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25 French unicorns, 25 French unicorns, do I hear 100?

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My home country's president, Emmanuel Macron, wants to have 100 French unicorns by 2030. Economy minister Bruno Le Maire, 10 homegrown decacorns. But shouldn't we all dream of centaurs instead? Let's explore.  —Anna

Moderation brewing

There must be 100 French unicorns by 2030, Macron said at the VivaTech conference in Paris earlier this month. “It is achievable,” he later argued on Twitter. “And because startups have a role to play in the ecological transition, let's set another goal: 25 green unicorns by 2030!”

It isn't new for Macron to set unicorn-related goals for the country. He famously already did so in 2019, when he wished for the country to count “25 unicorns by 2025.” And despite some debate around France's exact unicorn tally, the consensus is that Macron's goal has actually been reached this year.

French economic newspaper “La Tribune” did the math: For France to be home to 100 unicorns by 2030, it will need to add nine or 10 unicorns a year. According to the newspaper, this makes Macron's goal “quite realistic, or even unambitious.” Why? Because in 2021, “La French Tech” “generated 11 new unicorns, which is more than the pace predicted by the President's forecast for the next eight years.” However, that would still be a lot faster than in 2019 or 2020.

Speed aside, France's goal doesn't seem terribly aspiring when put into a global perspective. India, for instance, recently crowned its 100th unicorn, Bengaluru-headquartered neobank Open. Sure, France has a population of only 67.39 million, compared to more than 1.38 billion in India. But it's not just about population size. For France to be on par with the U.S. in terms of unicorns per capita, it should already have 130, BlaBlaCar founder Frédéric Mazzella told Les Échos in an interview.

However, the market has turned on startups in recent months, which doesn't exactly support overly ambitious goals. France minted a bunch of unicorns in January of this year, but those deals were presumably born out of late 2021 dealmaking, when capital flowed more freely. That euphoria is long gone, and young unicorns are becoming a rare animal once again.

Furthermore, aside from Deezer's SPAC plans, IPOs seem to be paused in France as much as they are in the U.S. That means that French unicorns are likely to stay private longer, keeping their number artificially high. And with the inertia of them having already raised mega-rounds and needing more cash, those who don't see their valuations slashed will perhaps become pentacorns or even decacorns.

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