Smart potato ©Pete Pachal
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The Computer Entertainment Show (CES), the annual mecca for nerds and start-ups, is now behind us. French Tech has been heavily represented in Las Vegas in the past few years. Emmanuel Macron went there regularly when he was still Minister of Economy. This year there were about 300 French companies present, a lot less than in 2019. But the emphasis this year was more on quality rather than quantity. This was also apparent from the Innovation Awards that the CES presents each year. France won the most awards out of all the European countries.

For instance, Pixminds, a company from the French Alps specialized in interaction between people and machines, won four awards for several products for gamers. Which included a keyboard, a special mouse and a distinctive climate-positive pair of headphones made from algae (e.g. emissions: -5 grams CO2). The company also won awards at the CES last year. Their success in Las Vegas makes it a lot easier for Pixminds to find funding. In just five weeks, it raised €600,000 via a Kickstarter campaign.

Haptic solutions

Another standout was HAP2U, specialized in haptic and tactile solutions. The company received an award for a new technology for smartphones that allows users to ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ products and objects on a phone screen via piezoelectric sensors.

One other French company that caught everyone’s attention at the CES this year was Myfood, a manufacturer of ‘smart’ plant containers and small greenhouses that allow private individuals to grow their own vegetables without too much effort.

And speaking of vegetables: the world’s first smart potato caused quite a stir. It was a stunt by Frenchman Nicolas Baldeck, founder of the startup BPZ Labs. He has been at the CES several times already and this year he chose to make fun of all the gadgets at CES. He rented a stand, made a video and presented the SmartPotato. With the help of an interface named Neuraspud, an app inside the potato can read what the potato is thinking. The joke cost Baldeck €5000 but it generated a lot of publicity. The stand was one of the busiest at the CES. Yet it was more than a practical joke: “It is an artistic performance, to encourage people to think about the current trend of ‘smart everything,'” Baldeck stated in a press release.

And last but not least, BeFC, a startup from Grenoble, received an award for an ecological battery made out of paper in the form of enzymes. The mini battery can replace lithium-ion batteries in small electronic devices. This bioenzymatic fuel cell is not yet on the market, but BeFC wants to produce bio-batteries within two years.

Venture capital has tripled

French start-ups are hot and not only at the CES. Investors are also finding their way to France more and more easily. In 2019, $4.8 billion in venture capital was raised, a three-fold increase compared to 2015. There is now also a French equivalent of the CES: Vivatech. The next one will take place in Paris in June and, after just four editions, is already an unmissable event for the European tech sector.