This article was originally published as a TechRepublic cover story. The elegant Hôtel de Ville–the center of politics in Paris for nearly 700 years–has witnessed plenty of fancy receptions. But tonight’s event is among the more unusual that the opulent Renaissance city hall has hosted. In its main gallery, a gloriously over-the-top gilded replica of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, robots whizz past offering energy drinks. Above soars a ceiling crammed with gilt decoration and paintings, separated by the words liberté, égalité, fraternité, plus half a dozen blazing chandeliers. The crowd–with as many dressed in hoodies and trainers as there are in suits and ties–are munching on crickets along with more standard canapés. The event is the kickoff for a big tech conference happening in Paris, and the high point of the city’s ongoing attempt to attract startups to the French capital. It’s the must-have ticket if you’re involved in tech in Paris, and it’s crammed full. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, tells the crowd that they should think of Paris as a “real, living lab,” a place where companies big and small can try out new ideas. As such, the reception is, in microcosm, a vision of what Paris wants to do: take the historic city and remake it, from within, using technology. And if that weren’t enough, its leaders are already talking about rethinking the way the whole country operates in the same way. But, whether France can truly become the startup heart of Europe remains… [Read full story]
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