Stephane_DistinguinInterview with Stéphane Distinguin, founder and CEO of the faberNovel innovation agency (based in Paris, San Francisco, New York and Moscow), president of Cap Digital, the digital content and sector cluster.

What assets does Nantes’s digital ecosystem have?

What strikes me most when I look at the Nantes digital ecosystem is the movement behind it which guides it and drives it, its enthusiasm, its “freshness”, as well as the number of people involved in it, which is continuing to grow and grow, as well as its “grass roots” aspects. Then there is the strong presence, and a great deal of goodwill, from the networks that exist already, such as, among others, the Nantes Saint-Nazaire Chamber of Commerce, one of the only ones in France that shares its viewpoints. One other strength which characterises the Nantes digital territory is perhaps its “estuary” aspect, which translates into a high degree of openness to the West, with specific characteristics inherent to the fact that it has one foot in Brittany and the other in the Vendée region, which makes it a country of entrepreneurs who support each other and gives it its strong identity. To complete its portrait, I would add its relationships with “live entertainment”, i.e. with Royal de Luxe, the Lieu Unique, the festival des Allumés a while ago, Scopitone today and artists such as Hocus Pocus, C2C, Collège and the whole Nantes electro scene, which is exporting itself worldwide. These are real assets and models, a key for everyone who chooses to live in the “metropole”.

What levers do French ecosystems need to develop?

Let’s talk about the French digital economy first. Clearly, it’s not getting what it deserves. It under-estimates itself and doesn’t communicate enough. It still looks too much like a little Gaulish village and most of all is not represented enough on the international stage. To my mind, that’s what’s missing most for us to understand what’s happening here and what we entrepreneurs are doing here and what we’re capable of. I think that a certain form of paternalism, which is essential when it is benevolent, is not sufficiently “seen” as what it is, a relationship of strength. The big companies, the old companies should more often be bought out by start-ups and the start-ups try – really! – to dethrone these companies which are much bigger and much older than them. This is why the French digital ecosystems, notably the Nantes ecosystem, have every advantage in not having JUST – or too many? – very small companies, but a true diversity in actors, creating formats that “rub shoulders” with each other, that are in touch and share with each other, but also having networks in France and abroad, taking part in the major events that define our industry and having professional and experienced investors – whose successes are clear for all to see – invest in capital, not to mention networks of business angels.

How are digital ecosystems the future of job creation? 

To answer your question I would say first and foremost and in all seriousness because they are the ones which destroy the most jobs. What can you say about Whatsapp, an app which is worth 19 billion dollars and which employs a grand total of 50 people?  Digital is replacing jobs; that’s a certainty and it’s just the start. There is a sovereignty objectives and this means creating walls to reduce this erosion. This is where the digital ecosystems, whether in Nantes or elsewhere, are absolutely critical. If I look at this less defensively, I would say that digital is now the most powerful and the most accessible lever, thanks to its cost, its deadlines and the skills it requires to develop an activity, regardless of what it is. In practice, the most jobs are being created by companies which are less than five years old. So, it is by creating companies, mainly in the digital sector, that we will find jobs, services that encourage indirectly the creation of other jobs and a way to take back control of our future. 

Interview by Cécile Faver