The Swiss French Tech Hub is born - Haider Alleg

Giving birth to French Tech Swiss

It was 2014, and I was invited to this VC event in London with some friends after a long day. So organised by French Tech London, they say. So intrigued, I listen to this crew of french accented English speakers. Five minutes later, I am getting hooked. 

Finally found the french community I missed ten years ago.

Perhaps because I grew up in the far east part of France and not in Paris, web entrepreneurship in the 2000s wasn’t outstanding. So it pushed me out of France and sought other horizons. But this keynote I was listening to showed me a panel of 5 entrepreneurs, all successfully representing the best of what France released as startups in the last ten years, and learning from their experience in 40′.

I loved the style, the attitude, the content, and the drive. But I genuinely thought, who are those people behind French Tech? 

The community we missed in Switzerland.

Let’s face it: Switzerland is excellent. We know it. But, regarding tech disruption, we can’t just use Logitech all the time as a success story to share in meetups. And yes, Nespresso is a great brand, tremendous website and experience platform, but we miss hearing about the emerging ones, like protonmail, instance, MindMaze and many others. It is tough to get them in a keynote; if you don’t know someone who knows the founders, a team member, or their VCs, it is mission impossible. 

So I decided to talk to the organisers of La French Tech London. This initiative came straight from the newly appointed French Minister of Economy (Emmanuel Macron) and got promoted to the national and international tech communities. So I said to myself: great. So there is a starting point.

Indeed, I started my career working on digital campaigns for politicians, both left and right, don’t be jealous. So my network was pretty hot at that time. So I was hoping to re-activate some of my connections and see what happens.

After a few phone calls, I managed to get introduced to the guy who runs the external communities. Interesting to mention that I was expecting much more structure at that time, and it felt that this was the beginning of something. So, the first thing I say is: I am from Switzerland, a country with many innovative entrepreneurs. Believe me or not, this wasn’t even on the map. Yes, London, New York, San Francisco and Israel were the famous hot spot, with Berlin starting their ascension to the top of the list in Europe. But Switzerland? Too small? Too expensive? I didn’t get an answer, but here was my opportunity.

The action was to present Switzerland, my experience as an entrepreneur and my views on the country as a potential top 3 or top 5 hub in Europe for La French Tech.

It took months to get a chance to present and have the “informal” authorisation to explore the waters. Next on the list: swiss authorities. You can’t start such a venture and community without alerting the management, knowing that if successful, we would somehow link the Embassy of France through Business France, the economic amplification arm of the government.

Again, it took months to negotiate appointments, present the concept and explain the value for both parties, as somehow there were fears that this would only benefit the French side and not the Confederation.

The value proposition of the FrenchTech Swiss Hub

 My vision was to cover all of Switzerland as it is small yet concentrated enough to put it under one hub. Adding small teams per countries such as Basel, Zurich, Geneva, and Lugano was in the pipe. The idea is to give them specific themes like healthcare for Basel or Fintech for Zurich. Second, the team. I was all alone and couldn’t get far. Like any new project, I had a chicken-egg issue. If I don’t have the community, I can’t attract the team and vice-versa. So who was my audience? Startups, of course. Entrepreneurs of all sorts, providers, corporate, academics, and students. The idea was to prove that from learning from entrepreneurs closer to Switzerland, we could benefit from funding not always coming from far competencies but, most important market to accelerate. Good luck if you want to launch a startup and stay in Switzerland as a consumer business. The market is too tiny for hyper-growth, and not all ventures can bet on a high price to function like www.lesroisdupq.ch. The unlocking item was my personal experience, and I started reaching out to entrepreneurs to help them either in business planning or introducing them to potential investors in France. At the same time, the french government was pushing all the interested people willing to give a hand to this movement, and this is how the founding bureau began. Rafael was already organising significant events in Geneva. He had the perfect CV to simultaneously build the community and ecosystem for the Geneva hub and the national one. We had an offer, a start and the beginning of a team. So we started the first event.

It’s alive: join FrenchTech Swiss.

Our founding event was great; we had a blast seeing everyone coming and sharing their interests. We were honest that this was new, primarily messy and looking for feedback. Nevertheless, it created a sense of community, and I can only applaud the leadership skills of my colleague here, who truly knows how to put events in place.

So how can you help? We are building a community that means listening to all of you and seeing what you can offer and what you need. So please visit our website, www.frenchtech.ch, and if not a member yet, please support us in organising events. If you’d like, you can also come to one of the meetups to talk to us, feel the vibe and decide for yourself.

In my new role as president of that hub, I will be careful to ensure we meet the criteria for an official label from the government, knowing that I was glad enough to be authorised to use the title as such in a test mode by the Paris team.

See you soon at the next FrenchTech Swiss event.

Haider

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