Why Paris? Interview with Ava Lawrence, Pawmetrics

Moving to Paris isn’t just for the fashion or the fashion-related startups. It’s now being recognised as a booming startup ecosystem, thanks to considerable public funding made available for startups and input from key local players in this space.

We had the chance recently to speak with founder Ava Lawrence on making the move from Brisbane, QLD to Paris six months ago, and hear why Paris is an viable city to consider for your startup.

Ava is the founder and CEO of Pawmetrics, a biotech company that is developing an implanted biosensor to monitor the health of pets and other animals in real time via an app.

Here’s what she had to say:

What made you decide to move your business to France? 

My startup won the French Tech Ticket competition. In its 2nd year, 70 of the most promising startups from around the world are chosen to receive special visas, support and funding from the French Government to live in France for a year to develop the company. I lived in London for seven years before coming to Paris and part of the reason for leaving is Brexit. It is already impacting on recruitment and business confidence for startups. Europe provides access to a 500 million strong consumer market and is 7-8 hours away from the US. France has a long history of medical, engineering and scientific excellence which was attractive as well. Now with the election of Macron, you can feel an acceleration of interest, support and funding for startups here.

How important has your Australian network been to get started over here?

I work with mainly French people, but there are some Australians in the competition too – it is nice to meet up with them and share information. The Australian community is great for when homesickness strikes and you long for people who understand your cultural references and humour. Hearing the Australian accent is comforting in a foreign place 😊 The Australian Embassy is quite active and holds events here in Paris. My cat is Australian and provides a lot of support to me – I’m sure that counts 😉

Have you raised money in Europe and how did you find it compared to Australia? 

We haven’t raised yet but we are starting to find the right investors. France is unusual in Europe and probably the world in that so much public funding is made available for startups. We are funded by a private-public organisation called BPI France, they provide a colossal amount of funds to the startup ecosystem each year.

What is it like to do business in France?

I don’t speak French at all so I thought that might be a big barrier but it surprisingly hasn’t been. All the partners I work with speak English and my co-founder Alexis is from Paris, so he handles email exchanges and meetings in French if someone’s English is not fluent. I find the banking system here baffling and stuck in a time warp, and there is still an emphasis on paper files and transactions – there seems to be a lag with putting government and financial services online. I’m sure that will change soon though.

Business is more formal than Australia and the UK, there’s an emphasis on being professional from the beginning to the end. In Australia we like to quickly move from being formal to informal once the relationship develops, but they keep it up here. Some French people respond well to being more informal and find it refreshing, but I have to take the steer from the verbal and non-verbal cues on how far to push it and from my French co-founder.

Being a female founder doesn’t seem to be a big deal here. I don’t feel I have been treated differently to my male co-founders here, which I have to admit is different to my experience in the UK. I asked a French VC if being a female founder is a barrier to raise money and he didn’t really understand the question. He said it would never cross his mind. I don’t know if it is Anglo-Saxon culture that has a problem with it but it is fantastic that it isn’t an issue here. Maybe ask me in a year when I’ve had more experience in the funding system though.

Are you working as a remote team or did the team move over with you? 

My French co-founder was already in Paris and we have one British team member back in London, so it is a semi-virtual team. Trello is great for managing the workload and we work online with Google. We have hired a local art director to help us rebrand and with our marketing. Having things like relationships with local printers and advising on what words and symbols mean in French as opposed to English is a blessing.

What do you love about living in France? 

The obvious ones are food, culture and wine. Coffee still needs some work but there’s a handful of Aussie cafes in Paris now so I can get a proper flat white!

My favourite hotel ever is Hotel Costes, I love the ‘CD’ series and the aesthetic so I always used to go there when I visited Paris. Now that I live here I use it to work, hold meetings and have a drink.

The French countryside is beautiful and Provence is heaven on Earth. Biarritz reminds me of Noosa and I went to Champagne a couple of weeks ago.

I’m single so meeting French men is an interesting adventure! They are intrigued to meet an Australian as many haven’t done so before.

Bring patience, humour and join as many groups as possible on Facebook, LinkedIn and Meetups to start to build friendships and a business network.

Thank you to Ava Lawrence for this interview. You can contact her at Pawmetrics

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