IT Addict, "High Tech made Simple" / This blog has moved to www.jeremyfain.net

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Innovation Clusters: South-West Paris, a Technology Valley

Too often do I hear that France lacks a Silicon Valley.

Last occurence: I recently exchanged a few e-mails with blogger Hadrien Simon, also a member of AFIDORA.
In one of these e-mails, Hadrien harshly criticized France for fostering local innovation centers rather than backing the creation of a true Silicon Valley.

There are many actually many innovation parks in France (Rennes in telcos, Lyon in software and video games, Grenoble in semi-conductors, Toulouse in aeronautics and biotech, Bordeaux in structure mechanics modelling, Lille in retail information systems, Metz, Montpellier, etc.). But the technological innovation clusters landscape is by far dominated by French Riviera´s Sophia Antipolis, near Nice, which ranks #2, and, quite unsurprisingly, Paris and its South West outskirts as the leading technology innovation center in France.

South West Paris (between highways A6 and A14 on the map, broadly speaking) concentrates everything that´s needed to foster and encourage innovation.
There are plenty of research centers in leading engineering universities such as Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, Ecole Centrale Paris in Châtenay-Malabry, SupOptique, Supélec, all-mighty University of Paris-XI in Orsay, University of Sceaux near Versailles, National Institute of Agronomy in Grignon, National Telecommunications Institute in Evry, Pharmacy Academy in Châtenay-Malabry, and I´m probably missing a few. The business University I study in, HEC Paris, is also headquartered in the area, 5 minutes away by car from National Institute of Agronomy, Ecole Polytechnique, Supélec & SupOptique (the latter & Polytechnique share a campus).
Many, many, many global corporations are based in the area (in Versailles, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Boulogne-Billancourt, Vélizy Villacoublay, Buc, Saint-Cloud, etc.). To name a few: CISCO, Alcatel-Lucent, Bouygues, GE Healthcare, Thalès, Nissan-Renault´s Technology Center, EADS Astrium, etc. etc. etc. Microsoft and Apple are not so far away (head North 20 minutes to department 91 taking A86).
Financial Center La Défense is pretty close, and providing that most Venture Capital firms are located in the 8th district of Paris, according to the corporate blog of fundraising boutique Chausson Finance, the "1-hour driving rule" is well-respected, even under the worst traffic conditions.
South West Paris has it all. We´re talking here about the highest brain concentration in Europe.

But true, Paris´s no Silicon Valley, and conversely. How could the Silicon Valley ever be replicated in any other place than..the actual Silicon Valley? It´s just impossible.

Say you´re a CEO: do you really want to become Jack Welch or would you rather learn his methods from some legacy he left (be N.1 or 2; leadership training; Six Sigma; was going over best executive profils himself saying "It´s my job"; etc.)? Anyways, had you wanted to become Jack Welch, this would´ve been impossible! The logics applies to innovation clusters too: no place anywhere in the world will ever be able to become another Silicon Valley. There is just one Silicon Valley and it´s in US California, 1 hour driving North from San Francisco, around Stanford University´s home city Palo Alto.

I believe Paul Graham, an essayist and programmer, is mistaking when writing an irrational though brillant article entitled "How to be Silicon Valley". However, I think Paul Graham´s "Why startups condense in America" is far more relevant. The Silicon Valley model should be studied, understood, digested, and reinvented according to the specificities of a targeted location where human & financial capital are available as much as the political brave willingness to ease Schumpeterian creative destruction.

I should wind up stating that territories should focus on attracting and retaining capital, both humain and financial. In today´s globalizing, everyday flatter world, everything moves, flies and flows apart from geography. Ensuring and promoting the global competitivity of regional territories is, according to Bill Clinton´s economic advisor and Harvard Professor Robert B. Reich (see a book that changed my life, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for the 21st Century Capitalism), the single mission-statement political leaders of all sorts should be obsessed by. Hummm..such a long way to go.

5 Comments:

  • Great post Jeremy, it's good to have such a conversation that indeed gets critical nowadays.

    I must though clarify what I said in our emails (shouldn't we publish them Jeremy, even in French?) since I'm not sure my opinion has been precisely translated. What I mostly do criticize is that the French government thinks he can be a good substitute to venture capital by simply allowing budgets on criteria that are not the ones a venture capital would take into consideration. This I believe is another example of not letting the market do its job of resource allocation where it's supposed to be the best at and where capitalism has proven its positiveness.

