French American Business Awards. Photo: Octamedia Productions

The Sixth Annual French American Business Awards (FABA) ceremonies Host was Clara Bijl who calls herself an internationally-unknown French stand-up comedian from America. She balanced with humour the serious parts of the awards dinner, including one insightful joke.

“Have you heard the attitude of French Alexa?” Clara asked the audience of 300 guests at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco.

Q: French Alexa, can you play Mozart?

A: Non, I don’t want to listen to music right now.

Q: French Alexa, play Mozart.

A: Non.

Q: French Alexa, play music.

A: You cannot make me.

Host Clara Bijl at FABA. Photo: Octamedia Productions

The joke is that the French attitude is stubborn and they want to do it their own way. But the FABA awards, organized by the French-American Chamber of Commerce San Francisco (FACCSF), showed that the French way can be very successful if French innovation is blended with the global business marketplace.

“We have not always been good at bringing our science achievements to business” said Emmanuel LeBrun-Damiens, Consul General of France in San Francisco. “But France needs to make money out of its creations, so the government made a series of reforms to make it easier to invest in France and for French companies to succeed faster. There is money to be made in technology (and French business), and there was a fear of missing out.”

The French are not missing out now. France is rated 5th in the world ranking for foreign investment attractiveness, according to the 2019 A.T. Kearney Confidence Index. LeBrun-Damiens, also says France has maintained its 25% growth level in 2018 of American companies who decide to bring their businesses to France. Plus, France is the 6th largest investor in the US and has created 700,000 jobs.

Emmanuel LeBrun-Damiens, Consul General of France in SF. Photo: Octamedia Productions

“The reforms in France are attracting American companies,” LeBrun-Damiens said.

Investment was a theme at this year’s FABA. It was not just about high tech but broadened to include investors in France and French influence in the arts.

“We look for talents in all the sectors and industries covered by the FACCSF from tech to wine, retail and beyond– as this is what makes our ecosystem so rich and diverse,” said Laurence Fabre, Executive Director of FACCSF. “Our objective is to find success stories and role models that can inspire others to succeed and we don’t want to limit our options.”

The winners of the FABA reflected that variety. Ron Conway, SV Angel Founder and Co-Managing Partner, was given the French Spirit Investor Award. Leading French sports products company Decathlon was awarded the Recent French Investment in the Bay Area. For the category French Influence in the Arts, Mathilde Froustey, Principal Dancer at the San Francisco Ballet, was awarded Special Recognition.

French American Business Awards. Photo: Octamedia Productions

Froustey and FABA host Clara are friends so they sat onstage and discussed differences in French and American ballet.

“The Paris Opera Ballet made me do jumps daily at practice for 12 years because I wasn’t as good at them as I was at spinning, and I was not happy about it,” said Froustey. “But they made me be a good dancer in all disciplines. In the US, you are asked to do what you’re good at … they see you as a specialty. That makes you incomplete, but happy.”

Froustey is also a Curator of La Maison, an East Oakland artist-run initiative, venue and residency. It provides a free space for artists to meet, collaborate, perform and exhibit their work.

Of course, wine was involved. Pauline Lhote was awarded Wine Country Personality of the Year. As Director of Winemaking at Domaine Chandon, she is a bubbly, expert representative for the industry. The Franco-American connection was celebrated by awarding Boisset as Wine Country Company of the Year. Nicolas Quillé, Chief Winemaking and Operations Officer at Crimson Wine Group, was given a Special Recognition.

Michel & Augustin sweets, a French entrepreneurial success story. Photo: Octamedia Productions

Of course, there was plenty of tech. Fabien Beckers, CEO of Arterys, was awarded Trends of 2019: Leaders in AI (Artificial Intelligence) Innovation. Arterys provides access to deep learning information and physician collaboration to develop accurate and faster diagnosis for improved patient care. Also, Dr. Luc Julia, CTO and SVP at Samsung Electronics, was given Special Recognition. Julia is recognised as one of the top 100 most influential French developers in the digital world.

The Young Tech Entrepreneurs FABA was given to Sebastien Boyer and Thomas Palomares, co-founders of Farmwise. Farmwise developed an autonomous vegetable weeder to eliminate weeds and replace herbicides. Special Distinction in this category went to Daniel Yanisse and Jonathan Perichon, co-founders of Checkr, which provides modern and compliant applicant background checks.

Two FABAs were given in the Startup of the Year category. The Jury’s Choice Award went to ProcessOut which helps developers deploy applications faster by simplifying the payments, saving on fees and avoiding failed transactions. The People’s Choice Award was awarded to Einstein Studios which uses a virtual reality education system tailored for the strengths of those with dyslexia. Einstein had dyslexia, as did Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci, so it’s not a disability, claims the website.

French American Business Awards. Photo: Octamedia Productions

The Special Leadership Award was given to Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, the largest freelancing website. Talent can be hired locally or worldwide from this online site.

The FACCSF is the second largest in the US (after New York) but is the only one to offer FABAs for their diverse community. According to Antoine Villata, President of FACCSF, other FACCs in the US are looking to duplicate the awards.

“The FABA are an excellent way to deliver on the Chamber’s mission to support and foster the development of French-American businesses,” said Villata.

Q: French Alexa, play FABA.

A: Oui.

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Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

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