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Data, Decrypted: What We Learned From Analyzing 6 Years of Startups at Slush

Soaked by Slush and Slush’s Research Team shredded data from 15,000 Slush startup applications into keywords and analyzed them. Here’s what we learned.

© Karin Gellman

“‘Platform’ was definitely the word of the 2010s and the most used term in Slush startup applications in 2019 altogether.”

Thousands of startups apply to Slush every year. Over the past six years, Slush has accepted around 15,000 applications. Put together, the application data from these startups gives us a pretty good reflection of the state of startups over the years.

What did we do? Soaked by Slush and Slush’s research team analyzed the startup application data from the around 15,000 companies accepted to Slush in 2014–2019. We shredded the applications into keywords and then calculated the percentage of applications that mentioned each chosen term.

Why? These accepted startup applications give a unique insight into the industries, products, and business models of some of the most promising startups of our time – and how these have changed over the years. This is the first time that Slush is sharing these insights with the public.

Without further ado… we’ll let the data do the talking.

AI and ML are soaring.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termArtificial Intelligence, Machine LearningMentions of AI and ML are soaring in Slush startupapplicationsArtificial IntelligenceMachine Learning2014201620180%2.5%5%7.5%10%12.5%Created by Soaked by Slush

 

Following the breakthroughs in computer science in the 2010s, one of the strongest trends in startups applying to Slush has been the surge of companies integrating Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into their businesses. This trend has been reflected on the funding side as well — during the last five years, investments into European AI startups have grown from $1.2B in 2015 to $4.9B in 2019, according to the State of European Tech 2019 created by Atomico in partnership with Slush and Orrick.

AI and ML become more nuanced.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioninggiven termAI SubcategoriesThe percentage of Slush startup applications thatmentioned variations of artificial intelligenceDeep LearningNatural Language ProcessingSpeech RecognitionNeural NetworkComputer Vision2014201620180%0.25%0.5%0.75%1%Created by Soaked by Slush

As the use of AI and ML has become increasingly nuanced, so has the language around them. This is evidenced by the rise of mentions of specific AI sub-technologies. Since the 2016 startup batch, the most popular AI term has been ‘deep learning.’ However, in 2019, ‘natural language processing’ surpassed it. Speech recognition tech has cooled off. 

This development is backed up by investment numbers in European tech: Since 2015, investments in European deep learning and computer vision startups have grown 3x and 4x respectively, whereas investments in speech recognition technologies grew only 1.5x during the same period, according to the State of European Tech 2019.

The rise of IoT has come to an end.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termIoT, SensorThe rise of IoT seems to have come to an endIoTSensor2014201620180%1%2%3%4%5%Created by Soaked by Slush

Soaring 5G and the rise of companies that leverage both hardware and software are reflected in a modest upward trend of IoT. However, in 2019, both IoT and the related term ‘sensor’ experienced a small dip in the share of mentions. This same trend is also reflected in European investments, as noted by the State of European Tech: In 2019, investments in IoT decreased by 40% from 2018 to $626M.

VR and AR have seen their peak.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termVirtual Reality, Augmented RealityVR and AR mentions in Slush startup applications peakedin 2017 and 2018, respectivelyVirtual RealityAugmented Reality2014201620180%1%2%3%4%Created by Soaked by Slush

Mentions of VR peaked in 2017, and the same happened for AR in 2018. Both technologies have already passed the tip of the hype cycle, which could mean that early-stage startups are putting less emphasis on these technologies. This trend is represented in VC investments as well. According to the State of European Tech 2019, investments in virtual reality went down a hefty 80% from $677M in 2017 to $135M in 2019.

Everyone is building platforms.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning giventermPlatform: the Biggest Startup Trend ofThem AllThe increase in the % of ‘platform’ mentions was thestrongest trend in Slush startup applications in 2014–2019Platform20142016201810%15%20%25%30%35%Created by Soaked by Slush

 

‘Platform’ was definitely the word of the 2010s and the most used term in Slush startup applications in 2019 altogether. 30% of startups mentioned the term platform in their applications in 2019, and the growth of mentions has been one of the strongest trends in the past six years. Most likely, though, platform will eventually face the same gloomy fate as ‘mobile’ did in the past. Otherwise, we’d eventually end up with more platforms than users and companies building products around the platforms.

