French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur has been through plenty of ups and downs over the last few years with his own startup, Seesmic — an outfit that has seen more twists than a pretzel factory. But through it all, one thing has remained constant: his side project, the Paris-based startup conference LeWeb.
Started more than seven years ago, the event now claims to be the industry’s most international shindig, and now it’s about to see its first spin-off, to be held in London next month.
But when I spoke to Le Meur a couple of days ago, he admitted to me that just a few months back it wasn’t the English Channel he wanted to cross with LeWeb — it was the Atlantic. He’d just started exploring the idea of starting a LeWeb for the Bay Area, where he has lived for the past five years.
“We had started to think about doing one in San Francisco,” Le Meur told me. “But then Cameron stepped in.”
By “Cameron” he means David Cameron, the British Prime Minister.
Reports have long suggested that the British government — keen to score a victory over their rivals in France — wanted to lure LeWeb to London. Le Meur says those rumors are accurate, but he never intended to move the entire conference away from Paris. However, he says, in the end, British politicos offered such a range of assistance that eventually meant the decision to set up a second, London-based event, was easy to make.
“It was a special request from Mr Cameron,” says Le Meur. “Last year I was was a Founders’ Forum event and I was very impressed because he shook me by the hand and said ‘Loic, you need to move Le Web to London.’ We’re not moving Le Web, and we had no plans for London just two months ago. But they’ve been so helpful that we couldn’t refuse.”
That helpfulness extended to a financial commitment, too, with Tech City Investment Organization (the body charged with drumming up publicity and investment for London’s startup scene ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games) acting as the first major sponsor for the event.
But anyone concerned that the U.K. government may end up underwriting the whole affair as it tries to woo European startups to London are misplaced, says Le Meur.
“They took a top-level sponsorship, but I would say it’s about 10 to 20 percent of the whole budget,” he says. “It’s very nice and one reason we decided to go to London, but we’re still taking a risk.”
That chimes with what TCIO chief Eric van der Kleij told me last month.
Le Meur said that the early takeup for the event, which takes place on June 19th and 20th, shows there actually is “room and demand in London for us”, and that there is enough going on in the startup world to warrant a spinoff.
“Everything moves so fast in six months,” he says. “At LeWeb, nobody was talking about Pinterest. Instagram was on stage in Paris, but nobody cared very much.”