    To make it clear of course I DO not criticize the fact that there are innovation parks around Paris and elsewhere in France, how could I do so? But you should acknowledge Jeremy that none of the successful companies you talk about are start ups or even ex-ones (cisco was created in the 80's by a couple who used to work at... Stanford!), all are huge corporations. And my point was about letting emerge in France the next Google or Yahoo, not innovation in large MNEs.

    Of course once this being said I do agree that it's not about copy-pasting Palo Alto into France, but about studying what are the conditions of success that made it happen there, and see which ones are adaptable to local specifications.

    I ask myself as well how to get through with the question of the French mentality, or in other words can all the efforts concentrated around improving entrepreneurship in France can succeed in spite of the fact that 70% of our kids want to work for public administrations.

    Finaly, I hope people will comment on this topic and on this post. I would like as well to invite people to read my last post about an article I wrote(in French), another one about one possible reason for the lack of French entrepreneurial minds, and an article by the JDN (sorry still not in French!) around the results of the French 'poles de compétitivité' one year after their introduction.

    But thanks Jeremy for coming up with this critical subject, hope a lot of interesting things will be said here on it!

    By Anonymous Hadrien, at 7/27/2006 04:58:00 PM  

  • Thank you for your exhaustive comment Hadrien. It's nice indeed to go ahead with this debate here. It's funny; we're reproducing the AFIDORA philosophy in other fields than Middle-Eastern geopolitics: debate from facts and facts only.

    Your clarifications are very useful to me because I realize my understanding of your e-mail was partial.

    I agree with you: the French government should not only stop budgeting for more or less useful initiatives, it should stop looking into corporate life. As Robert Reich said, Governments should focus on making sure the territory they cover is competitive and attractive. This means making sure infrastructure, tax shields and systems, sanitary/police/etc. well organized are adapted to entrepreneurial initiatives.

    As I wrote on both our blogs, and I think we agree on this stance, Europe hasn't produce many leading corporations in the last two decades when compared to the US.

    I too wish more people will join the debate.

    By Blogger Jeremy Fain, at 7/27/2006 11:45:00 PM  

  • Clairement une discussion auquel j'aurais voulu participer.
    Jeremy, il y avait des pistes à partir de chez Olivier Ezratty, je suis passé plusieurs fois par ton blog et je suis très admiratif.
    J'aurais pouvoir pondre ce genre de chose sur www.buyoutside.com
    Je suis d'accord sur l'ensemble de tes points, L'état fait un bon boulot en infrastructure et en pole de compétitivité mais je rejoins Hadrien sur l'analyse et ses critiques.
    Une amie qui travaille au Minsitère de l'éco m'a raconté leur boulot sur le manque d'invest en dessous 5M€ et il y clairement qq chose à faire.
    Peut etre pourrions nous envisager de passer la barre de 7% de chomage avec cela.

    Bref je vais devenir un lecteur régulier... merci de publier vos emails.

    By Anonymous leafar, at 7/28/2006 12:56:00 AM  

  • PS: ton livre The Work of nation est dans U-lik.com

    http://www.u-lik.com/The+work+of+nations

    By Anonymous leafar, at 7/28/2006 01:02:00 AM  

  • Hey Leafar,

    Thanks for your compliments, but this modest blog is a very petty venture when compared to BuyOutside (I've just discovered it actually, very interesting), L'Arsenal, your excellent posts I had already went through on Envie d'Entreprendre, and most of all your new Bébé (with Greek Betas rather than boring Bs), namely U-lik. I wish you good luck in everything you set out to do.

    The fact is that, despite appearances, I agree too with Hadrien. Paris has the human & financial capital, the big corporations, the infrastructure and all that jazz. But where the f... are the gazelles? How come can't we make innovative start-ups become worldwide leaders? The only exception to the rule bumping into my mind is Skype Technologies.

    I hope, as you wished on BuyOutSide, that as there exist GOOG, AMZN, MSFT & EBAY, NASDAQ will soon find its new star stock: ULIK.

    By Blogger Jeremy Fain, at 7/28/2006 03:25:00 AM  

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