to earn business from the local French community. Pimlico Plumbers for example recently advertised for French-speaking recruits on salaries of up to £150,000 a year after staff reported having language difficulties with local residents.
Times Are Changing
But it’s not all doom and gloom for France. Since the start of 2015 President François Hollande has made a number of proposals to ensure France is more alluring for entrepreneurs and businesses. Initiatives to turn Paris into a “tech capital” to rival the world’s most active start-up hubs has made a very promising start.
But one of the key changes being made is that of perception. According to a number of entrepreneurs the main cultural difference between the U.K. & France is that if you set-up a business in France and fail, there’s a certain stigma and shame associated with failure. In the past you were also likely to be blacklisted and may have found it difficult to get another loan. In the U.K., failure is often seen as a rite of passage, learning from your mistakes before getting up and having another go.
Second Chance Program
The French Minister of Culture & Communication, Fleur Pellerin, recently unveiled initiatives including a “second chance” program intended to remove the cultural stigma attached to business failure. The program will have a budget of around $30 million with plans to spend some of that on a series of events aimed at helping entrepreneurs who declare bankruptcy every year, to resurrect their careers and to try again. The government will work with four NGOs to organize these events and run coaching sessions, similar in principal to the popular FailCon in the U.S.
The second chance entrepreneurs will also get a boost from the Banque de France, which has recently adopted a more lenient policy toward business owners who filed for bankruptcy. Historically the bank placed a 040 code next to the names of bankrupt clients in its credit database, but in September these codes were abolished and only apply to fraudulent bankruptcies.
It’s unclear what results these policy changes will have on the French expats living in London, but the ideal scenario is a combination of successful French business professionals in both the U.K. and France, making the most of the unique opportunities that both countries offer.
About Katya Puyraud
Having started off in journalism in London, Katya Puyraud attended film school and ended up working as an assistant film editor on over 20 U.S. and U.K. films in the British film studios of Shepperton, Twickenham and Pinewood.
After working for the BBC in the documentaries department, Katya ran away to Paris to become a scriptwriter for TV and film and published the art and poetry book, Mademoiselle London, which debuted in the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Saint Michel. In 2007, she and her French husband set up Euro Start Entreprises in Paris, helping hundreds of expats and entrepreneurs set up their companies in over 30 countries worldwide.