THE BLOG
11/11/2014 06:23 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

French Initiative Can Boost Standing as Innovation Leader

Home to the second largest economy in the EU and the fifth largest economy in the world, France is increasingly a bright light for the tech industry in Europe. But more can be done to propel France as a long-term world innovation leader.

France is a digitally connected nation, and the French people are highly enthusiastic about tech. According to Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® research, four in five French adults are using the Internet, putting France on par with the United States and tech-friendly Eastern Europe -- Czech Republic, Poland and Russia. The average online French household was home to 7.7 consumer technology products.

France's technology consumption is largely driven by entertainment. In fact, France ranks highest among all countries surveyed, with 57 percent of online adults citing entertainment as their main reason for purchasing electronics. The French focus on innovation was clearly seen at this year's International CES held in the United States, with more than 1,600 attendees, exhibitors and press from France - up almost 25 percent from 2013. And more than 70 French companies are expected to exhibit at the 2015 CES in a wide range of sectors, including health and fitness, wearable tech, unmanned systems, 3D printing, smart home and more.

France's influence in the global tech community continues to grow. Last year, in recognition of France's role as a significant tech hub driving global innovation, CEA held CES Unveiled Paris, a showcase of ground-breaking innovations from French and international startups and established brands. Due to its resounding success, CEA returned to France this year for the second annual CES Unveiled Paris on Oct. 22. Some of the country's most innovative companies were featured, including Archos, Parrot, Withings, MyFox, BewellConnect.

France is Europe's hotspot for innovation, with 12 French companies among the 100 most innovative organizations in the world as named by Thomson Reuters in 2013, ahead of Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. In the emerging drone market, expected to reach $300 million in global factory-to-dealer sales by 2018, French company Parrot is setting itself apart. One of Parrot's drones, the eBee AG, was recently ranked as one of the best six drones for use in agriculture today. This kind of innovation is an example of why France is also home to Europe's largest aerospace and nuclear industry.

But CEA research also shows that more can be done to improve the country's tech infrastructure. Only about half -- 49 percent -- of online French adults agree that there is "sufficient infrastructure in place to support the latest technology in my country." That's compared to 53 percent in the U.S. This stands in stark contrast to China, where 78 percent of people believe there is sufficient infrastructure to support the latest technology.

La French Tech initiative between the French government and private enterprises may help close the gap. This €200 million initiative aims to stimulate growth by offering all sorts of resources -- mentoring, funding, recruitment, industrial resources, market access, etc. Embracing innovation as a national strategy is one of the best ways to strengthen your economy and brand your country.

But to compete globally, France must go further. It needs to recognize that startups thrive when labor laws favor worker flexibility, restricting work hours hurt startups competiveness, especially in a business environment when first to market matters. Similarly, global businesses require some basic certainty and infrastructure and the frequency of transportation strikes concerns potential investors. More, tax laws should favor investment and startups and content should be available in any language without limits on non-French content.

France is in a great position. It leads the world in the sensual delights of fashion, food, perfume, wine and simply beautiful merchandising. But the digital arena requires investment, flexibility and a global perspective. The French gave us the word entrepreneur and the spirit of entrepreneurship cannot be overwhelmed by the other gift of the French of the word bureaucrat.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro