Dublin, London and Berlin – How Europe's hubs started to kick ass

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With Google announcing plans to hire 200 more staff into its European headquarters in Dublin, which already holds around 1,500 (not all developers I might add), it’s clear Dublin is emerging as a strong force in the European tech scene.

Although there is a big mapping operation in Zurich, this is the first time Google’s location-based products will have had Dublin developers at real scale.

And Dublin’s events scene has had a shot in the arm recently with the arrival of the excellent Dublin Web Summit events.

So consider this. I recently had a long chat with a startup about where they planned to base their headquarters. They could go more or less anywhere. So where?

The upshot was that Dublin came out on top in Europe, with London and Luxembourg (forever a low tax region) also up there.

The simple fact of the matter is that Ireland remains a low-corporation tax country in Europe, and is in the top 10 of European countries in terms of ease of starting a business according to the World Bank. It’s also English speaking, has a highly educated population and since the property bubble burst, it’s much cheaper to locate an office there.

But Dublin is not the be-all-and-end-all in Europe, a complex place which does not stand up to broad generalisations, whatever you might read from Robert Scoble about Europe being “anti-failure”. Hey Robert, we all read English ok, we know how you Valley guys do this now.

In fact, Europe is starting to look increasingly like it has three important tech hubs: Dublin for the above reasons (but mostly tax), London for the sheer access to capital and people (London is the acknowledged ‘Trading Post’ of Europe), and Berlin as the emerging creative tech hub on the borders with Central Europe where many European startups are also developed.

On that latter point: While Germany is not the most business-friendly in Europe (an aversion to risk is a hangover from it’s history), many Berlin-based startups are in fact incorporating as UK Limited Companies. One desk in London later and you have the best of both worlds: a vibrant Berlin talent pool, cheap offices and an exit route via a UK LTD. Or swap out London for Dublin and do the same.

(At the same time I want to point out that Germany is again more complex than I might indicate to non-European readers unfamiliar with the scene here. Hamburg and Munich too have their own startup eco-systems and local VCs. So it’s not ALL in Berlin by any means. But Berlin right now has, in general, the most internationally-focused startups).

Outside of this triumvirate we have sprinklings of the Nordics, Baltics, CEE, and any outliers that appear from Southern Europe. All of them have strengths and weaknesses in their own ways but each hook into other hubs as needed (e.g. Madrid into Barcelona and Latin America, Milan into London etc etc).

Yes indeed, Europe really is starting to kick ass.

  • http://www.techme2.eu bcurdy

    I’m also going to base my next company (that I’ll be launching in October) in Dublin. Everything isn’t perfect in Ireland but setting up a company is indeed fairly easy. In addition, attitude toward risk-takers is much more positive than in many other European countries here… Sure, the startup scene is still fairly small but some events, like the one you mention or the bright new PubStandard (http://pubstandards.ie/), are making this city a better place for startups.

    Altogether, I also feel an incredibly positive energy around startups in Europe lately. Can’t wait to see what will happen in the next few months :)

    • http://www.irishlonewolf.info irishlonewolf

      yes Ireland definitely has some social problems..
      e.g probably the most religiously place in europe.. it still has angelus at 12 and 6 pm each day and heavily influenced by the catholic church

      as for business and tech there are plenty of colleges rolling out students.. alot of who will probably end up unemployed now :(

      • Steve

        Ireland isn’t nearly as religious a country as it was 20 years. While about 90% of Irish people would identify themselves as Catholic, only a minority actively practice their faith and attend church and these numbers are falling rapidly. I think you’ll find Ireland is a very secular place these days. (Yes the angelus is still on TV, but it’s just on one channel and is an old tradition that hasn’t died off yet)

      • John

        Heavily influenced by the Catholic Church? – You must be living in a time-warp. The church hierarchy is discredited and churches are empty, 2-5% attendance in Dublin parishes

        Social problems? – Since when did religious belief qualify as a social problem? It doesn’t prevent either the US or Israel from producing tech stars.

    • http://tiny.cc/ia4fa Niko
  • http://www.spirofrog.de Thomas

    We favour Munich and we love it!

  • http://www.trra.ca Dave

    What does the community think of Canada/Toronto?

    We have a thriving tech sector, great start-up scene and an excellent business environment.

