How to start a cleantech business in France

Last updated: 13 June 2023 Views: 3009
How to start a cleantech business in France

It seems the world is finally waking up to the realities of climate change. Big polluters such as China and India have made major commitments to reduce pollution, while the Paris Agreement represents a monumental international effort.

As such, there’s never been a better time to start a business in cleantech and renewable energy. And there are few better places to do it than France. With European R&D funding, free movement of talent and burgeoning tech hubs across the country, France is at the forefront of the cleantech future. Here then are a few things to consider before you can change the world.


Pick a location

France has chased the tech industry with a steely determination, and their approach has already borne fruit. The Industry of the Future initiative has led to enormous investment, and the creation of numerous tech hubs in France.

Links have also been established internationally, with foreign French tech hubs and strong links with Canada, such as the relationship with Écotech Québec. These connections have made France an ideal platform for tech companies to sell their products abroad and continue to expand. The results are clear, with France boasting the largest foreign delegation of startups at the last two Consumer Electronics Show events.

Related article: Start a Business in France in 8 Easy Steps

A big part of recent government policy has been the French Tech scheme, which has established several cities and regions as hubs for different tech businesses. France now boasts a wider spread of tech companies than any of its neighbours, with outposts in fifteen cities including Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lyon, Nice and Montpellier. Which one is best for you may depend on local expenses, established companies and proximity to manufacturers.

Attend cleantech events

As with so many areas of tech, cleantech is an open and collaborative business. While one lone coder or engineer may have a great idea, it often takes a chance meeting with like-minded individuals to turn this into a successful business.

The Cleantech Forum Europe event is regularly hosted in France, with 2016’s event taking place in Lyon, a city with a particular focus on cleantech and biotech. There are also numerous general tech conferences, with large events like La Digital Tech Conference and the La French Touch Conference, designed to build bridges abroad.

Tech hub cities will often host smaller networking events too. One of the best emerging trends through which you can find keen partners is the hackathon: a collection of cleantech coders, engineers and entrepreneurs spitballing new ideas.

Take this example in Ukraine, which spawned numerous successful cleantech companies. If you’re outside France, an event like this could be the catalyst to bringing your business here.

Take advantage of Tech funding and subsidies

One of the biggest advantages of forming a tech company in the EU is the Horizon 2020 programme. This scheme provides 80bn euros of R&D grants between 2014 and 2020. Designed to boost innovation across the Eurozone, it aims to get projects off the ground quickly, with minimal red tape and broad eligibility for all sizes of business. Grants also exist for developments in smart cities technology, a massive growth area for cleantech solutions.

There are several unique funding benefits to incorporating in France, too:

  • The country offers an excellent R&D tax credit, with 30% of expenses up to 100m euros.
  • There is also a separate innovation tax credit, offering 20% of innovation R&D expenses up to 400,000 euros, plus a full year of corporate income tax exemption.

Investment funding is also freely available in France. Public investment bank BpiFrance spent more than any other investor in Europe in 2016, with total tech investment in France last year totalling 2.72bn euros. That’s a rise of well over a billion euros on 2015, and demonstrates a trend that saw more deals struck in France last year than anywhere else tracked by

Stick to your strengths

There’s a misconception around any kind of tech business that you have to invent something amazing. If you have the skilland funding to create a miniature fusion generator, then that’s obviously fantastic. But innovation in the tech business doesn’t have to be wholly technological. It can err more on the side of making a great business that also makes tech.

You might not be able to develop a new kind of battery or capacitor, but you could still manufacture, install or repair them. You could offer consulting on how to save energy, connecting businesses with multiple companies who can help them hit escalating energy targets. Innovation can involve practices and services, bridging the gap between creatives and business people.

Be cost conscious

Consumers and businesses have a desire to be eco-friendly and environmentally conscious. The weather is making a pretty strong case for taking a stand, and governments are imposing targets on businesses and their buildings. But people also aren’t willing or necessarily able to overspend. This is particularly true at a time of continuing economic uncertainty across the world, especially in Europe.

Cleantech is hitting a renewed wave of interest, but it’s also facing up to certain threats. For the best chance at securing contracts with big businesses and governments - who may not stick to targets imposed by the Paris Convention etc - your value proposition needs to go beyond the moral imperative. Coming up with budget affordable solutions may be the most palatable option and best way forward.


Follow energy legislation

The Paris Agreement bound many of the world’s biggest nations to a broad promise: to keep global average temperature rises below 2°C. Individual nations have presented different plans to achieve this, and France’s is one of the more comprehensive. Following on from targets set in 2014, France has made a renewed commitment to increasing its renewable energy capacity.

The Plan de programmation pluriannuelle de l'Energie (PPE) sets out objectives to be achieved between 2016 and 2023. The result will be to double the current rate of installations, with particular growth for solar and onshore wind power.

France is already going strong in this regard, with 2015 installations of wind power increasing 23.3%, and solar increasing by 25%. Reducing France’s current reliance on nuclear power is a major aim, with the hope to reduce it to 50% by 2025. The ability for renewables to plug this gap could leave you with a big windfall.

If you’re interested in becoming a cleantech entrepreneur in France and need help opening your company, opening a French bank account or finding an English-speaking French accountant or if you need help with visas and immigration, you can download our free guide below and either call us on 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us through our contact page. We’ll be happy to help you on your way to opening your cleantech company in France!

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