The offices look like any other coworking space: a bright, open-plan, loft-style room with large, shared desks, a few leafy plants, a couch, and even a ping-pong table in the corner. But the FrenchFounders headquarters in Manhattan, near the Flatiron Building and the Chelsea Hotel, is much more than just another WeWork rival. One Tuesday evening in November, it welcomed a former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, and one of the CEOs of Veolia North America, Karine Rougé, for a debate attended by some 40 people. The members of this private entrepreneurs’ club concluded the event by sharing stories, advice, and contacts over a glass of wine.
Eight years after it was launched in New York City, the professional network now has some 4,000 members across the world, including 1,300 in North America. These start-uppers, investors, consultants, directors, and top-level executives in major groups and SMEs all pay 990 dollars a year to attend in-person and online events, and to access tailored services such as identifying sales partners, recruiting staff, financing projects, and establishing themselves in a new country. “Our business model is built on facilitating networking,” says Benoît Buridant, the cofounder of FrenchFounders. “We know our members very well. We can provide them with relevant guidance and advice, and they always take the time to help other members.”
The idea for the company was inspired by a personal need. In 2013, Benoît Buridant and Vincent Deruelle were both start-up founders working in Florida, and were frustrated by how difficult it was to meet other entrepreneurs. “When you arrive in a country as an expat, you have to create a new network, and there is nothing offering an overall view of the local ecosystem,” says Benoît Buridant. “FrenchFounders was developed to fill this void. If you want to work with Walmart, it is easier to go through a member who is already in contact with them.”
In the same sector as public, quasi-public, and community institutions tasked with promoting French business abroad, FrenchFounders stands out by revisiting the codes and methods of start-ups. Data, social media, and videoconferences make up the core of its operations. Networking sessions, organized by continent or by business sector, are held via a smartphone app. And much like most start-ups, the company has used venture capital to grow, raising almost two million euros since it launched. In late 2022, it received an undisclosed sum from the asset management firm Tikehau, one of the new stars of the French finance sector.
An International French Network
This all enabled the young company to grow rapidly and become a small multinational with 75 employees and offices in 11 countries. “FrenchFounders began in the United States, but we quickly gained a global presence because our members have needs all over the world. This was demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic, during which the network enabled them to share their experience despite not being able to travel,” says Benoît Buridant, who has remained in the United States as the company’s CEO. Meanwhile, Vincent Deruelle has moved to Madrid and works as the operations director. Over time, this global network has also expanded its presence in France. The IT department is based in Marseille, while the largest branch is in Paris, with almost 1,000 members. “Many of them are expats who have returned to France and still want access to an international network.”
FrenchFounders is less selective than the other famous entrepreneur network, The Galion Project, which is reserved for company founders who have raised at least three million euros. However, not just anyone can join. It is still a private club with an application process and a waiting list. “We’re not being arrogant; we want to take our time and attract members who share our values and who will improve the experience for others,” says the cofounder. “We’re not only interested in people’s jobs, but also in their backgrounds and what they can bring to the community.” Each member is partnered with a relationship manager who regularly suggests important events and new contacts who are likely to help their business. FrenchFounders also offers a Francophone recruitment service, access to its offices while traveling, and an investment club to help French start-ups conquer America. However, this comes with a price. Since January 1, new members have to pay 1,490 dollars per year – 500 dollars more than existing members. As well as these fees, “which we make no profit from,” says the CEO, the network generates revenue by providing services to companies.
While FrenchFounders is a far cry from Champagne-soaked institutional events, and free from the oversight of public authorities, Benoît Buridant does not see himself as a rival to other organizations working to promote France’s economic standing abroad. In fact, he sees his company as “very complementary.” Caroline Faucher-Winter, co-president of the NYC chapter of La French Tech, agrees: “We’re delighted to have them working with us. They have built up a major network, particularly in the United States, and are leading players in New York City.”
The Other French Business Networks
This public agency, tasked with helping French companies to develop abroad and attract foreign investors to France, has 1,420 employees worldwide and eight offices in the U.S. and Canada.
The French-American Chamber of Commerce
This longstanding organization comprises a network of 18 non-profits across the United States, with more than 700 members in New York City. It focuses on networking – by organizing events attended by the economic community – and visa sponsorship – particularly for those in international business volunteer schemes.
French Foreign Trade Advisors
These directors, business executives, and entrepreneurs make up a network of 4,300 volunteers – including 450 in North America across 11 branches – tasked with promoting France’s economic activity and reputation. Established in more than 150 countries, the members are appointed by decree via the French prime minister.
La French Tech
La Mission French Tech, overseen by the French Ministry for Economy and Finance, is an initiative bringing together some 100 non-profit organizations to promote innovative French tech companies. The New York City branch has been hosting First Tuesdays Meetups since last year, often in Brooklyn, for the local ecosystem estimated at around 400 entrepreneurs.
She for S.H.E.
Launched in 2016 by San Francisco-based coach Valérie-Anne Demulier, this private subscription network has brought together more than 200 French-speaking women across the world. According to the founder, it is a “network focused on people before business,” inspired by the values behind its name: Sharing, Helping, Empowering.
The Elles Collective
Founded in 2019 by 16 expats in Los Angeles, this private, volunteer-based network brings together some 100 people across six chapters from San Diego to San Francisco. Representing almost every business sector, its members – exclusively female Francophone entrepreneurs – meet for themed mastermind group events and virtual conferences.
The Galion Project
This is the VIP section in the networks of French entrepreneurs, and only welcomes start-up founders who have raised at least three million euros. Launched in 2015 by Jean-Baptiste Rudelle (cofounder of Criteo, listed on the Nasdaq), this highly exclusive club has around 400 members, mostly in France and the United States.