April 18, 2024

Is a government body really France’s ‘top incubator’?

Government body France Travail offers financial backing for job seekers who start a company

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On Tuesday, I attended a karaoke night. Not any karaoke night — but the weekly sing-off at La Felicità, the Big Mamma-owned Italian bar and restaurant tucked away at the far end of Station F, which has significantly contributed to the fame and glory of Paris’s startup campus and incubator.

It’s a place where team meetings, intro coffees and after-work drinks happen regularly. The notti Castafiore on Tuesdays are open to all — meaning that they are the place for startuppers to mingle with “normal people”, as one founder put it, and “remember there is more outside our bubble”.

It’s busy for a school night. Watching it all escalate as the same founder took to the stage with an impeccable rendering of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’, I wondered if we’d finally delivered on what French President Emmanuel Macron had in mind when he famously said, fresh upon winning the election in 2017, that he wanted the country to become a “startup nation”.


That was the same year that Station F launched — backed by French billionaire founder Xavier Niel, as a new hub for French tech — and one that many founders and investors tell me marked a turning point for the ecosystem. Startup fundraising more than tripled between 2017-2023, from €2.5bn to more than €8bn, according to data from consultancy firm EY.

Government policy has given the tech sector a big leg up. Macron pushed several tax reforms in 2018, encouraging wealthy individuals to invest their capital and reducing corporate tax from nearly 35% to 25% — and a government committee recently found that in sectors most impacted by the reforms, company creation rates since 2017 shot up.

Alongside many other initiatives, like the Choose France programme, which is intended to convince international investors to back French companies, this has been a catalyst for French tech. “There’s been a change in mentality and in perceptions of entrepreneurship,” one scaleup executive tells me. “Uninhibited entrepreneurship, in a way.”

It’s also become the norm to see incubators, accelerators, startup campuses and studios launching. But there’s one organisation in particular that has caught my attention lately. France Travail, the government body that manages unemployment benefits, has previously been labelled as “France’s top incubator” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the organisation’s growing attempts to turn job seekers into founders.

France Travail offers financial backing for job seekers who start a company, such as monthly allowances that complement founders’ first salaries, or larger pots of money to help with the funding required to kickstart a company. Since 2019, it has extended these rights to employees who decide to leave a business to start their own. In 2022, 166k job seekers created a company, according to the organisation — that’s one out of six businesses founded in France that year.

It got me thinking: how, if at all, does this translate into the startup world? Are job seekers feeling more empowered to launch their own company in Macron’s “startup nation”? And is France’s unemployment benefits system genuinely backing some of tech’s next unicorns? If this sounds like your story, I’d love to hear your thoughts for a piece. Get in touch here.

Daphné Leprince-Ringuet

Daphné Leprince-Ringuet is a reporter for Sifted based in Paris and covering French tech. You can find her on X and LinkedIn