By Don Grantham, President, Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe
Entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive in Europe. We should be proud of our growing startup scene – like Silicon Valley, Europe is home to several members of the ‘Billion Dollar Startups Club’, a list of venture-backed private companies valued at $1 billion or more. Big names like Spotify, Global Fashion Group and Delivery Hero all have their headquarters in Europe, and there are plenty of smaller startups making a significant impact on the region as well.
Entrepreneurs are an essential part of Europe’s economy, bringing new solutions and services to the marketplace. Happily, we’re seeing some great examples of these startups succeeding. Take Greece, for example. Despite the economic situation affecting the country, the number of startups in Greece has risen to more than 400 with clear benefits for employment. The 11 startups involved in the entrepreneurial non-government organization NGO Endeavor’s network are expected to create 15,000 jobs in the country by 2017 – and that’s just a fraction of all the country’s new businesses. Such a transformation in Greece’s startup ecosystem is an impressive growth of opportunities for the country and its people.
Despite the success of some of these startups, many young firms end up leaving the continent because they don’t find the financial support they need to commercialize their ideas. That’s not surprising considering that, compared to Europe, the US produced roughly twice as many startups in 2015, with around ten times as much private funding.
Several government bodies in Europe are already taking steps to actively invest in our entrepreneurs – this year alone, the European Commission has signed investment agreements worth over €1 billion. Just last month, France and Germany pledged to invest more public and private money into European technology startups – investing €75 million into venture-capitalist funds. Western Europe is leading the way for the European region in terms of investment, and startups there have already seen a 174 per cent increase in total amount invested between 2013 and 2014. If governments in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) decide to follow suit, then there will be even more growth possibilities for startups across the continent.
Private sector investment in the startup scene is also essential. As well as providing funding, new businesses need the right technology in order to succeed in a global market. At Microsoft, we are working with more than 82,000 fledgling technology companies worldwide through our BizSpark program, providing entrepreneurs with the cloud services and tools they need to create a company that can grow, and flourish in today’s competitive market. 41,000 of these young businesses are based in Europe, and more than 9,000 in the CEE region.
The number of startups from Central and Eastern Europe enrolled in BizSpark is growing by more than 50 per cent every year. Some established businesses that have benefited from the program include the Pollfish from Greece, a mobile survey platform that delivers surveys to mobile apps. Mobile app developers gain from surveys by receiving payment each time a user completes one, helping developers to access large, new audiences. Pollfish hit $2.8 million in total funding after only two years as a business, and was able to manage its rapid growth through Microsoft technology.
Another example of a successful startup based within Europe is SenseAnywhere, a Dutch company that provides the technology which ensures your food has been properly stored, during transportation from farm to store. There is also the Hungarian startup 3G Multimedia, a white label streaming service that now works with international brands including Tesco and T-Mobile.
While funding is initially critical, entrepreneurs need guidance, non-financial support, and networking opportunities to really kick-start and scale up a company. We have a number of Microsoft Innovation Centers and startup accelerators across Europe which provide resources, training and opportunities to aspiring entrepreneurs aiming to build their own business.
If we want to close the entrepreneurial gap and keep European talent at home, the public and private sectors must work hand in hand to support and inspire those who are passionate about turning their business ideas into a reality. By providing Europe’s startups with opportunities that are equal or better than those available worldwide, we will grow our local economics and ensure that Europe’s innovation has a key role on the global stage.