PARIS May 27 French startup companies desperate
for talent with international experience launched a campaign on
Wednesday to persuade expats to return, pooling their resources
to offer free repatriation help and advice as part of the
The initiative is called "Come Back Leon" after a 1980s TV
advert where tasty pasta lures youngsters away as their elders
plead: "We have the same at home!"
Aimed at the high-flyers who were children then but left in
despair at red tape and poor prospects, the adapted catchphrase
"We are innovating at home!" carries the message not that they
were wrong to leave, but that it is time to return.
Despite France's reputation as a high tax, low growth,
bureaucratic country, the claim to be a centre for dynamic
young companies has some foundation.
It was the most represented nation for a fourth successive
year in the Deloitte 2014 top 500 index of Europe's fastest
growing tech firms, counting 86 companies in total. Paris also
claims status as the startup capital of Europe.
A tax structure that encourages research and development
spending provides another ingredient, along with a strong
research bent in the country's universities.
The Come Back Leon scheme has a modest budget of "several
hundreds of thousands of euros" (dollars) according to Frederic
Mazzella, the founder of successful car-sharing website BlaBla
Car. It is funded by the members themselves and by the state's
La French Tech initiative.
The project members reckon the startup sector will need to
fill 3,000 jobs this year alone. But entrepreneurs at
Wednesday's launch know they have their work cut out winning
over cynical expats who have found their niche elsewhere.
"Every time we look to recruit someone for a big post, we
ask the question can we go looking in the United States or
another country, and each time the recruitment firms tell us
'no, they'll never come back'," said Bertrand Jelensperger,
founder of lafourchette, created in 2006 and now a
400-million-euro a year online restaurant booking firm that is
part of U.S.-based TripAdvisor.
The group believes it has plenty to aim at - estimating that
2 million French people live abroad, about half of whom have the
degree level-plus profiles they are looking for.
The 40,000 or so working in Silicon Valley are a primary
target, and the group is planning roadshows in New York, San
Francisco and London this summer.
(Reporting by Andrew Callus; Editing by Katharine Houreld)