The rise of open-source startups in France
January 5th, 2023
Last year, I started a list of French open-source companies(*) and discovered that France saw about the same number of open-source startups being launched in the last 3 years (i.e., between 2020 and 2023) as it did during the 5 years before (2015 to 2020).
For those who may not be familiar, Open-Source Software (OSS) is a type of software that makes the source code available for anyone to use or modify. OSS plays an important role in the software industry, helping developers to build upon existing code rather than starting from scratch and thus, contributing to driving technological advances.
The list below contains French Commercial Open-Source Software (COSS) companies founded since 2015 and sorted by launch year. I compiled it using a variety of sources, including Github, Dealroom, TechCrunch, and data scraped from company websites & LinkedIn profiles.
💡 Note that the number of stars is automatically updated daily, so you can always have an up-to-date view of the French COSS startups landscape.
I might have missed some companies (acquired, shut down, or too recent to be screened): please ping me if you want me to add a startup.
During the holiday season, I thought about this rising trend, and I believe it can be attributed to 2 main factors: a contextual and a cultural one.
> Context: A startup nation under construction
In recent years, the French startup ecosystem has been growing as a result of a series of structural changes that have created a flywheel effect:
1. The French educational system is constantly adapting to the demand for tech professionals, particularly engineers, by both updating existing programs and creating new ones to produce talented software engineers ;
2. A first generation of these engineers have gained experience at tech giants like Open AI, Apple, Palantir, etc. (to name a few where founders from the list above worked) and are now using their knowledge and skills to start their own companies ;
3. The French government has been increasingly supportive of the startup ecosystem (through initiatives like BSPCE, French Tech, non-dilutive financing through BPI, etc.) and an increasing amount of venture capital money has been flowing into France, both from domestic and international funds ;
4. As French startups become larger, more ambitious, and more international, they are able to train and produce new skilled engineers, setting the stage for the next generation of founders.
> Culture: Wine, Baguette, and Eiffel Tower
France has a long history of innovation and engineering, and I am convinced this culture of creating high-quality systems is especially well-suited for open-source.
When building open-source, you need more than identifying a pain and solving it. You need to solve it elegantly, in a way that resonates with your community to generate widespread use and contribution from other engineers.
That's why founders who start open-source projects are often great engineers that have experienced a problem first-hand, solved it smartly, and want to help others facing the same issue by sharing their solution. In doing so, they build a community around their product, turning adopters into contributors to develop their product upon the collective intelligence of extremely qualified people.
Last but not least, open-source is also getting more popular thanks to the influence of successful entrepreneurs and COSS companies that educated, through their hustle and successes, more VCs about the benefits and underlying mechanisms of open-source, encouraging them to invest more in this type of companies.
> In conclusion, I'm excited about the future of COSS startups in France
As the beginning of the year is all about predictions, here are mines:
(i) short-term: the rising trend is just starting, and more French companies will flourish amongst the open-source community ;
(ii) middle-term: some companies from the list above are part of the most promising French startups, and I expect at least 3 of them to become category leaders in the coming 5-10 years ;
(iii) long-term: what is currently happening with open-source in France will happen with deep-tech (quantum, photonics processing, etc.) in 10+ years.
(*)Startups founded in France, or by extension abroad by french founders (often in the US to participate in accelerator programs such as Y Combinator), and that produce a substantial amount of open-source software from their product development.