Beyond the sun, sea, and palm trees: the French Riviera startup ecosystem

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A mention of the French Riviera invokes images of blue skies, crystal blue waters lined with palm trees, and the glitz and glamour of a resort destination. Nicknamed Côte d’Azur (literally ‘Coast of Blue’) in French, the French Riviera is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. There’s no official boundary, but it’s usually considered to extend from Cassis or Toulon in the west to France–Italy border in the east, where the Italian Riviera joins. From its colourful buildings, medieval villages perched on mountain sides, lavender fields, luxurious yachts and villas dotting its ports and coastline, it’s easy to see why it is known the world over for its beauty and as a playground for the rich & famous.

But do you know that the French Riviera is also home to a vibrant tech scene and a thriving startup ecosystem? With more than 300 days of sunshine, a very cosmopolitan population, and proximity to most major European hubs, the French Riviera is fast becoming a tech and startup in addition to being a resort destination.

Check out this overview of the institutions, organisations, startups, and leading players that make up the Côte d’Azur’s tech and startup ecosystem:

Institutions and hubs for startups

french-tech-cote-dazurFrench Tech Côte d’Azur (FTCA) is a collective movement that mobilises entrepreneurs and ecosystem players who contribute to the growth of startups in the region. It’s part of the national  ‘La French Tech’ collective movement and label. Its mission is to identify, support and accelerate startups of the Côte d’Azur to make them ‘Tech Champions’. In numbers this mission translates to 50 new startups eligible each year for an acceleration process in the next five years and 10 new ‘Tech Champions’ with international influence in the next 10 years.

FTCA intends to mobilise an entire territory covering Nice, Cannes, Grasses, and Sophia Antipolis, which generates more than 22,885 jobs in 1,684 companies with a turnover of 4.2 billion. These territories have been developing and hosting digital technologies in sectors like smart city, e-health, edtech, cybersecurity or connected sport, with the recent creation of the cluster ‘Côte d’Azur Sport Tourism’.

FTCA is in partnership with government institutions, tech hubs, incubators, accelerators as well as universities and investors in the region.

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Photo by Ouuups. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Sophia Antipolis is the first European Science Park, and is often referred to as the French ‘Silicon Valley’. It was founded in 1969 by Senator Pierre Laffitte, with the aim of ‘cross fertilization’ between researchers, teachers, and industrialists. Considered as a hub for innovation, It now has 2,230 companies, among which are startups, blue-chip companies, and private and public research institutions. The companies  employ some 36,300 people from 63 different nationalities that co-exist with 4,000 researchers and 5,000 students.

Sophia Antipolis development is ensured through partnerships with the Joint Union of Sophia Antipolis (SYMISA) and the Urban Community of Sophia Antipolis, Alpes Maritimes Department, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Nice Riviera, Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur and the town of Mougins. The Community of agglomerations of Sophia Antipolis (CASA), founded in 2002, brings the technology around 24 towns, including Antibes, Vallauris, Valbonne, Villeneuve Loubet, Biot, etc.

The main sector in Sophia Antipolis is IT, representing 20% of companies and 42% of jobs, and is the heart of Sophia Antipolis expertise. Other specialties are found in the fields of health, chemistry, life sciences, and the environment. In each sector, SMEs and startups co-exist alongside global businesses like: Amadeus, Cisco Systems, Dassault Systems, Orange, Hewlett Packard, Nvidia, Intel, Symantec, Air France, American Express, Toyota, Samsung, and Huawei. Completing the ecosystem are research institutes, large schools and international standardisation institutions. 

ceeinca-logoThe European Center of Enterprises and Innovation (CEEI) is a hub created by the Nice Côte d’Azur Metropolis, intended to promote the sustainable establishment of innovative companies on its territory. Located at the heart of the eco-valley in Nice, the CEEI offers the complete entrepreneurial ecosystem under its roof – from office space, acceleration programs, fundraising and personalised coaching for startups and entrepreneurs, to assistance in scaling and partnerships with startups for corporations and institutions, both in national and global scope.

