PARIS, France – On the eve of LeWeb 2014, France’s digital minister Axelle Lemaire caused a bit of a stir when she was quoted as saying that the country had nothing to learn from Silicon Valley.
On stage today at the LeWeb 2014 Conference in Paris, conference organizer Loic Le Meur asked Lemaire if she really believed that. For the most part, Lemaire said her remarks were aimed at the widening gap between the rich and poor in Silicon Valley.
“Silicon Valley is one of the places in the United States where there are the biggest social inequalities,” Lemaire said. “And what I wish, as a person of responsibility in the government, is that the wealth, which is fantastic, will be a benefit to all.”
Lemaire moved into her post last May, and since then has become a big booster of startups and entrepreneurs across France. She said her various initiatives, however, have the goal of helping not just startups, but all of France.
“It’s for all the whole economy to make their own digital economic revolution,” she said.
Lemaire made her remarks on Monday, during a press conference to announce the creation of a €200 million ($250 millon) fund to invest in startup accelerators across the country. The fund is part of a larger initiative called “La FrenchTech” that identified nine communities across the country that had strong or emerging startup ecosystems.
In response to a journalist’s remark that it would be hard to compete with Silicon Valley, Lemaire argued that innovation was entering a new decentralized era that would be more evenly distributed across regions such as China, India, Africa, and Europe.
“I think it’s part of our genetic nature to compare what is going on in different countries,” Lemaire said at LeWeb. “Silicon Valley is the historical place for the birth of the Internet. And it’s a genius place. It’s created the most fantastic ecosystem in the world.”
But, she added:
“What’s beautiful about the digital economy is that its center is moving very fast,” she said. “Look at China, what’s happened there in just a few years. And there are going to be other places. It can happen anywhere now.”