Vivatech Paris 2019 just ended and wow… what an exciting event it was!

9000+ startups, 100.000+ attendees from 125 countries. Startups, innovators, bright minds, investors, capital owners, freelancers and random people passionate about technology, all joined together in Paris for three days in one of the most important European tech events to discuss about positive innovation and tomorrow’s possibilities in GreenTech, HealthTech, EduTech, FinTech & Positive Banking, MarTech, AgriTech, Mobility, Smart cities, and Artificial Intelligence sectors.

  1. Positive innovation in European startups and (the lack of) European Unicorns

Each European country dreams of having an increasing number of unicorns (companies valued at more than $1 billion). France, for example, has pledged to have 20 unicorns by 2025, an ambitious goal! However, Europe was not very successful at creating and launching unicorns, if we are to compare it with the US or China.

“France is maybe the best place to start a company. (…) Paradoxically, it’s a difficult place for small- and medium-sized companies to thrive, a necessary step for building a corporate titan” said Jean-Rémi Kouchakji, co-founder of PayinTech, a Paris-based fintech firm.

Why Europe doesn’t create enough unicorns? Because Europe remains (and is at risk of becoming even more) fragmented. Rules and legislation differ between countries, licensing is needed in each country in some cases.  Also, the growth capital available in Europe is not even close to the US levels. Some funds are available only for a specific country. We should think big. Across Europe we have good technical talent, the EU has made it easier for highly skilled workers to move between EU countries, we have tax facilities for IT engineers & for startups to get off the ground. But as companies grow, they hit the ceiling! “Over 50 people, it’s hell,” said one of the French speakers. Even though the UK is doing better, startups do wary of ramping up too fast and might be one of the reasons why investors have second thoughts when thinking of financing them. Startups do expect more support from the EU to help them scale up across the EU’s 28 member states, which all come with their different cultures, languages, and regulations.

  1. Governments roles in digital development – United Tech in Europe

Both government officials and tech giants reinforced the need of implementing future-proof digital strategies and regulations due to technology’s power to positively transform society, quality of life, businesses and to stimulate local entrepreneurship. Governments have a key role in creating the proper regulatory environment in which businesses can grow, strive, collaborate.

“If you think the technology revolution is a problem, I’m sorry to say a problem just started. If you think it’s an opportunity, the opportunity just started. The only thing is your mentality. If the mentality is now a worry, you’ll worry all the time,” Jack Ma, Alibaba CEO said. “The policies we make have to be smart policies at the smart time. We have to think about the future,” (…) “There is very little we can do to change yesterday, very little we can do to change today, but if we do a little bit today, we can change the future.”

We are facing more challenges every day – a new European Commission, elections in the European Parliament, Brexit and other national isolation movements, the GDPR, competing with an increasingly data-driven business sector in the US and China, market fragmentation for capital and digital services. All these prevent tech companies from taking full advantage of Europe’s market of 500+ million consumers.

There were many panels about the role of government in balancing the need for speed (5G) or the means to ensure that AI will be used for good. Technology need to be adopted in Europe in ways that protect democracy and data privacy.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence was the star of the event and, if we get it right, it could have huge impact on the economy, on global security & defense, and it could generate broad social, health & well-being benefits.  AI will boost productivity growth and could replace “dirty” or dangerous tasks. According to a report by the World Economic forum and McKinsey, AI could add up to €2.7 trillion to European economic output by 2030. If London wants to be the capital of FinTech, Paris’ ambition is to be the AI technologies capital.

One of the main speakers about AI was Facebook’s chief scientist, Yann LeCun. He said that Europe has the most critical elements in place. “France in particular, and Europe in general, have very good educational systems, and so they have some very good talent” he said. However, European companies are not investing enough in long-term digital research. He also referred to the AI ethics debate, giving as an example the AI-driven facial recognition services from China. What for the Westerners seemed like a horror scenario, for the Chinese is kind of normal, they even perceive it as a mean to increase security.

Referring to the same ethical concerns, former chess champion Garry Kasparov said “It’s not about AI being evil,” Kasparov said. “It’s about humans.”

Alibaba founder Jack Ma was pretty dismissive when speaking about AI’s potential dangers. Alibaba is deploying AI massively to eliminate fraud and scams and he claims that fraud management wouldn’t be possible for Alibaba without using AI. “I worry about Europe. I worry about the worries of Europe. You worry, ‘Oh, we don’t have the solution for artificial intelligence!

Oh, it’s going to destroy jobs! Let me tell you about artificial intelligence. We are using it to catch bad guys.” he said.