As part of the French Tech Côte d’Azur’s ecosystem, CEEI also serves as a ‘pépinière’ (literally means nursery) where ideas are explored and tested. To date, CEEI has supported and housed startups in the IoT, B2B platforms, cleantech and mobility sectors. It also helps startups and corporations organise events such as product and company launches and showcases.

telecom-valleyTelecom Valley is the first network of digital professionals on the Riviera. With more than 160 members, representing 18,000 employees and 40,000 students, the association has been operating since 1991 and is considered to be a pioneer in the digital ecosystem of the French Riviera – covering St Raphael until Monaco, with a concentration of its activities in Nice and Sophia Antipolis.

For over 27 years, Telecom Valley has been promoting the ‘Azuréen’ – the digital ecosystem through its policies of sharing and open innovation. Telecom Valley supports startups and young entrepreneurs through its Jeunes Pousses Challenge, which promotes student entrepreneurship, and its SoFab, a fabrication lab where startups & entrepreneurs can prototype their products. Telecom Valley also facilitates collaborative projects among its members.

creacannes-logoCreacannes started its operations in 2014. It’s being developed by the Cannes Lérins agglomeration with the purpose of being an economic catalyst helping startups during their early years, typically during the first two years of their existence. Creacannes offers a flexible hosting, office space, and support structures at rates that are to startups and young enterprises.

The business incubator is located in the Bastide Rouge, the site’s historical building (a remnant of the Isnard farmhouse that was there at the beginning of the 15th century), which gave its name to the technopole currently being built. It occupies a space of approximately 800m2 that is open to companies from the audiovisual and film sectors, video games, design and web development. With its partnerships with neighbouring startup hubs and incubators as well as local universities, Creacannes hosts both startups and support structures for the development of the latter. Creacannes and CEEI are both the ‘pépinière’ of the FTCA.

Important incubators and accelerators

incubateur-paca-estThe Incubateur PACA-EST is a support structure for the creation of innovative companies. It’s a  business incubator recognised and subsidized by the Ministry in charge of Research, Europe, the PACA region, and the general councils of the departments of Alpes-Maritimes and Var. Founded and supported by the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, the University of South Toulon-Var and INRIA Sophia-Méditerranée, its objective is the development of skills and the transfer of technologies from university laboratories and research organisations through the creation of innovative businesses and the creation of high value-added jobs in the region.

It supports and accompanies projects resulting from or in connection with French public research; for this it offers personalised support, training, and the allocation of financial support and accommodation throughout a minimum 24-month incubation period. The financial support it gives to startups can be used to carry out market studies, patent filings, prototypes, etc. Incubateur PACA-EST is sector-agnostic and supports startups and innovative companies from any tech field.   

telecom-parisTelecom ParisTech was the first French incubator. The incubator was founded in March 1999 by Telecom ParisTech, which is one of the top French public institutions of higher education and research (Grandes Écoles) of engineering in France. The school has campuses in both Paris and Sophia Antipolis. The latter resulting from Télécom ParisTech and EPFL collaboration and subsequent establishment of a school named EURECOM located in Sophia Antipolis. 

The incubator in Sophia Antipolis specialises in big data, machine learning, IoT, AI, VR, robotics and blockchain. The incubation period is for 18 months during which the startups have access to ParisTech network: its professors, laboratories, ex-students, and more.

BA06-logoBA06 Accelerator provides tailor-made training and support programmes to help innovative companies boost their business, access their market, and prepare them in their search for financing. BA06 is a non-profit association, founded by entrepreneurs with more than 160 members made up of entrepreneurs, public and private investors, financiers, principals, accompanying experts as well as many actors in the innovation chain (competitiveness clusters, incubators, incubators, entrepreneur associations, etc).

