Interview with Alexis Sarrut, Managing Director of France Eco-Sociale Tech (FEST) by Vincent Page, current MBA Participant (2018-2019). FEST is a French network which brings together entrepreneurs and investors interested in Tech & Science for Good.
Fest was initiated just last year. What prompted the creation of this organization?
FEST was created by entrepreneurs who were feeling the need for a common home that would connect Tech and Ecosystems. These two domains have historically had few interactions yet more and more entrepreneurs have been using the potential of technology to solve major social and/or environmental issues in recent years. This was the predominant reason we founded our network of more than 60 entrepreneurs and investors. We are now hosted by France Digitale (an association which is the largest start-up network in Europe), as we are working with social economy ecosystems.
Our Tech for Good entrepreneurs felt the need to gather together in a common network in order to:
- Improve the technology sharing experience for entrepreneurs focused on creating good (both for and non-profit);
- Gain more visibility;
- Bring proposals to public institutions to help set up conditions for the overall growth of tech ecosystems focused on creating a common good.
How would you describe the ecosystem of French Tech & Science for Good?
It is very dynamic and fast-growing. We have more than 500 Tech & Science For Good start-ups in France, with some pioneers on a fast growth track in social economy models (Phenix, Simplon.co,…) and also as mission-driven start-ups (BackMarket, Ynsect,…). These entrepreneurs are getting more and more support and attention from a growing number of specialized actors to finance, propel and advise them.
Because there is increased attention given to pioneers in the Tech ecosystem, by the media in general, we need to accelerate collaborations on impactful projects between corporations, associations, start-ups, experienced talent… We must also set up preferential conditions that will favour the growth of a large number of businesses that are nurturing social cohesion and sustainability.
What are the French ecosystem’s strengths?
The greatest strength of the French market at the moment is the significant growth of impact funds. Though there is still a lack of investment over the 10M€ mark, many impact investors are coming in at other levels of equity investments in 2019.
Additionally, there is substantial momentum from developers, data scientists, networks, incubators, etc. They are becoming increasingly interested in the work of mission-driven entrepreneurs and are seeking ways to collaborate and to get engaged in more meaningful ways. At the same time, the ecosystem is becoming more structured and is offering new ways for people to work together. This is an exciting time of huge potential and highly impactful collaboration.
From tech student engagement (Latitudes), to social entrepreneur tech innovation acceleration (Share IT), to specialized incubators (MakeSense, La Ruche), to open innovation spaces dedicated to General Interest Tech (Liberté Living-Lab), and the link between all of them and the entrepreneurs we develop, we are creating a more structured ecosystem that is ready to grow rapidly. It’s a perfect time to come work with FEST!
What are the challenges the ecosystem is facing?
The main challenge is getting the required funds to accelerate the growth of the associations and start-ups. Having a positive impact activity doesn’t mean that you don’t have a viable business model or an incredibly talented team. On the contrary! But the specificities of these entrepreneurs are not always well understood as the metrics may be different from what a classic financial analysis is looking for. To better support this type of entrepreneurial growth we’ll need to help improve investors’ understanding.
Challenges also come up around corporate activity. How can you get more innovative while also increasing the meaning of your professional life and activity? Working in collaboration with these impactful entrepreneurs, for example, is often underestimated or seems more complicated than it is really. Giving more purpose to a job and dealing with the hard challenges these innovative and mission-driven entrepreneurs face is a source of both richness and engagement for a company (both from an HR and business aspect).
Additionally, we need to attract IT talent. There are two points to consider. First, Tech for Good start-ups and associations have huge technical challenges. We need to replace the “amateur” image that these projects can unwillingly have, and which is not at all correct. They have many exciting challenges and a highly professional and dedicated approach. Secondly, there is acculturation to be done among social innovators to help them better understand the needs and methods of IT talent.
Where do you hope to see the sector in 10 years?
In 10 years, every successful start-up will be mission-driven and will have a positive impact on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Tech and Social ecosystems will collaborate on a regular basis. The “role models” will be Tech and Science for Good start-ups. Public and private financing will be based on social and environmental impact as well as business models and technological potential.
Thanks to Vincent Page for sharing his interest in Tech for Good with the École des Ponts Business School community. If you’d like to know more on this topic or engage in a conversation with Vincent, don’t hesitate to contact him on Twitter or LinkedIn.
To visit FEST’s website, just click here!