    Canada is one of the top 10 countries in terms of ease of doing business (World Bank, 2010) and KPMG ranks Canada as having the second most favourable total tax environment in their Competitive Alternatives rankings.

    • cvx

      the 51st state? I thought author covered it already when he reviewed US

  • http://www.crowdscanner.com Adrian Avendano

    I live in Ireland Galway indeed. The most hip city in Ireland full of artists and a HUGE hackerspace http://091labs.com. I have my start-up here.

    Ireland heavily influenced by catholic church, not really. Ireland is full of people who lived overseas for YEARS AND YEARS, and came back with loads of experience.

    Irish are shy yes, but with a lot of content inside. The country can change in matter of months 4.5 million people only.

  • http://www.blogle.org/2010/08/dublin-london-and-berlin-%e2%80%93-how-europe%e2%80%99s-hubs-started-to-kick-ass/ Dublin, London and Berlin – How Europe’s hubs started to kick ass | Blogle.org

    […] on eu.techcrunch.com This entry was posted in English, Technology and tagged european headquarters, fact europe, […]

  • http://sixservix.com/blog/david David Bonilla

    Some pages with info about how to create a company in Ireland for EU nationals ? Spain is defintely, not a great place to startingup…

    • Liam
      • http://sixservix.com/blog/david David Bonilla

        Thanks for the info Liam !!!

        Regards from Madrid :)

    • Liam

      p.s. David, that evolution of Apple pic on your blog is priceless.

    • http://www.igrajmo.se Bostjan Luksa

      Why is that? I was thinking about Madrid as a next stop option.

      • http://sixservix.com/blog/david David Bonilla

        It’s complicated to create a startup company here in Spain (some legal and tax problems) when you are working in other company or you are not a freelance (e. g. you loose your dole rights and to be Secretary (aka Chairman) you must be a freelance)

      • http://www.jobsket.com Martín

        Believe me, I’m Spanish and I’ve had companies in both Spain and Ireland and by far starting up in Ireland was a much more pleasant experience. Winding down the company is a little more difficult than setting up but that’s the standard everywhere.

        Easy, cheap, quick, …, vs. cumbersome, expensive and slow. Make your choice :)

        p.s. I’m just writing about setting up the company. Lifestyles, weather, etc. that’s a matter of personal choices.

      • http://sixservix.com/blog/david David Bonilla

        Experiences and advices from one of the Jobsket Founders are something to bear in mind…

  • http://www.quantter.com harscoat

    Yes Berlin is vibrant of creative energy. Wanted to add that from my own experience, Zürich is not bad too.

    Also, maybe there is a generation of Europeans entrepreneurs who had a US experience and who now want live in Europe and demonstrate Europe can “kick ass”.

  • Jack Mackey

    Dublin is a great place to locate a business in my experience. Google, Facebook and Linkedin all have their EMEA HQs there while Microsoft has too. There is also a vibrant digital media space emerging with lots of talented Irish and non-Irish grads. I think it as emerged from the recession pretty much intact. As for the religion thing, there is a clear division beteen church and state….anyway not many people care too much. It doesn’t interfere with their daily lives.

    • Steve

      Spot on, I agree entirely.

  • AlanS

    “With Google announcing plans to hire 200 more staff into its European headquarters in Dublin, which already holds around 1,500 (***not all developers I might add***), it’s clear Dublin is emerging as a strong force in the European tech scene.”

    By way of a quick, unscientific, assessment of the composition of Google’s Dublin workforce and the nature of their operations here, I did a quick count of job openings listed for Dublin (http://www.google.ie/intl/en/jobs/dublin)

    Advertising Sales & Customer Support: 71
    Operations: 13
    Enterprise (Sales): 9
    Finance: 21
    HR: 8
    Legal: 1
    Marketing: 4
    Software Engineering: 2 (1 an internship)

    So approx 1.5% of the jobs are “developers” !!!

    Lots of studies have found that Dublin’s long had two software communities – the Multinational/FDI one, and the local startup scene. The problem, in my experience, is that most state-support goes to the multinationals (job-count), but little of the knowledge and experience that people develop by working in that culture carries over to working in a startup – or indeed starting up on one’s own.

