Helping French entrepreneurs found companies in the United States, rent offices, and meet with future clients are just a few of the services offered by the 20 branches of the French-American Chamber of Commerce. This network stretches from New York to Los Angeles and also advises U.S. businesses interested in the French market while fostering exchanges between the two countries. France-Amérique talked with Laurence Fabre, executive director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco.
France-Amérique: What are is the purpose of the French-American Chamber of Commerce?
Laurence Fabre: We are a network of not-for-profit organizations. We create bridges between French and American companies and host networking events, conferences, an employment fair, and the annual French-American Business Awards, which will take place on May 23 this year.
Laurence Fabre has been the executive director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco since 2017. © Consulate General of France in San Francisco
You also advise French businesses looking to move to California…
We provide an intensive week-long program to answer all the questions asked by entrepreneurs looking to do business in California, including visas, budgets, and pitfalls to avoid. We then assist them in finding offices and recruiting staff. We also help French businesses looking for inspiration in Silicon Valley. Last May, for example, we hosted the French company Acome which produces cables for the transportation, construction, and telecoms sectors. As part of this visit, we organized meetings with Tesla, Verizon, Intel, and Orange.
What are the specificities of the San Francisco branch?
Our branch reflects the business ecosystem of Northern California. This region has an entrepreneurial culture and is home to prestigious universities such as Stanford and Berkley, as well as a vast number of investors. But with the boom in the new technology sector, it is also difficult to find accommodation and staff in this area. French people are often shocked by the cost of renting office space and paying salaries. On average, just 5% of new companies survive.
What are the reasons for this high failure rate?
These statistics should not be interpreted negatively, but rather seen as a challenge! The San Francisco Bay Area is a highly competitive environment, more so than any other region in the United States, and there are a huge number of startups. You therefore have to be among the best in your sector if you want to stand out and raise capital. Operating costs are high, and you can quickly exhaust your resources and find yourself in a “cash burn” situation. It generally takes several attempts for a company to succeed in Silicon Valley.
How has the French ecosystem in the San Francisco Bay Area developed since the Chamber was founded in 1978?
There are more and more French people in San Francisco — the community is estimated at 60,000 people. Entrepreneurs are increasingly well-prepared when they arrive, with better prior assistance in France and with a deeper knowledge of American culture. The support network in the Bay Area is also more organized, and the French startup incubator — The Refiners — is specialized in helping foreign companies.
There are 350 companies in the San Francisco branch. Who are they?
One third of our members are American businesses. We help them understand French business culture and recruit interns. French engineers are highly sought-after in Silicon Valley due to their level of training and education. Our other members are startups specialized in new technology and wine, and also include major French groups such as Air France, Total, Suez, and Capgemini, as well as smaller companies such as beauty salons, restaurants, and bakeries. In an effort to take advantage of the latest innovations in Silicon Valley, more and more French companies are opening up research hubs in the region. This is the case of Renault, Crédit Agricole, Faurecia, and Daher. Opening offices in San Francisco implies greater credibility for businesses.