There’s a lot to be proud of in the European startup ecosystem. In the past decade, Europe truly came of age, with companies like Spotify, Adyen, and Supercell leading the way. To date, we have seen over 170 European tech companies scale to a valuation of over $1B and got to witness soaring levels of investment year after year. In addition, top investors from Asia and the US increasingly participate in European rounds and seem to be here to stay. These are clear signs of a vibrant ecosystem.
However, there is no cause for complacency. Sizable inefficiencies and inequities still keep Europe from reaching its full potential.
As the world is going through turmoil, the time is ripe for some introspection. Now more than ever, the world needs founders; people who embrace uncertainty, see patterns in chaos, and fearlessly build technologies that take humankind forward. To maximize the depth and scale of these technologies, we need to address the shortfalls of the last decade. In short, we need to redefine entrepreneurship.
We believe that diversity enhances and expands the ecosystem’s problem-solving capacity. People working in European tech still represent a very limited subset of the continent’s population. This holds true across a number of factors, including gender, race, education, and income level. What’s more, Europe still struggles with the very basics of inclusion. All too many
people that fall outside of tech’s narrow norm feel like their background or identity is a barrier to success in the ecosystem. This has to change. In the end, people are only able to design products for the problems that they can see.
We believe that the next generation of founders and talent is driving a shift towards purpose. Unfortunately, the term impact is diluted and often misunderstood, when in reality, every company has an impact. What matters is the net of all outputs to the external world. Companies that acknowledge their greater responsibility towards shareholders, employees, society, and the planet will attract the brightest talent and emerge as the winners of the next decade.
We believe that entrepreneurs, academic researchers, government officials, and creatives should work together instead of in silos to generate the revolutionary innovation that humankind desperately needs. Without exception, history teaches us that true innovation is the outcome of a collective effort. We need ways to increase and elevate encounters and collaboration between different groups. Europe has tremendous unexplored potential to produce cutting-edge technologies based on discoveries in engineering, physics, medicine, and beyond.
In this new era of uncertain and peculiar times, Slush exists to create and help founders change the world, and to shape the entrepreneurial tomorrow in Europe and beyond.
I hope you enjoy this whitepaper!
On behalf of the Slush team,
Diverse & Inclusive Future
People working in European tech overwhelmingly agree that diverse teams perform better. Meanwhile, data paints a scathing picture of the current state of things, and shows that recent progress has been minimal. European tech involves a narrow subset of the continent’s population by any measure of human heterogeneity. This discrepancy originates elsewhere in society; in childhood gender norms, in education that pushes stereotypical career paths, and in societies that don’t offer social mobility. However, instead of making the best of a biased talent pool, the startup ecosystem heightens these inequalities.
Importantly, diversity is hollow without inclusion and equal opportunity, and we are failing miserably at both. Those that differ from tech’s constricted norm are held back and marginalized. A homogeneous pool of investors is turning a blind eye to them, choosing to fund solutions that hit close to home, and founders who look like past heroes. Even worse, in a given year, 50% of female and 40% of non-white tech employees will face discrimination while working in the ecosystem. This discrimination takes a myriad of forms.
The bottom line is that people are oblivious to problems that don’t concern them directly. The 2020s present a huge opportunity for young ventures to tap into underexplored verticals and customer segments. Past patterns of success will break down, and investors will have to look beyond current, saturated spaces for asymmetric success.
The 2020s will be characterized by a new generation of European founders and talent that is ambitious to address humankind’s most consequential issues. Globally, Europe will establish itself as the focal point of purpose-driven entrepreneurship. In 2019, we saw investors adopting the purpose-driven thesis en masse, with investments growing more than two-fold year-over-year. However, a lack of mandate from limited partners still forces VCs, particularly in the later stages, to steer clear.
At the same time, it’s not enough for a minority of young ventures to make purpose core to their mission. After all, every single company has an impact. We desperately need all members of the ecosystem to acknowledge this, and to adopt a common standard of measurement. After that, we need to act on that impact. For this to happen, we may just need to revisit the business doctrine of optimizing solely for shareholder value. The companies of tomorrow will be built for all stakeholders that their actions affect.
Lastly, our efforts will be vain if we fail to create companies that last. Compared to the giants of Asia and the US, Europe still lacks a big tech company. Much of the recent explosion in European venture capital has gone towards chasing less risky returns in the last mile of expanding digital companies in saturated spaces. While the exit markets have rewarded the champions of this ethos with lofty returns, the path to sustained, massive businesses looks muddier than ever. We need to work from first principles to rectify this.
