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French President Macron launches tech visa to make France a 'country of unicorns'

  • A new tech visa seeks to attract international talent to the country
  • "I want France to attract new entrepreneurs, new researchers, and be the nation for innovation and start-ups," the new French president told CNBC
  • Venture capital investment in France hit $1.6 billion in 2016

France launched a technology visa on Thursday which aims to attract international talent, with newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron talking about the need to strip out regulation to become a "country of unicorns".

Speaking at the Viva Tech conference in Paris, France, Macron outlined how his government would slash complex regulation, make it easier for foreign talent to work, and support start-ups with money, in order to create world-leading companies.

The visa is open to start-up founders, employees and investors and is a fast-track procedure to obtain a residence permit in France known as the "Talent Passport". It's valid for four years and extended to immediate family members.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) poses for a selfie as he arrives at the Viva Technology conference dedicated to start-ups development, innovation and digital technology in Paris, France, June 15, 2017.
Martin Bureau | Pool | Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron (C) poses for a selfie as he arrives at the Viva Technology conference dedicated to start-ups development, innovation and digital technology in Paris, France, June 15, 2017.

"I want France to attract new entrepreneurs, new researchers, and be the nation for innovation and start-ups," Macron told CNBC on the sidelines of the event, prior to the announcement.

"I want this country to become a country of unicorns," the French President added later during a keynote speech on Thursday, according to a translation.

Macron said that French talent often leaves the country because the environment is not attractive enough. The key is training and keeping talent in the country.

"The bet of the future for us is to carry on educating our talents, taking our students to the highest levels of academic success. We must defend our educational model, we must help our students go further," Macron said, adding that if they end up going to another country, "they must come back, because here is where the future lies."

Another proposal put forward by Macron was a European Venture Fund that can support start-ups as they grow. And he spoke about the need for the Digital Single Market – a European Commission policy that aims to harmonize rules from streaming services to roaming charges.

Venture capital investment in France hit $1.6 billion in 2016, a steady level from the $1.7 billion the year before. It still lags the likes of Germany and the U.K. but has seen a lot of investors jump into the market. It also boasts its fair share of unicorns such as long-distance ride sharing company BlaBlaCar.

Macron made a strong rallying cry to the entrepreneurs in France and received a standing ovation from the audience. He spoke in French but aimed to address the international audience by speaking to English to conclude his speech.

"I will ensure that we create a most attractive and creative environment, I will ensue that the state and government acts a platform and not a constraint," Macron said.

"Entrepreneur is the new France."