This wealth of experience and expertise from its own members is what BA06 brings to the companies it supports. BA06 does not grant capital or financing to the startups it accelerates but are remunerated by a fixed monthly fee and a percentage of turnover achieved at the exit of the accelerator programme. BA06 is based in Nice’s eco-valley.

allianz-acceleratorAllianz Accelerator is Allianz France’s accelerator dedicated to big data, the sharing economy, IoT, wearables, and e-travel. Located at the Allianz Riviera in Nice, it supports the growth of innovative, promising startups by offering them an intensive five-month acceleration programme. Startups are offered the benefit of a network of mentors and experts, backers and major investors such as Bpifrance and Idinvest Partners, and given structured assistance in their development. The startups may also be offered a strategic partnership with Allianz or an opportunity to test their solution on the international stage thanks to the Allianz Group’s global presence in more than 70 countries.

In order to be selected, startups have to offer an innovative product or service that is related to big data, IoT & wearables or the connected stadium. They must have the potential for significant growth and a strong motivation to scale-up their operations.

Created by Crédit Agricole PCA Regional Bank in partnership with the CCI Nice Côte d’Azur, The Village by CA aims to boost the economy of its territory through local support for innovation.

The Village by CA is dedicated to open innovation and a meeting place for startups, SMEs, large corporations, institutions, etc, to promote cooperation and innovation. 

It is also a real community that brings together 27 startups in the fields of tourism, health and well-being, housing, energy and the environment, agriculture and agribusiness, information technology and big data. The accelerator is part of 18 network of accelerators created by Crédit Agricole PCA Regional Bank that is spread throughout France and outer French territories.       

Fintech Startup Spotlight: Quantilia

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Quantilia is a web-based portfolio analytics platform dedicated to institutional investors such as private banks, family offices, and pension funds. The platform manages institutional portfolio data, uses AI algorithms, and offers an application for the visualisation of data and calculations. Quantilia builds dashboards adapted to the exact needs of each client to enable them to reach their financial and extra-financial objectives, while remaining in line with regulatory framework and complementing the organisation of the client’s business.

Based in Nice, Quantilia was founded in 2017 by three co-founders – Florian Garivier, Laurence Fauchon and Guillaume Subias – who crossed paths 12 years ago while working in the investment banking industry. In September 2017, it received a €2 million seed funding round led by Serena and Bpifrance.

Today, Quantilia is partnership with over 120 asset managers and investment banks. It has over 300 data sources and two million plus daily calculated time series. It offers two solutions: one that analyses a client’s existing investment portfolio (Quantamental), and another that analyses market trends (Market Screener). Overall, Quantilia now provides a wide range of performance analytics tools, both accurate and affordable, while still remaining evolutive and scalable. For example, the Market Screener can assist portfolio managers in detecting trends and outliers and determining how these factors will impact their businesses. Its quantamental tools are able to help portfolio managers keep track of every single piece of information with just a click, saving time and effort while producing superior results time after time.

In addition to these solutions, Quantilia is now gathering thousands of securities and running in-depth ESG (environmental, social, governance) analysis through their specialised partners. ESG refers to three central factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a company or business. Quantilia ESG Portfolio Analytics aims at bringing ESG into the core of the portfolio management tool filling the gap and allowing institutional investors to look at their performance analyses, also from an ESG point of view, providing a more well-rounded perspective.

Quantilia was granted an Innovation Award for its R&D to facilitate quantitative strategy investments for its clients internationally in 2017. It placed third in the category ‘Best WealthTech Startups International’ at the Geneva WealthTech Forum 2019.

Quantilia’s objective is to become a leader for tailored analytics and data services in Europe among institutional investors.

“Quantilia is pleased to work with clear-sighted financial actors who understand that their success rests on a better use of large amounts of data,”said Florian GARIVIER, Quantilia’s CEO and co-founder.

SaaS Startup Spotlight: Wildmoka

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Based in Sophia Antipolis, Wildmoka is a live clipping, editing & publishing platform provider. Wildmoka’s solutions empower content owners and rights holders to deliver their live content in front of the largest digital and social audiences as quickly as possible. The platform enables them to face the viewers’ demand for growing video content over the web, mobile and social, allowing them to increase their fan engagement, grow their audience, and develop new monetisation models.

