The organizers of the Connected Conference paid for my airfare and hotel to the event. VentureBeat’s coverage remains objective.
When it comes to making a mark in the next wave of technology, Europe in general — and France specifically — have taken dead aim at trying to seize a leadership role in the Internet of Things.
Along with cloud computing and Big Data, the region sees IoT as a place where its industrial history of making physical goods and its research capabilities could provide a springboard to create a thriving startup economy that resuscitates the continent’s stagnant economies. Unlike areas such as search and social, which are dominated by Google and Facebook, IoT isn’t controlled by a single player, creating an opening for European companies. Or such is the hope.
In recent years, the European Commission and the French government have launched a number of initiatives to promote gadgets, platforms, and services that connect to the Internet. The fruits of these and other efforts will be highlighted during the three-day Connected Conference, a gathering hosted by the Paris-based Rude Baguette technology blog and held tomorrow through Saturday in Paris.
The conference is also being sponsored by Autodesk, and VentureBeat is a media partner. I’ll be there moderating two panels this week, on Big Data and 3-D printing.
In advance of the conference, I chatted with Liam Boogar, the founder of Rude Baguette. Boogar is a Silicon Valley ex-pat who has lived in Paris for several years now; he has made Rude Baguette a provocative, English-language observer of the triumphs and tribulations of France’s growing startup scene.
Boogar falls squarely in the camp of people who believe that IoT has the potential to cause an even greater wave of disruption than what we’ve seen with mobile and the Internet over the past two decades.
“What we’re seeing is this second wave of the Internet coming through,” Boogar said. “And anyone who was safe in the first wave is now at risk of being disrupted by this next wave. That’s what we call the Internet-enabled economy.”
That includes cars, medical devices, sports, appliances — just about any industry that involves some piece of hardware that can now be embedded with a sensor and connected to the Internet. Boogar agrees that Europe has some advantages in this area because of its history of building things like cars and refrigerators.
Last year, the French government announced an ambitious plan called “Nouvelle France Industrielle” that aimed to promote innovation and development in sectors such as IoT, among others. The plan includes a number of initiatives, such as creating an industrial site in France that focuses on developing and producing connected devices. The government is also spending $17 million to turn the town of Anger into France’s first connected town.
Already, the country can boast of some serious success stories, such as Parrot with its drones and Withings with its variety of connected devices. More recently, Sigfox, which makes an IoT platform, in February raised $115 million, the biggest round of venture capital in French history.
On the European level, the European Commission earlier this year announced the creation of the Alliance For The Internet Of Things Innovation. The organization brings together universities, research organizations, and companies to develop systems and platforms for IoT devices. The group will try to promote smart cities, smart farms, wearables, and standards that ease interoperability.
“Europe has today a unique opportunity to use the Internet of Things to rejuvenate its industry, deal with its aging population, and transform its cities into bustling innovation hubs,” said Gunther Oettinger, EC commissioner for digital economy and society, at an event March to announce the initiatives. “Europe can become a leader in this field, and European players can emerge as winners in the Internet of Things industrial revolution. I am committed to support this process and tackle remaining obstacles in the Digital Single Market.”
To spur even more development, Kickstarter today launched in France to enable even more crowdfunded projects. Among the projects being highlighted are the Mixfader, a smart DJ device from Paris-based Edjing, which makes one of the most popular DJ apps.
The Connected Conference will feature executives from companies such as Kickstarter, Sigfox, and Alcatel, as well as a healthy list of venture capitalists who work in this area. Boogar said the momentum and the opportunity is there for France if it can capitalize on its assets and accelerate its role in the connected economy.
“We see an opportunity for Paris to be a European hub for IoT,” Boogar said.