There is no longer any need for an entrepreneur from Martinique to go over to mainland France to find an incubator for his/her startup. An ecosystem for startups is now emerging in the French Overseas Department in the Antilles.
Interview, during a L'Atelier numérique (L’Atelier Digital) broadcast on the BFM Business channel, with Steve Bercy, an engineer by training who has founded a startup called airZoon. He has been in Martinique for three years and has initiated and co-organised several local hotspot venues for startups and entrepreneurs.
L’Atelier: When you first arrived in Martinique from Paris three years ago, were the new information and communication technologies as widely used there as in mainland France?
Steve BERCY: When I first arrived I felt an enormous gap between the situation in Martinique and everything you can see in Paris – huge agencies, startups,etc. Here, for example geolocation was still regarded as a form of espionage! Moreover, the BlackBerry was then the dominant device and what was striking was that there was no unlimited use subscription service for mobile telephony. Nor had e-commerce really caught on either. Some companies had an online presence only because their competitors did. Coming as I do from a web-marketing culture, this sluggishness was just amazing.
So as recently as three years ago Martinique was being very slow to move on mobile services. Today, in 2014, has the country caught up? And if so, how?
Yes, things have changed a great deal since then. Two years ago, Digicel – a local telecoms operator working throughout the Caribbean – launched an unlimited use plan, in the same vein as [French telecoms provider] Free, which was launching its unlimited call packages at the same time. Everybody jumped at the new service. Smartphones with Android operating systems also came on to the market. This is how the new technologies became part of people’s everyday habits very quickly.
Has this opening up to the new technologies stimulated the emergence of startups?
Well, we now have local branches of all the major startup assistance institutions here. For example, Martinique Pionnières, a branch of the Fédération Pionnières*, is here, and also Initiative Martinique, which elsewhere is known as Initiative France**, from the Réseau Entreprendre***. So there are a number of support entities which provide assistance to entrepreneurs and help them to raise seed funding. So yes, over the last two years the ecosystem has been evolving very quickly.
* a network of creative women’s startups and incubators developing innovative service solutions
** a not-for-profit association offering interest-free loans to people setting up their own companies
*** an organisation providing support to entrepreneurs