During this decade, the tide of incremental digital solutions will wane in favor of revolutionary innovation. After all, you can only replicate the proven consumer internet business models in so many verticals. At the same time, recent technological advancements have left us desperately short of the future we were told of. Nuclear fusion, quantum computing, and general AI have been almost here for decades. With each passing year, humanity needs them more urgently.
To enable deep innovation, we need a world of effortless collaboration across traditional boundaries, where all lines of human ingenuity are applied to the utmost. Startups need to work together with universities, corporations, and governments to maximize the pace of advancement. Revolutionary technologies are also ripe for ethical conundrums, and as we’ve seen, the moral compass of entrepreneurs alone is insufficient. We need governments to put in place regulation that mitigates risk, without stifling innovation.
Amid all this, venture capitalists struggle to reconcile ten-year fund cycles and cautious limited partner mandates with funding complex technologies, which are difficult to judge, expensive to develop, and slow to materialize. As a result, deeptech ventures often turn to other means of funding, like government grants and corporate investors. However, these alone won’t be enough. We need some overdue back-end innovation and diversification in what venture capital funds look like.
About the whitepaper
Together, these topics define Slush’s view of how companies in the 2020s should look different from those of the decade gone by. Amid Europe’s stellar rise, it’s been easy to forgo engaging with the inefficiencies and disparities that hold our ecosystem back. Now, as that rise has ground to a temporary halt, it’s time to have these difficult discussions. That’s why we wrote this paper.
However, the whitepaper doesn’t just convey Slush’s own views. The argumentation is based on 58 anonymous interviews with some of the most foresighted founders, investors, and operators in European tech. Speaking anonymously, these people gave us a unique view into their honest criticisms, hopes, and aspirations. We’ve sprinkled a number of quotes from these interviews throughout the text.
Lastly, the whitepaper is based on three avenues of novel quantitative research:
- A wealth of analysis of the various data sets that we gathered in relation to Slush 2019. These include:
- Company data on the 3,500 startups and 2,000 investors that got accepted to the event
- Individual data on the nearly 10,000 people who attended the event from these entities
- Meeting data on the 10,000 pre-booked meetings that these people engaged in with one another
- A new look at the 5,000 survey responses that we collected for State of European Tech in 2019.
- Novel data that we’ve generated together with our data partner Dealroom on the European ecosystem.
1 – A variety of identities and backgrounds remain barriers to success in tech
We revisited the State of European Tech 2019 survey data, finding that, across a number of factors, those who differ from tech’s narrow norm find it more difficult to thrive in the ecosystem. Where people represent more than one marginalized group, these barriers compound.
Respondents stacked together. “Prefer not to say” excluded for gender, ethnicity and financial status. European founder and startup employee respondents. Financial status refers to self-reported income level immediately prior to founding current company.
2 – Diverse teams perform better, but remain underfunded
In the cohort of 3,500 startups that visited Slush in 2019, companies whose application was submitted by a woman (usually one of the founders) had received less funding on average, but done more with the money, generating more revenue per euro of funding and per employee. This shows that investors are still looking the other way, and missing out on great opportunities as a result.
3 – Doing good has become good business
Out of the 3,500 startups that attended Slush in 2019, companies founded in 2017–2019 that pursue purpose as a core aspect of their product generate more revenue than their counterparts. The tables truly have turned in favor of doing good.
All data is self-reported at the time of application, or at a later point before Slush 2019 if the startup chose to update their data. Purpose-driven companies are ones that—in their application—reported working towards at least one of the UN SDGs, and mentioned a keyword related to that SDG in their product description. Outliers excluded.
*Estimated 2019 revenue
4 – The purpose-driven investment ecosystem is being built from the bottom up
We looked at the nearly 1,200 venture capital funds, corporate investors and angels at Slush 2019, finding that angels and CVCs are more likely to report a commitment to one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. What’s more, a purpose-driven thesis is more prominent among investors focused on earlier stages. This indicates that VCs still struggle to reconcile LP pressure and 10-year fund cycles with funding companies that address humankind’s most momentous challenges.
5 – Unicorn valuations have become significantly more speculative
In the most granular look at European unicorns to date, we found that, towards the end of the past economic cycle, the revenue that companies generate in the year of their billion-dollar valuation has been slashed into a fraction of what it was previously.
6 – Deeptech is quantifiably slower to market
We used a combination of keyword, industry and manual analysis to recognize deeptech ventures among the 3,500 startups at Slush 2019. These represented 30% of the startup population. Despite being of the same age on average (2.6 years), far fewer deeptech companies had reached the scaling phase of their journey.
7 – In corporate collaboration, hardware startups look for co-development and expertise
Roughly two thirds of startups at Slush 2019 filled out a separate application about the way in which they wish to engage with corporates at Slush. According to that data, software startups are primarily looking for market access, while hardware companies prioritize co-development and expertise.
