The French entrepreneurs are coming

The single message of last week's Open World Forum was this. The entrepreneurs are coming. It's a French world, you know.

The single message of last week's Open World Forum was this.

The entrepreneurs are coming. It's a French word, you know.

This has always been the case, since the forum was established two years ago, acknowledged founder Jean-Pierre Laisne (right).

He works for Bull as director of open source strategy, and when I started as a tech writer almost 30 years ago Bull was still a name to conjure with.

“Bull used to be a huge company. Now it's an ordinary company. Hardware is a commodity. We needed to rethink how we were going to market. For that open source helped us sell our hardware, plus we can add value, and identify new markets.”

Among the entrepreneurs being nurtured is Jean-Noel de Galzain of Wallix, a security software firm that recently opened an office in New York.

Messr. de Galzain was among the few speakers I saw at OWF in a suit and tie, and among the most comfortable in that uniform. Except for the accent, speaking with him was like speaking with a New Yorker. He knows his stuff and talks fast.

“We offer our basic competence and people download that every day. Then we have the high end product which they can put into production. We have appliances, a range of appliances which have been organized, qualified with things like VMWare environments.”

Another new transatlantic commuter is Stefane Fermigier, founder of Nuxeo. His American office is in the Boston area.

“This is 100% open source. We're into selling support and maintenance. We have only the one product. We sell support through subscriptions, like JBOSS and RedHat.”

And here's the pitch. “When someone deploys an enterprise application we want it to be running 5-10 years from now. They need long term support. And since it's not turnkey, we have to provide a lot of customization.” That's where the money is.”

My favorite of the lot, however, was the current president of OWF, Philippe Montarges of Alter Way. Maybe because he seemed the most American.

Alter Way is a competitive ISP, a web hosting and consulting company. ISPs can't move about like software companies can. To become competitive, he must depend on France, on his home market.

“We are involved in the creative destruction,” he said in his speech to the forum, and then later, in the press room, he elaborated.

At its present run rate of about 10 million Euros per year, Alter Way must run lean and mean. It has to push price, and value. His goal is to compete for larger government contracts (something I criticized last week) but to get there he needs to be three times the present size.

Part of me hopes he gets there, because you like to see people succeed. But part of me hopes he doesn't, because contracting can ruin a business for the competitive market.

Which, in a way, is the story of the French tech industry. More on that tomorrow.

NOTE: My plane fare and hotel costs in Paris were picked up by the Open World Forum upon my return.

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