European tech investors: Where is the love?

Last week we reported that the Forbes 2011 Midas List of the top 100 tech investors included only two women.

What may have escaped notice is that only two investors based in Europe made it onto the list: Antoine Papiernik of Sofinnova Partners (No. 36) and Danny Rimer of Index Ventures (No. 59).

The Midas List ranks top venture capitalists according to their leadership within a firm or sector, the firm’s overall standing in the venture capital industry and an analysis of the firm’s disclosed M&A’s and IPO exits. Based on Forbes’ analysis, Europe appears to be the stepchild of the venture capital world.

I tracked down Papiernik and Rimer and asked them about investing in Europe. According to Business Insider, Europe has the smallest stockpile of venture capital funds in the world. While the US has $77 billion in “dry powder” (funds available for investment) as of April 2011, VC funds focused on Europe have $28 billion, while Asia and the rest of the world is sitting on $51 billion.

Danny Rimer started Index Ventures’ London office and has been involved in European success stories like MySql, Last.Fm and Skype. He pointed out that the Forbes list is very US-centric in that it doesn’t include many Asian investors either. He says “It’s like the world series of baseball”, i.e. global in title, but not in reality.

Papiernik, who specializes in Life Sciences and whose fund has been involved in 3 billion dollars in company exits in the past two years, agrees that venture capital is still seen as a US business. “LPs (limited partners, who provide the money to VC funds) traditionally tend to look in their back mirrors”, he says, and European venture capital is not what they see there. Rimer told me that “Europe is not considered to be a hotbed of innovation and good liquidity results” and that his fund has made a good business out of that perception.

Rimer highlights a trend in European tech companies like music subscription service Spotify or multiplayer game portal Gameforge, which have the potential to go global and are even being cloned in the U.S. He would like to see more European IPOs and European companies buying local startups. Papiernik notes that big pharma is closing down a lot of research labs in Europe so many more qualified people are available to start companies.

Given that the European VC market probably has considerable room to grow, it’s surprising that more U.S. venture firms are not looking to expand in that direction. “In life sciences there is more of a level playing field worldwide. Big pharma doesn’t care where a company is,” concludes Papiernik. Sounds like good business to me.

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