    • Mike

      and look at eBay’s operation there…

    • http://www.harrytormey.com Harry Tormey


      As an Irish developer who migrated to San Francisco, I have to say, aside from the tax breaks, Ireland is a pretty terrible place todo a startup and to be a Software Engineer. Here are a list of the reasons why I left back in 2006:

      -Most of the tech jobs from large companies (google/microsoft/etc) are not development jobs (IT/Marketing).
      -Cost of living in Ireland is very high relative to what you make (cup of coffee e2.50, pints e5.00 with salaries at 1/3 of SF levels).
      -Awful Infrastructure (terrible roads and poor urban planning, slow over priced internet which can be a pain in the ass to get).
      -Lack of funding options. Enterprise Ireland do a great job but its night/day when compared to the valley.
      -Small talent pool. Almost all of the talented Irish developers I know are currently working abroad and the ones that are in the country came back after spending a number of years away. Also, most people who graduate from CS courses in Ireland don’t seem to actually work as software engineers. I graduated from a class of 200, of those I’d say about 20 are now working in anything resembling a software engineering job.
      -Commercial offices are expensive relative to what you get.

      Maybe things have changed since I was living/working in Ireland but I have yet to hear it.

      If I was trapped in Europe and starting a company tomorrow, I’d probably try to incorporate in Ireland and work from somewhere like Berlin which has reasonable infrastructure and a low cost of living.

      -Cost of living is

      • Chem

        I agree 100%……………

        When I got money from an exit -Esat sold to BT- I hung around for a while and seen the way the wind was blowing.

        Infrastructure sucked, I spent 4 hours a day driving to work during rush hour (two hours each way) going to work.

        When I got their I had to work with innovation followers, rather than innovators.

        Meetings are horrible, they never start on time.

        It’s hard to find talent and when you do, they want superstar salaries and options that are way above what they deserve.

        The cost of living is stupid, I went back recently for a family wedding and one week with me, the wife and two small kids cost around 9K.

        I am Irish and I would never, ever dream of starting a tech company there. EVER

      • kate

        The last few posts seem pretty out of date to me. Ireland has changed massively in last couple of years. You could say prices have collapsed rather than fallen. The recession has been a massive wake up call here and there is no one demanding super star salaries anymore.. people are grateful to have jobs.
        Office space in Dublin is currently 25% vacant so as you can imagine you can get very good deals compared to 2006.
        I live 15 minutes from a city center office and pay rent of 1300 for a nice house with garden for myself husband and 2 children.
        i work in google and there was a whole floor of developers here til about 18 months ago when they were moved to Zurich. but they’ve recently announced they’re hiring 200 developers for their new maps/places center in East point.
        Lastly I find broadband at home as fast as the connection speed in work.
        So go Dublin! :-)

  • http://www.tripinquiry.com Shane Hayes


    Interesting that you picked Dublin. Could I suggest an article for you. Pick say 20 or 30 great European web / technology companies and analyse where they incubated.

    If memory serves, I think Ireland can lay claim to just one Hostelworld.com, aka web reservations international, which had a 300 milllion dollar plus exit. London I am pretty sure has launhed a lot, but what about Berlin? I can’t think of any. To my mind the really true great Europeann web company is Skype. Was that Estonia, Sweden or Luxembourg?

    You could then ask for nominations and discussions.


  • http://www.frogvalley.net Loic

    by any chance, does any of you have got some stats or facts about European entrepreneurship in London?


  • David clarke

    I’m on my 3rd startup in Dublin..IONA technologies, went public in 1996, cape clear, raised $45mm, acquired by workday in 2008. As part of workday we have doubled the Dublin office to 50 folks. A key advantage for us (workday) now is the SaaS and co-lo talent pool. So dub has a good mix of experience and talent. A lot of intl VCs track the scene closely so access to capital hasn’t been an issue historically.

  • Peter

    Ireland has changed quite a bit in recent times. Things are more realistic. Rents have fallen, traffic is less and people no longer have the luxury of seeking superstar salaries. 2006 is a different planet.