Wildmoka was founded in 2013 by Cristian Livadiotti and Thomas Menguy. It now has operations on three continents (Europe, US, and Australia), and is moving ahead with commercial expansion and market presence in major industry events internationally. It works with clients across almost all media verticals, from sports to news to entertainment and have engaged with some corporate enterprises and government verticals. Current customers include major media companies such as NBC Sports, NBC News, France Télévisions, CANAL+, FOX, Orange, beIN SPORTS, MBC Group, Altice (BFM & SFR), the International Tennis Federation, to name a few. In addition to its headquarters in the South of France, the company has five offices on three continents (Europe, US, and Australia). 

In February 2018, Wildmoka raised a Series A investment of $8 million led by venture capital investor Alven with participation from existing shareowner Apicap. This investment in Wildmoka brings its total investment received to $10.2 million, from its seed round in 2016. 

VCs, business angels and banks providing investments

SBA-logoThe SBA is a group of business angels that is based in Sophia Antipolis but operate Internationally. Its member business angels invest their personal funds in startups with innovative products, services and business models that carry the potential to disrupt a market sector. The business angels go beyond financial support and actively connect the startups to their professional network and global startup ecosystem of investors and subject matter experts.

Sophia Business Angels has 30 members with diverse backgrounds from 10 countries all working collaboratively to target innovative startups from various sectors like fintech, biotech, ICT, energy, IoT and lifestyle, to name a few. 

Angels-Bay-Invest-logoAngels’ Bay Invest brings together around thirty active men and women from different backgrounds and nationalities, often from the world of entrepreneurship, investing in startups and young companies with strong potential for growth and market disruption. It’s based in Sophia Antipolis technology park and is part of the France Angels national federation and Angels PACA regional coordination. It’s well connected to the local, national and international ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, and other business angels’ clubs.

idinvest-partnersEstablished in 1997 as AGF Private Equity, Idinvest Partners was an Allianz subsidiary until 2010, when it became an independent company. With over €5 billion under management, Idinvest Partners is a major player in mid-market private equity in Europe. Idinvest is headquartered in Paris but has a strong presence all throughout France and particularly in the French Riviera through its partnership with local players like Allianz Accelerator.

It has developed several areas of expertise, including equity investments in young, innovative European companies. Its portfolio of companies includes Withings, Criteo, Dailymotion, Viadeo, Pretty Simple, and Sarenza. 

BPI-france-logoBpifrance is a public investment bank which supports businesses from the seed stage to stock exchange listing with loans, guarantees, and equity. Bpifrance accompanies and supports businesses in their growth, innovation, and export activities in partnership with UBIFRANCE and Coface. It has also been establishing ties between major groups and mid-caps and startup companies. As part of these activities, Bpifrance worked with Allianz France on the launch of its new accelerator in Nice. 

With 42 regional offices, Bpifrance is helping national and regional policymakers to achieve three goals: improving regional economic growth, participating in France’s industrial renewal, and developing the market leaders of tomorrow.

neo-businessNéo Business is Caisse d’Epargne’s offering for startups and innovative companies. The bank’s financing and support system are designed to meet the support and investment needs of these companies is available in all of its 110 regional centres in France.

Each centre has innovation business managers dedicated to understanding and supporting startups at every stage of their development. The service does not just include financing solutions but also connecting the startup with local and regional players in the ecosystem – from incubators, accelerators, universities, institutions and other investors. In terms of bank support, Caisse d’Epargne offers a complete range of services, from bank to day-to-day financing solutions.

The neighbouring Monaco

Monaco is a microstate, a principality that borders France and is often considered as part of the French Riviera. Known as a tax haven, it counts among its residents family offices, ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWI), and high-profile business executives and owners. Monaco’s economy is primarily geared towards finance, commerce, and tourism, but recently it has started to diversify into tech and the digital economy.

In 2017, the principality co-founded with Monaco Telecom and Xavier Niel, the MonacoTech incubator. The MonacoTech startup programme does not have a participating interest in the startups it incubates, and the length of incubation is tailored to the needs of the startup. It offers standard incubation support like administration, hosting on its premises, as well as access to its network of mentors, consultants, investors, and service providers.

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