Conservative Paris Catches Up With Blockchain

Dana Knight reports on the European start-up scene with a preview of this year’s Viva Technology in Paris (May 24–26, 2018).

Every tech-loving city in Europe has its own major tech event. London has London Tech Week, Berlin has TOA, Helsinki has Slush. As the city of fashion, film and allegedly, romance, Paris took longer to get on the tech wagon. Arguably, creating a startup in France is not as easy as it is in other countries, but recently, this rather conservative country has become increasingly welcoming to startups and gives a distinct impression that the French capital is doing its best to make up for lost time.

This year marks only the third edition of Viva Technology, but this French conference already feels like an established event. Taking place at the Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles from May 24–26, 2018, the event is packed with hundreds of expert talks from inspiring speakers, imparting their knowledge on eight conference tracks spread across four stages, a ton of startup booths, several open innovation labs, a mobility park to test out latest prototypes of self-driving cars, a VR park, an e-sports stage, a mega tech show with drones and a three-day hackathon.

I was there last year and I was impressed. Viva Technology is as grand, glamorous and ambitious as TOA is intimate, improvised and unpredictable. To draw on a comparison from the film world, the spirit of Viva Technology is more akin to the Golden Globes to TOA’s SXSW or Sundance. This probably has something to do with the lineage of the two events: while TOA is more of an independent, grassroots effort, Viva Technology Paris has a broader mix of corporate and government involvement with big French companies acting as sponsors and startup hubs, including BNP Paribas, Google, La Poste, LVMH, and Orange.

Last year I enjoyed a glimpse of the future through demos such as novel shopping experiences, autonomous vehicles and connected factories. I experienced new services such as Facebook’s chatbot barista which starts processing your order while you’re still in the conference room and lets you know on messenger when your coffee is ready for pick-up; and was completely swept off my feet by an all-knowledgeable robot — a concierge with the cutest face and the most impeccable French accent who helped me find my way around the enormous space that hosts the event.

Whether you’re a startup founder, working for a startup, or simply interested in startups, there are many ways to benefit from attending Viva Technology. The Hall of Tech, center of innovation at Viva Technology is back with the biggest players in tech. The Discovery Zone will host a selection of the best startups in the world specialized in smart cities, robotics and hardware. Future Tech will be dedicated to emerging technologies, such as quantum computing, while the CMO Forum will present the latest trends in marketing/advertising related to the latest technological advances.

For the third edition, the organizers also announced Afric@tech, a space that will host the continent’s one hundred most promising startups with a dedicated lab, country pavilions, challenges and a specific conference track.

Afric@tech

Based on my Viva Technology experience last year, there is a lot it offers and it would be best to have clear idea of what you want to get out of the event and plan your visit well in advance. Apart from the main points of interest that I highlighted above, a few stand out, like Office Hours, which promotes meetings between startups and the largest investors in France, and around the globe, such as Accel Partners, Partech Ventures or Balderton Capital and the Accelerate Zone, which offers additional business opportunities and practical advice for startups. There’s also a recruitment area: the Talent Connect platform, listing thousands of job offers from startups to large international companies, with applicants being interviewed throughout the show. There’s also TechCrunch Battlefield, a hackathon of 15 selected startups that pitch their projects on stage on the final day — an opportunity to get up to speed with projects that could become the Airbnbs and Ubers of tomorrow.

Last but not the least, it is definitely the right place for blockchain enthusiasts. Last year’s Viva Technology line-up focused greatly on the technology, with panel discussions that ranged from real world blockchain applications to debating how secure the technology is. And the conversation will go even deeper this year with presentations from innovative leaders such as Jeff Schumacher, founder of BCG Digital Ventures, and Temie Giwa-Tubosun and CEO of Lifebank, Nigeria, who in 2014 was listed by the BBC as one of hundred women changing the world.

Lifebank CEO Temie Giwa-Tubosun

At the same time it’s a great opportunity to absorb insights about this game-changing technology from the experts driving it forward and chatting with the entrepreneurs and developers that are building concrete use cases around it. Here are a few of the most compelling blockchain startups that will be present at Viva Technology 2018:

BITWAGE: An international payroll solutions provider enabling invoicing and benefits on top of Bitcoin and the blockchain, Bitwage allows the sending or receiving a percentage of salaries or invoices in cryptocurrency, as well as international invoices and salaries faster and cheaper through blockchain technology.

BLOCKCHAIN STUDIO: Funded by Engie & Maltem, this startup democratizes the usage of blockchain technology for business, giving the ability to any user to develop applications on the blockchain to facilitate transactions and generate new revenues. No technical skills required.

BRAIN DYNAMIC IMAGING: BDI sells a brain imager, with unrivalled specifications and is specially adapted to neurodegenerative diseases.

CO-RECYCLAGE: A green, social impact startup, Co-Recyclage guides its clients during big changes (a move, end of an event, renovation) to minimize their waste production with digital and innovative tools in order to optimize reuse of furniture, equipment and materials.

DRAAGU: This AI-powered product makes it possible for users to be notified whenever they shoot an image than can be sold, thus making the billions of photos trapped in your smartphone accessible and valuable. Dragu already has 30,000 users, with 10 million images sold in just 10 months.

Fleurs d’Ici Founders Hortense Harang and Chloé Rossignol

FLEURS D’ICI: As the first French “slow flowers” brand, Fleurs d’Ici uses blockchain technology to guarantee traceability for their products and is the only company that offers seasonal flowers, 100% grown by local farmers.

IMMERSION4 SA: With a business model based on sharing the “value chain”, Immersion4’s goal is to reduce the carbon footprint at each stage of the manufacturing process using the local industry.

IOV: By providing a universal protocol for blockchains and wallet users, IOV solves the problem of complexity, human error and lack of interoperability when exchanging digital assets on multiple blockchains.

QARNOT: A French start-up that heats buildings with computers, the QC-1 is an elegant, noiseless, user-friendly device and the first crypto-heater generating revenues in cryptocurrencies.

SKEYECODE: Skeyecode protects cryptocurrency by keeping private keys secure. Leveraging last generation cryptography, transactions can be signed and private keys can’t be stolen by malware because they never leave the chip on the card.

SUNCHAIN: This startup offers the opportunity to use solar energy away from the production point. In the context of self-consumption, the excess power generated by the solar plant is oriented to another consumption point through the distribution network, made possible through blockchain technology.

VivaTech Paris is quickly becoming the go-to conference for discovering the latest trends in tech. Bringing together the greatest names in this field from both international and local scenes, it is the place to celebrate today’s innovations and tomorrow’s possibilities with everyone who believes in the power of technology to transform business and society.