Europe has been working hard to rejuvenate the economy by turbocharging local startups, and there has been definite progress in recent years. But a pair of new reports point to a very mixed 2017, leaving the outlook for these efforts far from certain.
There is little doubt that the culture of entrepreneurship has shifted dramatically across the continent in the past few years. Whether it’s the number of conferences, the countries and regions striving to be recognized as startup hubs, or the number of entrepreneurs, Europe has a serious case of startup fever.
And there’s good news on that front. According to a recent report from Tech.eu, that momentum resulted in European startups raising $31 billion in 2017, up 52.4 percent from the previous year.
But as we’ve seen elsewhere, that money is going to fewer startups. There were 3398 deals in 2017, down 1.7 percent from 2016.
The U.K. is far and away the startup leader in Europe, with $9.2 billion in investment, compared to second-place Germany with $5 billion. Even with Brexit continuing to hover over the London startup scene, the U.K. still remains ground zero for Europe’s tech ecosystem.
France continued to surge, boasting the most funding rounds in 2017, thanks in no small part to the fact that the government-based bank Bpifrance and Paris-based Kima Ventures were the two most active venture investors last year. But France only ranked fourth in overall funding (behind Israel), indicating that much of the funding there is still going to earlier stage companies.
What Europe ultimately desires is a steady stream of exits to demonstrate its prowess and to convince investors that high-risk capital in the region can product solid returns. For the moment, a large chunk of the investment capital across the continent still flows from government sources rather than private investors.
More exits might help shift that equation. But the record in that department last year wasn’t great.
Tech.eu reported that there were only 610 exits (555 acquisitions, 36 IPOs, 16 mergers, 3 buyouts) in 2017, totaling $76 billion in value. That’s a big drop from the 700 deals in 2016 that were worth $146 billion. The Delivery Hero and Hello Fresh IPOs were two big highlights for 2017.
Of course, 2016 was a bit inflated by SoftBanks’ acquisition of ARM Group, Nokia’s purchase of Alcatel-Lucent, and Tencent’s deal for Supercell. Last year didn’t see as many marquee deals.
But if you’re going to exit, there’s one clear takeaway: Move to Sweden. Tech.eu noted that Sweden had 120 exits in 2017, up from just 55 in 2016. Germany was second with 112 exits. And of course Delivery Hero and HelloFresh are both based in Germany, giving that country additional bragging rights.
It wasn’t a terrible year for Europe by any means, but it wasn’t a breakout year, either. We’ll see in 2018 whether the long-awaited Spotify IPO proves to be the catalyst that will turn the recent drop in exits into a slight bump on Europe’s road to startup greatness.