API is a growing trend.

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termThe Rise of APIThe increase in platform business is accompanied by agrowing trend in APIs in Slush startup applicationsAPI2014201620180.5%1%1.5%2%2.5%Created by Soaked by Slush

As more and more entrepreneurs are building platform companies, Slush also witnesses a growing trend of API (application programming interface) mentions. An API allows a product or service to be interacted with by other products and services. The API trend could also mean that we are seeing an increasing number of companies whose primary business function is offering programmatic functions as a service – as Stripe does for payments, for example.

‘Mobile’ as a term has become redundant.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termThe Decline of MobileMentions of mobile have decreased in Slush startup applications as the term has been commoditizedMobile20142016201810%12%14%16%18%Created by Soaked by Slush

 

One of the most popular terms in the past six years, ‘mobile,’ has steadily decreased over the period. This could indicate the commoditization and redundancy of the term mobile in startups’ product descriptions.

The age of apps is coming to an end.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termApp vs. WebThe age of apps is coming to an end, signals the lush startup poolAppWeb2014201620186%8%10%12%14%16%Created by Soaked by Slush

 

During the observed era, apps have been more popular than websites. However, the ‘app’ mentions have been steadily decreasing since 2017 – perhaps because mentioning that you are building an app has become redundant as most companies that need an app have one anyway.

Mentions of operating systems are declining.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termiOS, AndroidMentions of operating systems declining in Slush startupapplications on the back of the downturn in mobileiOSAndroid2014201620180%1%2%3%4%Created by Soaked by Slush

 

Mentions of the two dominant mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, have been declining steadily since 2014. This trend goes along with the decline in apps and mobile.

‘Blockchain’ and ‘Token’ peaked in 2018, while ‘Bitcoin’ is steadily declining.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termBlockchain, Bitcoin, TokenBlockchain and Token mentions peaked in Slush startupapplications in 2018, while Bitcoin has been on a steadydeclineBlockchainBitcoinToken2014201620180%1%2%3%Created by Soaked by Slush

Even though blockchain hasn’t exactly lived up to its high expectations yet, the upward trend in the past six years is clearly visible. Now, after the cryptomania and tip of the hype cycle, we can see large corporations starting to bet on the technology: the real-world applications affecting our daily lives will most likely be here in the coming few years. 

The share of blockchain mentions in the applications peaked in 2018 and experienced a small dip in 2019. The same happened for investments into European blockchain startups as they decreased by 18% from 2018 to $700M in 2019.

Increasingly many startups are working on payments.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termMore Startups Working on PaymentsThe number of startups working on payments is increasingin the Slush startup poolPayment2014201620181.5%2%2.5%3%3.5%Created by Soaked by Slush

The share of startups working on payments has been steadily increasing at Slush since 2014, supported by the flood of investments into fintech in Europe. Since 2015, fintech has received the most VC investments in Europe as an industry, a whopping $25B, according to the State of European Tech 2019.

UX is no longer worth mentioning.

 

Created with Highcharts 7.1.2% of applications mentioning given termUser ExperienceMentions of user experience in steady decline in Slushstartup applicationsUser Experience2014201620180.5%1%1.5%2%2.5%3%Created by Soaked by Slush

Mentioning ‘user experience’ as a part of a startup's product description has been decreasing and was at an all-time low in 2019. It might be that nowadays, good user experience in products is implied, and not the unique selling point it has been in the past. Whether this implied increase in good user experience is actually true or not, we will leave for the readers to decide.

This was just a humble beginning to Slush leveraging its unique data sets to create insight for the ecosystem. There’s a vast pool of Slushy data waiting to be analyzed.

Meanwhile… If you have an exciting research idea for Slush in mind, please drop us a line at soak[email protected].

Insights and data visualization: Tommi Bergström and Elmo Pakkanen
Editing: Elsa Snellman and Pauliina Suominen
Art Design: Karin Gellman