1 Work done in a startup during the 2020s will be awarded a Nobel Prize down the line.
2 One of the five most heavily funded industries in 2030 will be one for which the term hasn’t been invented yet.
3 By 2030, we will speak of online startup hubs alongside physical ones.
4 In 2030, the most valuable company by market cap in Europe will be a technology company. That company isn’t a unicorn yet.
5 The biggest European VC-backed exit during the latter half of the decade will be from a deeptech company that has already been founded.
6 The latter half of the 2020s will finally be characterized by the explosion and democratization of quantum computing.
7 During the 2020s, humans will return to the moon and land on Mars. The technology for these missions will be built by the private sector.
8 The pushback against big tech will move from dissent to action. A number of the existing incumbents will be broken up.
9 Driven by automation, and the mass displacement caused by COVID-19, a third of European countries will have implemented some form of Universal Basic Income by the end of the decade.
10 The average length of a tertiary education degree will decrease in Europe’s most educated countries.
11 In 2030, 50% of European STEM graduates will be women.
12 Mobile will face serious competition from an alternative hardware platform.
13 By 2030, a third of the European startup workforce will be working remotely.
14 Driven by exploding rent prices and improving options to work remotely, towards the end of the next decade, Europe’s biggest cities will start to see counterurbanization.
15 Enabled by low-code, the ratio of engineers and developers to designers and product managers in tech startups will reach 1:1 by 2030.
16 In 2030, we will no longer speak of ‘impact companies’.
17 The time to unicorn in Europe will be extended significantly, as a path to profitability, rather than growth, will increasingly become the basis for late-stage valuations.
18 By the end of the decade, there will be a standardized metric for net impact and it will permanently change the way investors assess companies.
19 Women in junior positions will make their way through the ranks at VC funds. By the end of the decade, a third of partners at European funds will be women (2019: 13%). On the back of this, a third of funding will go towards mixed or all-female teams (2019: 8.4%).
20 The 2020s will see the world grappling with diminishing returns across factions of society, from economic growth to technological innovation and scientific discovery. The solutions that humanity finds will pave the way for a new Renaissance in the 2030s.
In publishing this report, we are joined by these 16 European scaleups, all of which live up to the thematic of the report. They are some of the inspiring European growth stories that are going to be leading the way towards a more diverse & inclusive, purpose-driven, and technologically revolutionary European future.
“At Accel, we strive to work with founders who are building iconic, enduring businesses. That requires a certain culture, which provides the emotional fabric that enables and empowers high-performing teams. These cultures are often mission-driven and underpinned by values of diversity and inclusion. Diversity is a mindset and the Slush whitepapers show we all need to commit to a new way forward, or be left behind. This new generation of entrepreneurs are driven as much by their core mission as they are by the need to create shareholder value. Neither they nor we see a reason to compromise between the two.”
–Sonali de Rycker, Partner
“The last five years have proven that not only can Europe do tech, we can do it on our own terms. Furthermore, the current crisis has highlighted how critical the success of European tech is for the region’s economy as a whole. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We need to create a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem, strengthen ties between private and public sectors, and embrace a purpose-driven approach to building and scaling. Forums such as Slush are key building blocks of this ecosystem of tomorrow. We may not be able to meet in Helsinki this year, but that does not mean that European tech does not have to take its eyes off the stars.”
–Tom Wehmeier, Partner
“The coronavirus crisis and the recent killing of George Floyd have served to illustrate the deep inequalities and systematic nature of racism in western society. Despite its huge growth and success, the European startup ecosystem has lagged on every metric associated with diversity and inclusion. We must commit to drive change in our communities and our businesses – we’re at a point where we need to stop being allies and start being accomplices. We must hold each other accountable for meaningful change and transformation.”
–Greg Williams, Editor-in-chief, WIRED UK
“Purpose, rather than a badging exercise, needs to be ingrained from the beginning if early-stage businesses are to compete on a global level and speak to today’s more discerning customer. The way we consume is shifting fast. Digital innovation is coming to life across sectors, from how we attend events to the way we exercise at home. Right now, as we rethink the way we lead our own lives, companies changing the way we live, interact and buy are truly having their moment.”
–Reshma Sohoni, Founding Partner
“The Covid-19 crisis is accelerating the future and forcing us to rethink the way we run our societies, economies and lives. Many of the best ideas about how to reshape our world are coming from an emerging generation of European entrepreneurs, focusing on social inclusion and
purposeful innovation, as highlighted in Slush’s whitepapers.”
