For years, we have compared and contrasted parts of Europe with Silicon Valley. “Is Berlin the next Valley?” “Is London catching up with San Francisco?”
All of our European tech hubs have come along in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Now companies from Shoreditch, Stockholm, and Silicon Glen can start up just like those in San Jose.
But there is one thing the European tech scene still doesn’t have like they do over the pond, one hole that will continue to hold it back if not plugged: reciprocity.
Celebrated investor and advisor Sherry Coutu identified in a recent report, The Scale-Up Manifesto, that one reason Europe’s growing clutch of small- and medium-sized tech firms find it hard to reach the next level is a dearth of successful scene entrepreneurs available to hand down their knowledge to the next generation.
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Without the support and advice of veteran entrepreneurs, many of us fall victim to classic growth inhibitors, like straying from core principles, making bad hiring decisions, and failing to implement the right processes.
In Silicon Valley, mentors grow on trees. Such is the long heritage of entrepreneurship and innovation there, veteran founders don’t simply retire with their riches, they stay excited, they offer to guide and nurture the next wave, and they vie to take a stake in the next big thing. This creates a virtuous circle of innovation that keeps the region at the top of the food chain.
Europe’s smaller number of exits and, with them, serial entrepreneurs limits the vital mentorship and guidance available to the region’s startups.
Additionally, the sheer volume of new entrepreneurs coming in at the bottom means the number of mentors in our scene is simply too small to accommodate them.
It’s not that we don’t have a valiant few who already work hard in this vein. Names like MOO’s Richard Moross, Huddle’s Andy McLoughlin, and Somo’s Nick Hynes are some great examples of founders who do make the effort to give back. Moross, for example, has frequently talked about why he enjoys sharing learnings from the decisions he has made, good and bad, even receiving an MBE this year for such services to entrepreneurship.
But these are all too rare instances of altruism in an industry that is beginning to generate significant expertise. We need our success stories to work twice as hard to bridge the gap.
For a struggling young entrepreneur, it’s easy to go the extra mile when you’re rubbing shoulders with peers who have proved what is possible — and, sadly, equally easy to give up the journey if you don’t have leading lights to show the way ahead.
Having traveled the road myself and heard from hundreds of entrepreneurs who have trouble reaching the next stage, I recognize the challenge. Too often, many of us don’t seek out help until it is too late in our business’ life cycle.
You may hear plenty about how the local tech community now has a rich support network. But a handful of the same faces giving a speech at a networking event every now and then doesn’t quite cut it. What entrepreneurs need is a real guiding hand, on-call when it can be hard to focus, to ensure the best decisions are made to keep you moving forward.
So I call on every founder in Europe — when you achieve your goal, celebrate it vigorously. You have earned it. But remember the environment that got you there; be restless, and give back a bit. The future of our economy may just depend on it.
Ben Fletcher is organizer of London-based Fast Growth Forum, an event that helps entrepreneurs and startup founders learn how to scale their businesses. Ben Fletcher invests in, advises, and mentors early-stage companies.