SmartAustin has recently been excited by the opportunity to develop international relationships that can support business for our ‘smart cities’ startups, and which can be leveraged to attract international startups to Austin. In particular, we’ve been intrigued by various pro-startup gestures and efforts from the French government and have been pleased to learn about strong, related activities sponsored by the French-American Business Council of Austin, led by Liz Wiley, a local business attorney. We sat down with Liz to learn more about the budding relationship between Austin and its sister city of Angers, a rising French and European IoT center.
As part of the Austin Week, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Angers organized an information day for companies wishing to set up business in the United States. Twin of Angers, Austin “attracts more and more start-ups and angel investors,” notes Honorary Consul of France, Liz Wiley, who has been working for five years to create contacts between the companies of the two cities.
SA: Please give us some background on the Austin-Angers relationship.
LW: Let me say that there have been a few key players and developments that have helped kick start this relationship. The Austin-Angers ‘sister city’ relationships goes back a few years (to 2011), but the current Mayor of Angers, Christophe Béchu, has been especially invested in developing international ties, including international business leaders. He recognized that leveraging the Austin-Angers relationship would be a great idea for economic development in both cities.
Angers was granted FRENCH TECH status for its IoT expertise in 2015 by the French national government, and has developed an IoT campus and accelerator, and supporting business, marketing, and development networks. Overall, several million dollars of private and public funds have flowed into this project, especially, to support IoT startups in prototyping and pre-series production and, in general, accelerating time to market.
These developments have helped to strengthen the relationship with Austin tech firms, of course. Specifically, the Capital Factory has been quite supportive of our efforts, including traveling to Angers and assigning a resource to enable ‘soft landings’ for startups moving to Austin. Finally, there’s been a good deal of cultural interchange, including “Austin Week” in Angers, and “Angers Week” in Austin, that have focused on arts and cuisine, but that we believe can be leveraged for more activity in tech.
SA: You have a few big events coming up, right. To put it lightly!
LW: Right! The World Electronics Forum, which is like the Davos of electronics, will be hosted in Angers next month. We are excited to have a few people from Austin attending, but we definitely want to recruit some more. We’re also excited to see the close coordination from Gary Shapiro and CES for that event in Angers.
Austin’s IoT-related connections with Angers, by the way, go back to 2015, when a large group of Austin startups, accelerators, large tech companies and government representatives joined to watch in real time out at Freescale, now NXP, as Angers launched its “IoT City,” or its Cite de l’object connecté. At that event we were proud to be able to bring together that cross-section of Austin as we had conversations in real time with the Minister Macron, now President Macron, Mayor Adler, and Mayor Béchu to talk about the sister city relationship, IoT, and the economic development to come as a result of these connections.
Also, we have a delegation of cultural sector leaders coming from Angers in October, and the new Consul general of France, Alexis Andres, will be coming up from Houston to meet with them. Various tech leaders are slated to meet those folks and talk about how to bring tech into the forefront into the already strong cultural arts side of the Austin-Angers relationship.
SA: What are your other biggest bragging points about Angers?
LW: So, in addition to its long history in electronics development—not to mention an extraordinary food and wine tradition with its location in the Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Angers has been recognized as a leader in sustainability for the region. It also has an active music scene and a large student population, underpinned by the University of Angers and the business school,ESSCA, the ESA—an advanced program for agricultural engineering, and ESEO a very elite “Ivy League” level advanced program for electronics and engineering, to name a few. Also, interestingly, St. Edwards University has a campus in Angers.
SA: What are some Angevine, or French, firms making their way in Austin?
LW: We’re proud to have a close relationship with IoT company, Qowisio, which opened its US headquarters in Austin recently. Also, Alsim, a flight simulator business, moved to a prime location in Austin to capture the growing market here for the aviation industry. Their business development team is in Angers, though the company headquarters is in nearby Nantes. Other particularly notable French startups include Speachme in edtech, and Babbler, in social media. We are thrilled about the growing ecosystem.
We hope these are just the beginning of and are asking for help from the Austin tech community to recruit more French firms given the French reputation strength in many sectors, especially in engineering and now in the digital sector And, of course, we are happy to make connections for Austin firms looking to gain a beachhead in Europe. This will work best if it’s a two-way street.