Today at Disrupt Europe, five major investors in European startups took the stage to talk about funding in Europe. While they all agreed that Europe’s track record for building successful startups is nowhere near as long as Silicon Valley’s, there are a few shifts happening.
Many VC firms are positioning themselves to get serious about European investments, and, according to Dave McClure (500 Startups), Roberto Bonanzinga (Balderton Capital), Sonali De Rycker (Accel Partners), Saul Klein (Index Ventures) and Ciaran O’Leary (Earlybird Venture Capital), European startups should be very hopeful. In particular, McClure announced that the investment company will be open for business in Berlin at some point next year.
“We will have a presence on the ground in Berlin some time next year,” McClure said. 500 Startups has already made 40-50 investments in Europe, but doesn’t currently have an office in Berlin. The European ecosystem remains largely dominated by London. “[Europe] is a big market. The only challenge is that it’s fragmented across languages,” McClure said.
Klein had a lot to say about London as well, and why Berlin is not on London’s level just yet. “In Europe, for a variety of reasons, while there are amazing flowering companies in many cities, London is becoming the key tech hub in the region because of the density not just of startups but of capital, corporates,” she said
“And it shares a language with the U.S.,” she continued. O’Leary agreed on the importance of speaking and doing business in English to have a say in the startup ecosystem. “The capital is super mobile — the single contraint is how you get a critical mass of talented people to work for you. You need an urban English-speaking area,” he said.
As is often the case, the debate inevitably compared Silicon Valley to other European cities. While many people talk about a lack of funding in Europe, it seems like the continent is just where the U.S. was a few years ago. “It’s becoming easier, but as we seen with Silicon Valley’s perception of Europe, it takes a few years to catch up with reality,” Klein said. “There are companies that still don’t have all the options that they would have in the U.S.”
And it’s true that not every company can get the funding that they need to grow. Some of them don’t encounter any funding gaps, but it remains a very small minority. “In the U.S., if you do really well and you are not Twitter, you still get funding,” O’Leary said. “But the Sequoias, the Kleiners are flying to Europe, because it’s a place where they are getting better value for money. For our top group of companies, they can raise all the money they want,” he continued.
There already are a few successful companies. “We have incredible companies that are still mostly private. Success is really starting,” De Rycker said. “And why has the Valley been so successful? It’s really about the philosophy: fast failures, the whole concept of buying companies. Some of it is about financing, but there are other gaps. There are not a lot of acqui-hires in the region. It’s all part of the ecosystem, not all entrepreneurs will sell for $500 million. We’re very early, but we need more than just the funding.”
In order to achieve that, Bonanzinga believes that there should be more large-scale tech companies — these companies could be able to acquire other smaller companies or could end up being acquired. High-ranked executives could then go and do successful ventures on their own. “There is only one thing that will make Europe better: it’s ten Skypes,” he said.