–John Thornill, Founder, Editorial Director
“Lakestar is a strong supporter of the Europeantech ecosystem. We believe in Europe. However, the landscape and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur is changing. The next generation of groundbreaking founders will be more diverse than what we have seen in the past, and guided by a deeper urge to change the world for the better.”
–Mika Salmi, Managing Partner
“People with another background than yourself will naturally broaden your team with additional experiences, an outside perspective, and a different problem-solving mindset. If companies don’t take action on diversity, they will miss out on real assets. This is also why diverse teams ultimately yield higher returns. With this in mind, it is surprising that limited partners are not actively demanding more diverse investments from VCs.”
–Susanne Najafi, Founding Partner
“While Europe has made huge progress in understanding and admitting there is a problem with diversity and inclusion in the tech sector – action here is key. It is up to all of us to take meaningful, measurable steps, and to hold ourselves accountable, in order for there to be real change.”
–Suranga Chandratillake, General Partner
“Diversity is not subjective liberalism. As a VC, we’re seeing very tangible commercial impact related to diversity and we’re convinced that diversity of thought is crucial to build the most disruptive companies. Slush’s Whitepapers are another reminder that we collectively and proactively need to push for change to shape the entrepreneurial tomorrow in Europe and beyond. We recognize what’s been done to date is not enough – we need to do more.”
–Fredrik Cassel, General Partner
“If Silicon Valley was the first ecosystem to normalise the idea of entrepreneurship as a high-impact, high-prestige career choice, Europe is quickly catching up. We’re seeing an overdue cultural shift in what it means to be a founder, who the entrepreneurial path is for, and what the scale of impact that can be achieved is. As exceptionally talented, mission-driven founders continue to enter the European ecosystem in force, the potential for revolutionary innovation on a global scale grows exponentially. This is important for economies and societies, because it truly matters what the world’s most talented individuals apply themselves to.”
–Matt Clifford, Co-Founder and CEO
“Slush says it well: Each and every company has an impact. This whitepaper serves as an important — and necessary — reminder for founders and investors to assess and measure how they can instill greater, more global change via purpose-driven entrepreneurship.”
–Christian Meermann, Founding Partner
“I believe that Diversity and Inclusion is about capturing opportunities, and ensure as investors that companies are formed with diversity at the outset. It’s already proven as the most successful strategy for high-performing teams. Slush’s whitepaper gives us clear data about what’s happening in the ecosystem. It’s time for us to act.”
–Pär-Jörgen Pärson, General Partner
“All founders out there are trying to put their dent in the universe, to change the world in some way. Purpose has positive, sometimes non-obvious benefits for example in attracting key talent or retaining customers. As a VC we are slowly discovering how we can balance profit- and purpose-seeking in our ventures, as stewards of the capital entrusted to us.”
–Jan Miczaika, Partner
“EU is leading on the innovation to fight against coronavirus while redefining entrepreneurship and innovation. EUvsVirus shows how revolutionary innovation can succeed when the whole innovation ecosystem works with the civil society taking advantage of European diversity. It is one example of how the European Innovation Council works with mission-driven innovators and builds rich and diverse communities.”
–Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission
“I have no doubt we’ll see radical innovation over the next decade, particularly in machine learning, crypto / blockchain and digital health. Technology produced by world-class researchers and practitioners across Europe is defining new industries – fostering an ecosystem to support these advances is one of the most important things we can do.”
–Toby Coppel, Co-Founder and Partner
“Slush’s whitepaper clearly states how the lack of diversity is harming our ecosystem. Diversity is not just “a nice thing to do”, it should be part of a rational and calculated business decision as research clearly shows that diverse teams perform better leading to long term outperformance. We as an investor recognize it and demand to include diversity clauses in the investment documentation.”
–Agate Freimane, General Partner
“You can’t lead others if you cannot lead yourself. Self-leadership requires a compass, which is hardly available around the corner. Hence, developing and understanding one’s individual purpose is the foundation that allows an entrepreneur to shape our European future. The purpose of a business is made up of the individual purposes of the entrepreneurs within the team.”
–Christian Nagel, Co-Founder and Partner
“As an early stage VC fund, we’re acutely aware of the need for, and benefit of promoting diversity across all stages. We strive to do our part and transform theory into action by maintaining an equal gender split across our investment team, and tracking diversity metrics across our group of portfolio founders, whilst also working closely with them on prioritising gender diversity in the build-out of their own leadership teams. That said, we recognise that there is much more to do on the diversity front – going beyond gender and race – and always endeavour to improve.”
