Paris Vivatech show must go on - eventually

Maurice Levy  photo: Tamar Matsafi

The fifth annual Vivatech show will have no Israeli stand, although interest from Israeli startups is high.

Maurice Levy was sounding grateful on stage at the press conference at UNESCO headquarters as he launched the fifth annual Vivatech show. He is the powerhouse behind this professional and general public high-tech gathering that attracted more than 120,000 visitors from 125 countries here in 2019.

In this fifth year, because of the coronavirus epidemic, the question on everyone’s mind is: will the show go on?. The latest official statement is that the Vivatech show is on, but a definite date has not been chosen. The June 11-13 date could be changed.

Levy is the longtime chairman of the Supervisory Board, and the driving force at Publicis (the third largest advertising group in the world) and the founder of Vivatech along with French media publisher Groupe Les Echos - Le Parisien.

Speaking to a few hundred mostly French-language journalists, with his characteristic big smile, he said, "we are lucky that Vivatech is scheduled for mid-June, by which time we hope that the coronavirus will be nothing more than a bad memory."

He praised the work of the French government on coronavirus-related developments, and noted that contact with officials has been daily. So far, the show is on.

For the record, the show’s five platinum partners are: BNP Paribas, Google, La Poste, LVMH, Orange…would certainly agree.

Confirmed guest speakers include:

Jean-Paul Agon - CEO, L’Oréal

Bernard Arnault - CEO, LVMH

Mitchell Baker - chairwoman and CEO, Mozilla

Ginny Rometty - chairwoman, IBM

Brad Smith - president, Microsoft

Now, just a few days later, Paris has entered something of a twilight zone. Like other European cities, it is officially under lock-down, "confinement" in French. At a time when gatherings of more than ten people have been declared illegal, It is surrealistic to be discussing a high tech show that will attract tens of thousands of visitors.

The scenario has not been the same for other forums. The Hello Tomorrow Global Summit, another tech show scheduled for March 12 -13 in Paris, was pushed back to October 22-23. And the annual Cybersecurity Forum organized by cyber-specialist Dominique Bourra and the France Israel Chamber of Commerce, a gathering Maurice Levy likes to keep an eye on, has been moved from March 24th to November 3rd.

When first launched, Vivatech was meant to give France a seat at the table of global tech players. That has been accomplished. "Our mission today is to help start-ups develop their ideas and projects, work with big groups and find financing," Levy said, talking to "Globes". added. "Vivatech seeks to answer the challenging question, what will the world look like tomorrow. And start-ups have important roles to play there."

To satisfy this rather lofty mission, some 30 partners have come up with 90 challenges in fields such as the environment, infrastructure, education, innovation, artificial intelligence and more. Specific examples? "Shaping a sustainable energy transition" - Total, "develop port of the future in Marseille" - French Région Sud, "Promote Open Innovation for a Better Future" - Huawei.

Some 11,000 start-ups from all over the world are proposing solutions via internet, a huge number by any calculation. Five years ago, they numbered between two and three thousand. Winners will be hosted in the partner-pavillons at the show in the Paris Exposition Center, Porte de Versailles in June.

Levy did a country breakdown of the start-up challenge for "Globes", a detail not a part of the general presentation.

One third of the start-ups are French, and thus about two-thirds are from around the globe. Leading the pack are the United States with 800 start-ups, and the United Kingdom, with 600. Some 350 start-ups are filing solutions from each of three countries: Germany, Israel and Nigeria.

"We opened the doors to African start-ups a couple of years ago, and last year, their presence was also strong, " Levy commented. "I think that the fact that so many from Nigeria are participating in the challenges is proof that we have been successful."

Aside from the challenges, Nigeria is among the African countries planning to attend the show for the first time, as well as Cameroon, Ghana, DR Congo and Tunisia.

Other African countries that have confirmed their presence are South Africa, Algeria and Morocco.

There will be 18 country pavillons at the 2020 Vivatech show.

Israel is not among them. Last year, some 20 start-ups from Israel did have a physical presence at the show, based mostly at major company pavillons, according to Yaron Schrotter, head of the business mission at the Israeli embassy here. "it is still too early to put out any figures for this year," he added.

Both Levy and Schrotter confirmed the presence of Israeli tech godfather Yossi Vardi. "His unique sense of humor is a major plus for every tech gathering," Schrotter commented.

"We like the Vivatech show," he continued,"but our budget is limited at the embassy. In fact, you could say that we have no budget at all."

He explained that the Israel Export Institute provides funding for other shows based on the success of setting up pre-scheduled meetings for Israeli companies with major international groups. Those shows include the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, scheduled for Feb 24 - 27 in 2020 (now canceled because of the coronavirus epidemic,) the RSA cyber-show in San Fransisco, the Medica show in Dusseldorf, and the CES show in Las Vegas.

"It is not so easy to put together pre-scheduled meetings at Vivatech," Schrotter noted. "And it is an expensive show for the start-ups to attend."

And should this meetings detail be a challenge for Vivatech organisers? Perhaps, but they have more global things to worry about, among them gender issues.

Hence, the Female Founder Challenge. Today, according to Vivatech, only 3% of global venture capital funding is raised by female CEOs, or $1.5 billion out of $50.8 billion. In Europe, 92% of venture capital investment goes to all-male founded startups. In France, startups founded by women are, on average, 30% less likely than those founded by men to be financed by the main venture capital funds. This gap increases with each round of funding.

This is a trend to be reversed, says Maurice Levy.

Vivatech director Julie Ranty would also agree, no doubt.

"Julie came to Tel Aviv to promote the show, and the meet-up was packed with people," said Schrotter. "Many start-ups signed up for the challenges right there. Gender issues are one thing. But for Israelis, the funding problems have not gone away. We are looking for sponsors to help us."

Given the ongoing political impasse in Israel, which is paralysing government policy on a good number of levels, funding problems look as though they are here to stay…for now.

Vivatech director Julie Ranty subsequently confirmed that the show will not be held on June 11-13. She explained that because of lockdown restrictions and healthcare obligations for participants and visitors in France, it had become technically and physically impossible to put together the show at that time. Another date has not yet been determined.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 22,  2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Maurice Levy  photo: Tamar Matsafi
Maurice Levy photo: Tamar Matsafi
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