We’ve seen AI-powered dermatologists (a “skin consultant”), APIs that enables tech teams to quickly deploy and run AIs, enterprise AI enablers that accelerate development of Deep Learning algorithms, by decoding data streams to deliver self-learning services (Craft AI), AIs that create seamless mobile UX based on intent detected from text conversations (Biggerpan), AI data assistants, and much more.

  1. Robots, air taxis, drones and exoskeletons are no longer just SF movies scenarios

Autonomous, artificial intelligent robots were everywhere across the show floor helping visitors find their way, browse through the presentation schedule, or even play games. At the entrance Heasy, a robot tall as a person was welcoming us. Pepper robots were peppering across the conference halls to offer assistance.  Cruzr was demonstrating how the bot could be used for room service in a hotel whilst Diya One X was wondering around as a mobile air purifier through which you could see information about lighting, humidity, temperature or noise levels.

vivatech_robot_1805a AFP Picturesvivatech_robot_1805c AFP PICvivatech_robot_1805b AFP PICvivatech_robot_1805d AFP PIC

credit: AFP pictures

Robots using autonomous vehicle technology are now being tested and deployed to carry goods and heavy equipment across busy cities. Supermarkets are testing droids to carry shopping for elderly. Utility companies are testing them to carry tools and heavy equipment for their workers.

There are more than 20 serious flying car projects underway, even Uber is looking into “flying taxis”.

German firm Lilium, although still waiting to be certified, presented their ‘air taxi’ machine, with a capacity of five – a futuristic replacement to a helicopter but smaller, quieter and cheaper.  You can watch their presentation video here.

Airbus and the Paris metro announced they are planning to study the viability of adding flying vehicles to the transport options commuters can enjoy.

Drones are still poular. Some were equipped with cameras that people could see through by using a virtual reality headset were presented at Vivatech, other were built to monitor the ocean, or to release seeds to restore natural ecosystems.

  1. Tech4Good

There is a growing hype around Tech4Good and this makes me really excited! Samsung CEO announced a 10 million USD challenge – Global Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC). Tech for a Better World. Technology’s first goal should be to improve the quality of life on earth. The initiative aim to stimulate and support a new generation of innovators to address the world’s biggest problems, as defined by the United Nations General Assembly in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to shape global development: Good health and Well-Being, investments in industries innovation and infrastructure, clean water and sanitation, life below water, zero hunger, access to quality education for every child, responsible production and consumption, no poverty, gender equality, reduced inequalities, affordable and clean energy, climate change, animal and plant protection, decent work and economic growth, peace and justice, sustainable cities and communities.

From the reversibility of climate change, to saving endangered species of plants and animals, restoring natural ecosystems, to concrete use cases around how to better use technology to save the planet or reduce poverty, sustainability was at the heart of many conversations, most speakers trying to find ways in which technology can be a positive force for the economy, society and humanity.

Noteworthy startup positive innovation that caught my attention during Vivatech:

GreenTech

  • recycled smartphones to monitor the Amazon rainforest
  • drones that monitor the ocean or release seeds to restore natural ecosystems
  • smart devices for high precision rain measurements and forecasts useful for weather-sensitive economic activities (HD Rain)
  • a kiosk that collects disposable plastic cups from private and public institutions and recycles them, making objects (GobUse)
  • E2E service for electric vehicle charging stations at home, at work or in public spaces: installation, tax benefits, maintenance, billing (Zephyre).

SocialTech

  • “tech for refugees” solutions & supporting the inclusion of refugees and displaced people in the tech industry
  • apps that measures the social and environmental impact of your everyday life
  • apps that reward responsible driving behavior
  • apps that makes it easy for elderly of people with disabilities to navigate the web

AgriTech + FoodTech startups

  • Blockchain used for food or wine chain transparency, tracking products as they go through the food chain in real time (Connecting Food)
  • Easy to use E2E operating system for the hospitality industry Food Detective).
  • Various farming solutions that include AI decision support tools (Sowit)

MedTech

  • Personalized drug-free therapy based on VR technology for chronic pain sufferer (PainkillAR)
  • AI based solution used to answer questions about medication (Posos)
  • AI used to analyse radiology results and medical imaging (Incepto Medical)

EdTech + KidsTech

  • Personalized and interactive educational apps
  • Interactive player for kids to be able to listen to their music and stories without spending time on a screen (Padam)
  • Smart vocal assistants and chatbox for teaching mathematic fundamentals to kids (Prof en Poche or Yokimi)
  • Solution that transforms colouring pages into animated cartoons (Wakatoon)

HealthTech

Visionary pharma companies should place digital health at the heart of their strategy — and partner with startups, schools, hospitals, and corporations in the healthcare space.