–Spencer Crawley, Co-Founding General Partner
“In seeking to solve the world’s greatest problems by inventing bold new technologies, moonshot companies face a marathon, not a sprint. Just as today’s tech infrastructure seemed like a pipe dream a few decades ago, deeptech such as electric airplanes, self-driving trucks, and mixed reality could one day become part of everyday life – but it takes time. As an investor, I try to consider the current stage of the technology and research because the ones in the right inflection point will enjoy explosive growth and transform industries. The race is on.”
–Ted Persson, Partner
“There is a profound causality between diversity of founding teams, startups solving the world’s most pressing problems, and the performance of these teams and their companies. This has been established in international studies, and the deeper the insights and transparency we get around this, the better. Slush’s work on this is catalytic as they have unique access to first-hand founder data through their extensive community in the Nordics and beyond. Unconventional Ventures is a proud supporter of Slush on creating a deeper understanding and enlightening the ecosystem.”
–Thea Messel, Founder, Managing Partner
“During my years as the Chairman of Slush, I had a front-row seat to witness European tech rise and flourish through big ideas and global community. Europe has always been a melting pot of different cultures and has long traditions of higher education and research. Now it’s time to capitalize on our strengths and live up to this heritage: Maki.vc will – with fellow investors, universities and industry giants – continue supporting European moonshots and category-definers that are meant to last for centuries.”
–Ilkka Kivimäki, Founding Partner
“Slush is synonymous with the next generation of entrepreneurs. The whitepaper paints a well-rounded picture of the future that this new generation will be driving for. Therefore, it is a careful ‘must-read ‘ for everyone who wants to understand the tech leaders of tomorrow.”
–Timo Ahopelto, Founding Partner
Slush is a student-driven, not-for-profit movement on a mission to create and help founders to change the world. We are a community who want to radically change how entrepreneurship is perceived in Northern Europe and beyond.
In a regular year, Slush would culminate in a gathering of 25,000 founders, investors, media, and executives from 130+ countries, organized in Helsinki in November. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’re hard at work helping the ecosystem in other ways this year. This fall will be no less Slushy than any other. How? We’ll reveal the biggest reason in August 2020. On top of that, we run an online media called Soaked by Slush, a newsletter with 70k+ subscribers, research pieces like this one, and much more.
Design & Tech
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to acknowledge those that we are truly indebted to for making this paper happen; our anonymous interviewees. We hope that we’ve managed to convey our gratitude privately.
Beyond them, we are grateful for the support of the following people and organizations:
We conducted 58 anonymous interviews. You can explore the demographics below.
State of European Tech survey
The State of European Tech survey was distributed during the fall of 2019. Please find a breakdown of the survey respondents in the State of European Tech 2019 report.
Slush collects company information from startups and investors when they apply for the event. In these papers, we used data associated with Slush 2019. The size of the datasets are as follows: 3,500 startups, 600 VC firms, 250 CVC firms, 500 Angels, 60 LPs, 100 M&A investors.
Slush collects data on all of its attendees when they purchase a ticket to Slush. Groups utilized in this study were startup ticket holders, investor ticket holders & angel investor ticket holders. A gender API was used to guess the ticket holders’ gender based on their first name.
Slush collects data from meeting requests sent through the Slush Matchmaking Tool. In 2019, a total of 130,000 meeting requests were sent and 20,000 meetings held.
Purpose-driven companies were identified from the Slush startup data using our own taxonomy. We define these as companies that—in their application—report working towards at least one of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and mention a keyword related to that SDG in their product description. We probe the prior with the question: “Are you committed to making a positive social and environmental impact through your investments?” In other words, they are pursuing a certain SDG as a core aspect of their product.
To recognize deeptech companies from the Slush startup data, we used a combination of industry, technology, and keyword analysis, as well as manual scanning. Our aim was to find companies that leverage a novel, scalable, complex technology, or a significant innovation within an existing technology, as a core aspect of their offering. Additionally, this innovation needed to be the company’s own, and sold primarily as a product, rather than a service.
Dealroom.co is the foremost data provider on start-up, early stage and growth company ecosystems in Europe and around the globe. Founded in Amsterdam in 2013, we now work with many of the world’s most prominent investors, entrepreneurs and government organizations to provide transparency, analysis and insights on venture capital activity. Our offerings include data sets via SaaS and API as well as custom reports and bespoke ecosystem solutions.
The list of unicorns used is based on Slush’s internal analysis, up to and including January 2020. We define a unicorn as a company that has exited at a valuation of $1B+, or whose latest private valuation exceeds that. Further, we exclude holding companies and corporate subsidiaries. Dealroom was used as the primary source of valuation data, whereas public disclosures or credible estimates were used as the basis of revenue and profitability data.
June 17, 2020