In conversation with Isabelle Bébéar

AVCA Member Interview: Bpifrance Investissement

Isabelle Bébéar is the Director of International & European Affairs at Bpifrance. We caught up with her to discuss Bpifrance’s commitment to small business growth and scale-up in Africa through the Averroès Finance funds.

Bpifrance has a long history and is the culmination of many entities coming together over the years. Could you tell us about Bpifrance’s journey since its establishment in 2013?

We are very proud of what has been achieved since the
establishment of Bpifrance on 31st December 2012. Since
its creation, we have provided vital support to French entrepreneurs and the French economy.

In a snapshot, here are few milestones that illustrate the journey thus far:

  • 2012: The first Executive Board was held, which led to the approval of Nova, the first innovation plan to fast track the creation of local champions, unlocking EUR400mn of financing and over EUR1bn in investments for innovative companies.
  • 2014: We increased funding to the social economy and strengthened support to export mechanisms.
  • 2015: We launched Accelerator programs for startups, SMEs and upper mid-cap companies.
  • 2016: Bpifrance became the largest sovereign wealth fund worldwide (in terms of the number of operations) supporting technology firms since 2010.
  • 2017: Bpifrance Export Insurance became the new French agency that manages public export guarantees.
  • 2019: Bpifrance Creation was launched to support entrepreneurs across the entire country, including outside of France’s leading cities.

In total, Bpifrance injected EUR45bn into the French economy in 2020 through loans, equity, grants and guarantees — and has played a critical countercyclical role following the emergence of the Covid-19 crisis. Bpifrance has become the Recovery Plan operator for French enterprises while significantly contributing to the equity market and launching the EUR40bn Climate Plan as the French Climate bank.

Our motto is “Serve the Future”. We believe our role is to galvanise the French economy and make it more competitive by being the trusted partner of entrepreneurs through their growth and innovation.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a significant role in most economies, especially in developing countries, as they create jobs and broaden access to markets and economic opportunities. In your view, what part do SMEs play in the context of Bpifrance’s mission?

There are 4 million SMEs in France, representing 99.9% of French companies; therefore, SMEs are at the heart of Bpifrance’s mission and strategy, even more so since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. A good illustration of our commitment to SMEs is the 1,200 Plan launched in 2020, which aims to deploy 1,200 equity tickets in French SMEs over 12 months both through increased direct and fund of funds investments. Furthermore, Bpifrance is now recognised as a leading bank providing export finance to SMEs, with EUR1bn of export credits targeted by 2024 and a partnership with the French Development Agency and its private sector subsidiary Proparco — enhancing the competitiveness of French industrial SMEs, notably in Africa.

It is also important to note that the investment strategy of the Averroès scheme has always been focused on African SMEs. As such, we have predominantly focused on mid-market PE funds, with fund sizes between EUR60mn — EUR500mn supporting SMEs. Since Averroès’ inception we have supported over 20 PE funds and over 150 African companies, mostly SMEs, whose turnover increased on average by almost 40% from the day our funds participated in their ownership. Through Averroès Africa, we aim to build a portfolio of 10 to 12 funds that will provide exposure to over 100 African companies, mostly SMEs, in all main sectors related to the emergence of the middle class in Africa, such as consumer goods, transport and logistics, education, healthcare, agribusiness or TMTs.

We believe that our investment positioning reflects both our willingness to keep supporting SMEs not only in France but also in Africa and our belief that private sector SMEs are key to the development of African economies and the fight against poverty.

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Our vision is to promote a prosperous Africa that is sustainable, inclusive, and innovative, by championing private investment into the continent.