  • Wearable health gadgets
  • Mental health apps
  • Apps to manage stress

HRTech

  • AI used for candidate assessment
  • Virtual reality trainings solutions
  • Gamification used to upskill workers
  1. 5G network rollout

The rolling out of the 5G network has been a hot topic during Vivatech. President Macron warned against the 5G battle between China and the US: “When it comes to 5G, we are being very careful over the access to the technologies in this network in order to preserve our national security. (…) France and Europe are pragmatic and realistic. We want to develop employment, business, innovation. We believe in cooperation and multilateralism”. This comes after Washington announced last week that Huawei, a major investor in 5G research, would be blacklisted in an effort to protect US companies. That means US companies might need a license to continue supplying Huawei telecom equipment with crucial components.

In the future 5G networks will power revolutionary new technologies such as artificial intelligence, driverless car, automated gadgets, advanced holograms and many more.

  1. African startup ecosystem on the rise

More than 100 startups from Africa attended Vivatech. Mario Sander, the World Bank representative in Europe, told Vivatech attendees that the agency helps African ventures with millions of dollars, organises mentoring programmes and stimulates collaboration between african entrepreneurs and tech giants such as Google.

A few interesting African startups:

  • In Agriculture, for crop performance optimization: Aerobotics uses images from drones and satellites and machine learning algorithms for early problem detection on tree and wine farms. Another startup, HomeFarm IoT, is a crop-growing app that helps users grow a variety of micro-greens from home.
  • AI in manufacturing: DataProphet AI-enabled dynamic parameter optimisation for manufacturing
  • In Smart energy: OniriQ is designing next-gen Solar Home Systems (SHS) for African populations living off-grid (600 million people).
  • Safety tech Guardian Gabriel provides a wearable panic button that works with no connection to a smartphone
  • Fintech PayDunya is a global online payment service for Africans that allows customers to send and receive payments from mobile money wallets, credit cards and cash and allows users to get paid and sell online without the need of a website.
  1. Cybersecurity

As technology advances, so do cybersecurity threats.

IoT will increasingly be a major source of vulnerability for consumers and enterprises, phishing attacks by email get more personalized, AI cyberattacks scenarios become real, industrial IoT could be used to attack underlying multi-tenant, multi-customer environments cloud infrastructures or software vulnerabilities and design flaws can be easily exploited – read about the Facebook and Google Plus attacks and their massive impact.

Startups like Crypto Quantique (they offer an end-to-end security platform for the IoT by combining cryptography and quantum technologies), Dathena (a universal layer of data and privacy protection enabling end-to-end information security based on their patented Artificial Intelligence technology), Nanolock Security (a platform to manage and protect IoT and Connected Devices from network and cloud attacks)  try to tackle this challenges.

  1. Giants focused on the cloud and AI

Amazon showcased startups using AWS to power their business at scale.

Google focused on their cloud offering. It was nice to read their AI principles on one of the walls in the booth:

  • Be socially beneficial
  • Avoid creating of reinforcing unfair bias
  • Be built and tested for safety
  • Be accountable to people
  • Incorporate privacy design principles
  • Uphold high standards of scientific excellence
  • Be made available for uses that accord with these principles
  1. My favorite speaker: Jack Ma, Alibaba Founder and CEO

Jack Ma spoke about the significant positive impact technology can have on the world, and about tech giants responsibility to see and explore this opportunity.

“Everything we innovate is to enable others to succeed – to make it easy for small businesses to do business.” And they manage to do it very well. They created more then 40 million jobs directly and indirectly in China. There are 10+ million small business sellers. Disabled people, or people living remotely in rural areas, can also sell online. The domestic logistics industry is in part driven by e-commerce, international trade is also supported by easy access to information about Chinese manufacturers and much more.

“We are focused on the three Es: E-government for efficiency. Entrepreneurs to create the future and realize their dreams. Education, so that Africa will have lots of talented people,” Ma said.

He also mentioned the governments key role, by creating the right regulatory environment to help such innovation happen.

“Alibaba’s vision, which will be driven by my successor CEO Daniel Zhang, is that by 2036 Alibaba wants to have a digital economy to create 100 million jobs, serve 2 billion consumers and support 10 million profitable businesses on our platform,” Ma said at Viva Tech. “We are working to enable global buy, global sell, global pay, global delivery and global travel for everyone.”

He also wants to shift his focus into new directions: “I believe I can do better in 3 areas: supporting entrepreneurs, education and fighting for more women leaders.”

We all have a responsibility to contribute to making the world a better place. Technology can help us achieve this.

See you at Vivatech 2020!