Nicolas Dufourcq, CEO of Bpifrance, France's national wealth fund.

Paris 2024
"When you fly from Tel Aviv to New York, why don't you stop in Paris?"

Nicolas Dufourcq, CEO of Bpifrance, the French public sector investment bank, posed this question at the closing event of the business delegation to Paris

"In these days of war in Israel, the question arises whether we need to examine our French solidarity with Israel. My answer was and remains: 'We have nothing to examine,'" said Nicolas Dufourcq, CEO of Bpifrance, the French public sector investment bank, speaking at the closing event of the Calcalist and Bank Hapoalim business delegation to Paris. "Solidarity between the countries should remain as it has always been. You should look not at the last year or two, but at the ties between Israel and France over the last 70 years. France has a large Jewish population of half a million people and a large Muslim population. And it works. It is very similar to what is happening with you in Israel."
Dufourcq recounted the beginning of the fund's establishment about a decade ago. "Actually, the idea of BPI started during my visit to Israel at the beginning of 2013. I received a phone call from one of the president's advisers—I'd worked in the technology ecosystem for 20 years—and that adviser asked me what could be done to promote France as a technological country? Everyone knew us as the country of wine, so much so that they forgot we were originally an industrial country.
1 View gallery
כנס פריז  Bpifrance ניקולס דופורק מנכ"ל קרן ההשקעות הלאומית של צרפת
כנס פריז  Bpifrance ניקולס דופורק מנכ"ל קרן ההשקעות הלאומית של צרפת
Nicolas Dufourcq, CEO of Bpifrance, France's national wealth fund.
(Photo: Avigail Uzi)
"I was very impressed by the achievements of the Israeli market with the concept of the Startup Nation and I asked myself, 'Why don't we do the same?' Let's copy them. It worked for Israel. It started with a small number calling Israel a 'startup nation' and suddenly the whole world started treating Israel as such," said Dufourcq.
"BPI's values, especially these days, are first and foremost optimism. The second thing is determination and the third is simplicity. We wanted to double the number of entrepreneurial companies in France and show that the new lifestyle in the country is entrepreneurship. And I think we succeeded in that. When I look at the children of my generation, they all want to be entrepreneurs or start up their own businesses. Ten years ago, people thought they didn't have the right to do it. Today, there is a feeling that it is possible to do it."
The investment fund under his management does not solely focus on high-tech business entrepreneurs, and in the last decade since its establishment, it has managed to grow rapidly. "In the beginning, we said we wanted three funds managing over a billion euros. That was in 2013. Today, we have 50 such funds. This dynamic of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial support has started and it will not change. It changes the landscape of the entire country. It changes society. It is changing the universities that have become so business and entrepreneurship oriented. The new generation of researchers is now driven by economic growth," Dufourcq noted.
Another effect that Dufourcq sees in the investments made by BPI concerns social changes throughout the country: "Another area where we focus is the suburbs of France. There are many people there, and those who read newspapers mainly read about how these areas were 'lost in the Republic.' But most of these suburbs are starting to grow thanks to entrepreneurs who are building businesses there. This new generation of entrepreneurs is changing the future of French society. These people don't want to be hired workers. They want to be entrepreneurs and own their own businesses."
In response to a question from Fiona Darmon, managing partner at Sunvest Capital Partners, who moderated the closing event on the connection between France and Israel in the entrepreneurial arena, Dufourcq said: "When you fly from Tel Aviv to New York, why don't you stop in Paris? That's what I've always said, and I say it again today. You need to understand the wealth of the French ecosystem. You will be pleasantly surprised. We invest in French entrepreneurs who are linked to Israel and who have operations in Israel. It's not a lot of money, but it exists. We provide insurance for small investments in Israel and we invest in Israel through our local funds."
Dov Kotler, CEO of Bank Hapoalim, was interested in the possibility of BPI investing directly in Israel with an emphasis on the local high-tech scene. Dufourcq replied: "Our mandate is to support French entrepreneurs. But there are entrepreneurs we support who also operate in Israel and encourage activity there. We give those entrepreneurs the financial ability to make investments in Israel, sometimes also through local venture capital funds.
"We finance all entrepreneurs," Dufourcq added. "Not only in high-tech. Of the 220 billion euros we have invested, we have a portfolio of 20 billion euros that is invested in technology. Beyond that, we give loans to innovative initiatives. And this portfolio is growing all the time. If you hear about an entrepreneur leaving France because he has trouble raising financing here, his business is probably bad. Good businesses get our support and part of it is invested through them in Israel as well."