  • http://www.paybymobile.net Liam

    Dublin is certainly not the valley or even London/Paris for that matter but it has moved on from the expensive Celtic tiger pup it was. New realities abound & innovation as opposed to flash cash now more in vogue.
    It’s still light years behind Israel which is the frequently quoted benchmark around here but on the plus side, infrastructure & engineering talent pool greatly improved + now common place to trip across great companies exporting great products, e.g. http://www.teamer.net, newbay software, statcounter

  • http://www.vadnu.com/a-danish-haven-for-start-ups/ A Danish haven for start-ups | Mads Kristensen Unfiltered

    […] cool would it be, if Copenhagen was actually a part of this list? Extremely cool, I would say. And why shouldn’t we be able to be; we have the talent in terms […]

  • Geert

    Excellent, another article about tech hubs and start-ups in Europe :) Big cities like Dublin, London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid etc all seem to come up again but no mention about wee old Malta (see http://eu.techcrunch.com/2010/08/20/guest-post-can-malta-become-europes-silicon-island/). Just curious if anyone even considers (or considered) Malta when looking for a place to base their start-up and if so what were the arguments against Malta?

  • http://rafer.net Scott Rafer

    The Amsterdam city government needs to be taken out back and slapped for not having pursued their DotCom Era advantage and having a bunch of thought share with founders. I lived there for a couple of years during the bust and, while I love the Dublin and Berlin crowds, A’dam’s a better mix between geeks, design, livability, liberal culture, access to other capitals, etc., etc. than the others listed. And, sorry fellas, but English spoken by the average person on the street in Amsterdam is easier to understand for Americans than either London or Dublin.

    • http://www.paybymobile.net Liam

      Scott, you’ve been smoking too much of that stuff… but Groupnos might agree with you – start up out of Dublin, funded out of Amsterdam & focused on US market.
      Maybe that’s the answer – pan-EU players.

  • http://ryanacademy.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/is-dublin-a-good-place-to-do-a-start-up/ Is Dublin a Good Place to do a Start-up? « DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship

    […] Dublin a Good Place to do a Start-up? 24 08 2010 There is an interesting article on Techcrunch about Europe’s leading start-up hubs with a decent pitch for Dublin, although some of the […]

  • http://www.londonhotel.net Terry

    Yes, there is improvement, but it needs to be exponential inorder to catch-up with Isreal, Malaysia and the Valley.

  • matteo

    I think Switzerland is next place.
    here below some companies that based there their EU HQ:

    stability, good position in the middle of EU and no taxes is an incredible incentive

  • http://rossduggan.ie/blog/technology/the-question-of-dublin-as-a-tech-hub/ The question of Dublin as a tech hub | Ross Duggan

    […] flattering as TechCrunch Europe’s recent article about Dublin as a “strong force in the European tech scene” is, I’m not sure I believe […]

  • http://rsslens.com/index.php/2010/08/25/could-not-agree-more-how-europe%e2%80%99s-startup-hubs-started-to-kick-ass/ could not agree more: How Europe’s startup hubs started to kick ass! | RSS Lens

    […] Yes indeed, Europe really is starting to kick ass. via eu.techcrunch.com […]

  • KristinaatNokia

    Easy to see why Ireland, with its low-corporation tax and its well educated English speaking work forces, is attractive, especially for US companies.
    Nonetheless, there are a few other interesting options for global companies besides Dublin. Being with Nokia for several years now, the last two years in Berlin, the city is worth considering. Berlin has a lot to offer when it comes to the mobile Internet. Being a creative and vivid city, we sought and found the creative potential in Germany’s capital. Berlin is a magnet for international work forces, all speaking English. Our primary focus in Berlin is on Location Based Services, particularly since the acquisition of gate5. So it has taken a key role in our Ovi services and will be a key aspect for existing and future internet services. We are also tapping into many local startups and cooperate closely with them when it comes to our Ovi services offering. At the moment, we have about 400 people based in Berlin and we are still hiring.

  • http://www.tripinquiry.com shane hayes

    It is interesting that all the comments are from non London based people. I would have thought that London was the place to be, yet no one has spoken up for it as a locatin.

    Are there no start ups in London?


  • http://www.digitalmarketinginstitute.ie Ian Dodson

    Ireland’s position as an IT hub in the 90’s and as a Digital Hub now is a three legged stool.
    1. Low tax regime,
    2. Highly skilled and well educated english speaking workforce
    3. Access to the almost 400 million strong European Market.

    While Foreign Direct Investment across the globe fell by about 18% last year, in Ireland it fell only 4% and has already recovered well ahead of the curve.

    People from right across Europe and Asia are attending our Postgraduate Courses in Digital Marketing in Dublin ( see http://www.digitalmarketinginstitute.ie )
    because Dublin’s mix of foreign and indigenous companies has meant that we have achieved a level of critical mass that attracts people from across the globe.

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