A peer-to-peer lending platform has become the first to raise €1m in France for a company in a single transaction, one year after the French government passed a law allowing crowdsourced loans for small businesses.

Paris has been changing the legal framework partly in an attempt to create its own national champions, hoping to catch up with dominant Anglo-Saxon groups such as Lending Club and Funding Circle.

It passed a law last October to give greater flexibility to alternative finance operations, and since then more than 70 companies in France have sprung up offering peer-to-peer loans to small and medium enterprises.

These include groups such as Lendopolis, Finsquare and PretPME. But this week a company called Lendix became the first to raise €1m, the maximum allowed under the new law, for building company Orexim.

“We have already become a genuine alternative to bank loans in France,” said Olivier Goy, founder of Lendix, on completing the transaction. “It is a great way for small and medium companies to diversify their financing.”

Unlike banks, peer-to-peer platforms do not take loans on to their own balance sheets but act as a platform for lending and carry out credit checks in exchange for fees.

Those which arrange loans to companies have moved into the vacuum created by low levels of bank lending to SMEs, especially since the financial crisis.

France already has one participant in a similar space, Pret d’Union, which has been highly successful, but has mainly been lending to individual borrowers. It received $5.22m in funding in 2011, and then $4.18m in 2012.

The largest peer-to-peer lending groups in the world lend both to individuals and small companies.

Funding Circle says that it is a top five net lender to small businesses in the UK, outstripping many of the largest banks.

Lendix started lending to companies in March this year with a loan to French chef Alain Ducasse for three restaurants. In total Mr Ducasse borrowed €300,000.

Lendix said it will lend about €25m this year, but expected to be lending €300m to €400m a year by 2017. Mr Goy said he hoped to launch elsewhere in Europe, particularly Spain, “very quickly”.

When peer-to-peer groups started more than a decade ago the idea was to bypass the financial system altogether.

But in recent years banks themselves have been looking to participate, with groups such as Goldman Sachs and Royal Bank of Scotland eyeing partnerships with peer-to-peer groups.

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