In 2018, Nesta developed a new framework for thinking about how innovation policies could be more inclusive. Based on a comparative study of innovation policies in different countries, the framework engages with questions of who benefits from innovation, who gets to participate in producing innovation, and who gets to decide what innovations are prioritised and supported.
Since then, we have been working with partners to develop and practically apply these ideas. For example, earlier this year, we published a report with UNDP on Strategies for supporting inclusive innovation in South-East Asia.
We have also been collaborating with Dr. Robyn Klingler-Vidra at King’s College London, engaging with students to encourage them to think about how the framework can be used to assess and improve policymaking with respect to promoting more inclusive forms of innovation.
This blog is the result of our collaboration. Three students from the Political Economy of Entrepreneurship module that Dr. Klingler-Vidra leads at King’s College London have worked together to analyse a specific entrepreneurship promotion policy in France, assessing the ways in which it supports inclusive innovation and suggesting how it could be improved. We hope this will inspire others to think about practical applications of the framework, to help develop and improve it further.
The French Tech’s 'Tremplin'
The French Tech’s efforts to promote diversity in entrepreneurship are impressively inclusive, but would benefit from more funding and further analysis of the outcomes.
In an effort to promote digital startups and job creation as well as fostering growth through innovation, the French government launched ‘La French Tech' in 2013. This broad movement aims to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem, both in metropolitan France and internationally. It also serves as a showcase for the promotion of inclusive and diverse entrepreneurship. One of the main policies of this comprehensive ecosystem is the ‘French Tech Tremplin’, which is an incubator scheme that provides selected projects across France with training and financial support. Here, we’ll analyse the design of the policy, focus on its inclusive characteristics, and look at how it could be improved.
What is the Tremplin?
The Tremplin (which translates as a ‘springboard’) was launched in 2019 (building on an earlier programme called French Tech Diversité) and is organised in two stages. The first - ‘Preparation' - is centred around acquiring the skills necessary to lead the participants’ projects, then being linked with a network of entrepreneurs and mentors. The second - 'Incubation' - aims to provide young startups with the tools to achieve rapid growth by placing them with partner incubators and accelerators. Throughout, Tremplin includes specific training, support, and funding across thirteen hubs. Candidates are selected for their project and background.
The Tremplin was initiated as an alternative means to create startups in a highly unequal business landscape in France. La French Tech has sorely lacked the diversity it prides itself on, with 90% of startups founded by men and 71% of founders coming from the elite French 'grandes écoles'.
The French Tech Tremplin is supposed to target disadvantaged people who lack financial opportunities, network and training. This programme is therefore aimed at recipients of social aid, scholarship holders, inhabitants of priority neighbourhoods, and refugees. A glance at the details of the first cohort of 145 participants reveals the diversity of the people selected - both in terms of gender and geographical location. This first impression will need to be nuanced based on the actual level of support given to these entrepreneurs and the scheme’s future outcomes. This analysis acknowledges the difficulty to assess such a recent policy as we do not have access to empirical evidence on the success of the cohort’s startups. Nevertheless, we will analyse the policy goals and use other evidence to take a critical look at the policy.
How inclusive is the Tremplin?
To assess the inclusivity of the French Tech Tremplin, we are using four dimensions of inclusiveness identified in Nesta’s framework on inclusiveness in innovation policy.
Ways in which it could be improved
The Tremplin should be scaled up while using the current participants as future mentors to increase the overall impact of the policy, while also improving the governance of innovation. According to startups research, a key part of the incubator / accelerator experience is the networking - both with peers and potential investors. The limited cohort size (145 participants) spread across 13 different locations limits the possibility for network effects among the participants. The Tremplin’s funding should be increased so that cohort sizes can be expanded. To ensure the program remains inclusive while it is scaled up, current participants should be encouraged to become mentors and participate in the governance and design of future iterations of the program.
Childcare grants and increased flexibility for participants are required to bolster the inclusiveness of the Tremplin. Though the stated goals for the participation of innovation are positive, the reality means that potential participants with care commitments may be unable to attend the program. Only 5000 EUR of the 20,000 EUR grant can be used for living expenses, which is unlikely to be sufficient for many participants - but particularly those living with others they have to support or care for. The 35 hour a week minimum time commitment makes it more difficult for parents and carers to participate.
More data is needed to fully assess the success of the program. Although the identity of the 145 participants is published, the French Tech should disclose what percentage of participants are refugees, scholarship recipients, or come from under-privileged areas to see which groups they are succeeding in attracting to the program. In addition, a framework to analyse the effectiveness of the policy in promoting inclusive entrepreneurship is needed. This would expand upon the existing Nesta framework that analyses goals and policy design, but not outcomes.
Given the privileged backgrounds of many in the French startup scene the Tremplin’s support for under-represented entrepreneurs is key. We believe the policy’s design is inclusive according to most of the Nesta framework. Nevertheless, the Tremplin's governance should be more inclusive and more funding is needed to scale up the program and provide larger living grants. Future research will be needed to assess whether the Tremplin is successful in equipping entrepreneurs with the skills their startups need to succeed.