France is open to Estonian ICT and startup enterprises

14.10.2019

France is the second largest market in Europe with over 67 million consumers. Despite difficult world market conditions and confusing national circumstances, France has been able to increase its exports and significantly reduce its trade deficit.

One reason for this is the country's economic structure, which is characterized by a focus on areas less dependent on periodic ups and downs such as luxury goods, aeronautics and pharmaceuticals, but also on large public and social benefits, and being slightly less open to the international market. Although, the unemployment rate in France remains high, at 8.5%, it has been steadily declining this year and has been at its lowest level since 2009.

The French government is undertaking vigorous reforms, which, while creating some national tension, have given the country's economy a new breath. Today, France is emerging as a European leader in digital innovation, increasingly attracting venture capital investments and developing the digital field, both in the public as well as in the private sector. In 2017, the French government announced a public action programme to digitalize the public sector to improve the quality of public services, provide a more modern work environment for civil servants, and cut public spending through more efficient use of resources.

France’s goals for the digitalization of healthcare are particularly ambitious. They have already introduced a number of private sector solutions, such as the digital registry known as Doctolib, which became the fourth "Unicorn" in France. At the same time, the lack of a unified authentication system and the fragmentation of services hamper the efficient functioning of the market for services. The Estonian e-health system and its expertise in private and public co-operations are of great interest to the French. The Ma Santé 2020 strategy announced by the French Ministry of Health and Social Affairs this spring foresees the launch of national health platforms, the sharing of health data, and the creation of a digital prescription and referral system.

The French market has so far been off the radar for many Estonian entrepreneurs, presumably due to language barriers and cultural differences. Which is why France cannot be found in the Estonia’s top 10 export partners either.  However, trade between the two countries is on the rise - last year Estonia exported 305 million euros worth of goods to France, an increase of 18% compared to the previous year.

Source: Statistics Estonia

Estonians know French culture and top brands like the back of their hands; however, Estonia is hardly ever mentioned in French conversations nor is Estonia associated with the Nordic background we hold so dear. The only exception being ICT, where Estonian enterprises are helped by the very strong digital image of our country. In March last year, the Estonian and French digital ministers signed a memorandum aimed at boosting co-operation and exchange of information on e-government issues between private and public actors in both countries.  The current time, where big enterprises with more archaic mindsets are taking part in the race for digitalization and innovation leadership, is a great moment for Estonian enterprises to enter the French market.

The most well-known Estonian brand in the French market is without a doubt Bolt (formerly Taxify), which provides services in both Paris and Lyon. What sets Bolt apart from its competitors is its caring attitude towards managers, offering them the best conditions on the market and providing free insurance to compensate them for their absence from work due to an accident. Henri Capoul, General Manager of Bolt, France, believes the company's success is based on a business model that focuses on strong return on investment. Capoul highly values the Estonian work and business culture - all conversations are open and frank, decisions are made quickly and no time is wasted on chit-chat.

There are many myths and worn-out clichés about French business culture, but it is best to forget about them when talking about ICTs and startups.  In the case of larger enterprises, it is still worthwhile to observe their hierarchical structure, which may prolong the time it takes to conduct business a little more than Estonian entrepreneurs are used to. In order to succeed, it is worth finding the true decision-maker of an enterprise - in French business culture, it is better if the information moves from the top down and not the other way around. The French like to spend a lot of time in meetings and this makes it difficult to reach them by modern means of communication. While you should always remain polite, you shouldn't be afraid of a bit of positive intrusion, sending reminders and making occasional phone calls. Instead of replying to emails, the French prefer to have a conversation face-to-face or by phone; of course, being fluent in French helps if you want to get your queries answered faster. As with other export markets, it takes time and money to conquer France and you need to show consistency and be patient. It is definitely a good idea to come and meet people, for example, at a fair. By the way, one of Europe's largest fairs to celebrate innovation, Vivatechnology (www.vivatechnology.com), takes place in France in May. The French tend to prefer local products or services; however, with a good niche product or value for money, Estonians can also get their foot in the door of the French market.

The Estonian enterprise Datel reached its first agreement in France relatively quickly; the agreement concerned cooperation with a French engineering company on Datel’s satellite data based infrastructure monitoring service. According to Datel, while there are other companies with similar technology in the local market, Estonians have the advantage of neutrality and physical distance, which ensures greater confidentiality and prevents data from falling into the hands of local French competitors. The rapid response capacity and flexibility of Datel also played a role in their success.

The Export Adviser of Enterprise Estonia in France is located at the premises of the Estonian Embassy in Paris and has the task of assisting Estonian entrepreneurs in finding suitable export partners by opening the right doors.  Together with an Estonian entrepreneur, potential clients or partners are mapped out and the export adviser is the one who makes the first step. If the contacted party is interested, the export adviser takes on the responsibility of arranging a programme of on-site meetings. Enterprise Estonia is constantly organizing events with the Estonian Embassy where Estonian enterprises can present their products, services and skills to potential co-operation partners.

A high-level Estonian visit to France will take place in mid-November, and Estonian businessmen in the ICT and startup sectors are expected to join the business delegation. Although, the main focus is on e-health, Estonia and Estonian enterprises will have the opportunity to share their experience in creating an e-government and in co-operation between the private and public sectors.

 

Kristiina Kalda
Export adviser in France 
Email: kristiina.kalda@eas.ee
Phone: +33 156 622 216
Mob: +33 6 78 01 22 78 

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