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Parlez-Vous Venture Capital? French Fund Hunts for Next Google, Apple

Parlez-Vous Venture Capital? French Fund Hunts for Le Nouveau Go
An EE (Everything Everywhere) store, a joint venture between France Telecom SA and Deutsche Telekom AG. Photograph by Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Could the next Google, Apple or Facebook come from Europe?

French entrepreneurs and investors such as Henri de Bodinat are wondering just that and looking for how to make sure promising ventures don't wither away for lack of funding.

The 65-year-old former advertising, video-games and music executive started Time Equity Partners in 2009, a fund managing 50 million euros ($67 million) of investments. He's since backed Internet companies such as iConcerts, which sells virtual tickets to concerts streamed over the Web, and Oodrive, which makes cloud-based software for businesses. Bodinat is talking with investors to raise another 100 million euros to help startups survive puberty -- and do so while staying in Europe .

"Europe is really good on financing seed companies, and it's great on leveraged buyouts, but there's a serious problem on growth capital," said Bodinat.

France's elite math and science universities produce the highest number of graduates in these fields in the European Union, yet the country has struggled to spawn a recent technology giant. While most of France's successful entrepreneurs in the past decade got their start by the Eiffel Tower, they ended up somewhere between Tokyo and San Francisco. Japan's Rakuten bought PriceMinister in 2010. Dating site Meetic was acquired by the U.S.’s in 2011. And the list goes on ...

It's not just a French problem, Bodinat said. Technology companies in particular across Europe need funds to grow their businesses into new geographies to make it into the big leagues.

That's where investors such as Time Equity Partners come in. The Paris-based fund aims to close the first part of its current fundraising, making up 60 million euros, by the end of the first quarter. It's already looking at targets in e-learning, and will focus future investments on mobile content and advertising, cloud-based applications, digital media, connected objects and so-called e-health.

"It's especially bad in the tech sector," he said. "When companies succeed in this industry, they grow at an exceptionally quick pace. That means they need money fast to develop."

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