June 5, 2018 6 min read
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From not more than four permanent staff in 2008, the French Business Council- Dubai and Northern Emirates (FBC) is today a 16-employee organization with 800 members representing 450 companies including a diverse portfolio of startups, SMEs, and MNCs. The FBC has also marked 30 years of working together towards the growth of the UAE, and the French business community in the Middle East, and at this juncture, recalling its evolution over the years, Agnes Lopez Cruz, MD, French Business Council, says, “In 2008, I settled down in Dubai with my family, and came to the FBC for the first time in May the same year to drop off my CV and benefit from their recruitment service dedicated to job seekers.” She soon landed a freelance gig in the telco sector to organize a program for a French company, and post the successful project, FBC offered her a permanent job to create its business consulting department from scratch, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Lopez Cruz is now the Managing Director of the FBC since July 2013, and she views the organization as an SME by itself, with a special DNA that works for the common interests of both the UAE and France. “We operate two business centers in Dubai, we organize more than 50 B2B missions in the UAE per year, we organize an average of 100 events per year, we launched our own business magazine a few days ago, [and] we run 14 different committees and working groups,” she says. “Managing the FBC is not a job, it’s a passion,” she adds, stressing on FBC’s diversity, and its particular resonance to the UAE, on both a social and business level, where people of more than 200 nationalities co-exist. Indeed, perhaps this is why, the 2018 French Business Council Gala that took place in April recently, was held under the theme of “An evening to embrace diversity,” and gathered over 1,000 guests. “The Gala is much more than a glamorous evening with fine cuisine,” says Lopez Cruz. “It is an effective lobbying tool for the French authorities to showcase the know-how of our French business community in the UAE; it is as well an event dedicated to our members: 90% of the tables are booked by corporates to reward their main partners, clients or even as a team building event. At the end of the day, the audience is a real melting pot.”
BodyO, winner of the French Tech Dubai UAE award. Image credit: FBC Dubai.
Presided over by Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, the Secretary General of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and Personal Representative of the President of the French Republic to the UAE, the event partnered with corporate biggies such as Schneider Electric, Dulsco, BNP Paribas, Chalhoub Group, and Fedex. During the glittery evening, FBC also launched the first edition of their publication FBC Insights under the theme of ‘Diversity and Inclusion means Business,’ and also organized (for the first time) a silent auction during the evening to give back to the community.
However, a highlight of the evening, especially for SMEs and startups, was the announcement of the winner of the second edition of the FBC French Tech Award, an initiative floated by the Council to highlight the “vitality of the ecosystem, and the French tech, digital and entrepreneurial community” of Dubai. “We have amazing innovative startups in the UAE in different fields- e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, blockchain, cryptocurrencies…everything is moving very fast and the local authorities are fully supporting the trend,” says Lopez Cruz. “The tech ecosystem of the UAE is definitely booming, and this is good for us as France is also a startup nation…we have now around 50 SMEs and startups in Dubai, promoting the French innovation, creativity, excellence.”
This edition of the FBC French Tech Award saw eight finalists, selected under the monitoring of partner entity KPMG, make their pitches to the gathering, from which Bodyo, a French startup in the healthcare sector, emerged as the winner of the French Tech Dubai UAE Award, presented by Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, and H.E. Ludovic Pouille, Ambassador of France to the UAE. Founded by French national Patrice Coutard in 2016, and managed by CEO Tariq Hussain, CEO, according to a statement, Bodyo has developed patented health analysis pods that use non-invasive technology to measure blood pressure, blood sugar, fat mass, muscle mass, bone density, hydration, height and weight, and then through their apps, provide tools to monitor and prevent serious illnesses.
BodyO pod. Image credit: FBC Dubai.
Lopez Cruz believes that the award will provide Bodyo with visibility among both their network in the UAE and at an international level through French Chambers of Commerce aboard. “Bodyo will as well represent the UAE for the worldwide Trophee des Trophees, which is an award for la crème de la crème of our French companies in the world, and will be delivered during a ceremony in Paris,” she says.
As for bilateral relations between France and the UAE -two countries that Lopez Cruz considers quite similar in their ambitions and ideals- the FBC MD considers them to be “excellent,” drawing attention to the recent official visit by French president Emmanuel Macron to inaugurate Louvre Abu Dhabi, and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s visit to Abu Dhabi, as well. “The level of bilateral trade represented EUR2.3 billion in 2017,” she says, adding that the FBC looks forward to the project to organize the second UAE-France Business Engagement Summit on urban mobility and public-private partnerships (PPP), before 2019. And, as for the businesswoman’s tips for aspiring entrepreneurs in the UAE, Lopez Cruz urges innovators to focus on coming up with a product or idea that offers a “real competitive advantage” in the UAE market. “Be aware of the cultural diversity of the country; be patient; at the end of the day you have to invest in the country and be the best,” she concludes.