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The president of my homeland, Emmanuel Macron, wants to have 100 French unicorns by 2030. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, 10 homegrown decacorns. But shouldn’t we all be dreaming of centaurs? Let’s investigate. †Anna
There should be 100 French unicorns by 2030, Macron said at the VivaTech conference in Paris earlier this month. “It is feasible,” he later argued on Twitter† “And because startups play a role in the ecological transition, we set ourselves a different goal: 25 green unicorns by 2030!”
It is not new for Macron to set unicorn-related goals for the country. He famously did that in 2019, when he wanted the country to have “25 unicorns” by 2025. And despite some debate about the exact number of unicorns in France, the consensus is that Macron’s goal has actually been achieved this year.
The French economic newspaper “La Tribune” calculated: if France wants to house 100 unicorns by 2030, there must be nine or ten unicorns a year. According to the paper, this makes Macron’s goal “quite realistic, if not even unambitious”. Why? Because in 2021 “La French Tech” “generated 11 new unicorns, which is more than the pace predicted by the president’s forecast for the next eight years.” However, that would still be a lot faster than in 2019 or 2020.
Speed aside, France’s goal doesn’t seem very ambitious when put in a global perspective. India, for example, recently crowned its 100th unicorn, the neobank Open, headquartered in Bengaluru. Of course, France has only 67.39 million inhabitants, compared to more than 1.38 billion in India. But it’s not just about population size. For France to be on par with the US in terms of unicorns per capita, it would have to have 130 already, BlaBlaCar founder Frédéric Mazzella told Les Échos in an interview.
However, the market has been turning on startups in recent months, which doesn’t exactly support overly ambitious goals. France struck some unicorns in January this year, but those deals are believed to have sprung from the closing of deals in late 2021, when capital flowed more freely. That euphoria is long gone and young unicorns are once again becoming a rare animal.
In addition, apart from Deezer’s SPAC plans, IPOs seem to be interrupted just as often in France as they are in the US. That means French unicorns are likely to stay private longer, keeping their numbers artificially high. And with the sluggishness of those who have already racked up mega rounds and need more money, those who don’t see their valuations plummet may turn into pentacorns or even decacorns.