As the European Commission hosted a weeklong series of events across the continent for Startup Europe Week last week, buzzwords like innovation, disruption, and unicorns were in full swing. But the same was not the case for ‘corporations’.
The world’s top corporations (of Fortune’s 2015 Global 500, 160 were European firms) are often denounced for their lack of innovation and their inability to think about big-picture disruption.
Many of them now house accelerators (think Unilever’s Foundry, Coca Cola’s Founders, Telefonica’s Wayra, and Barclays FinTech Accelerator), and some dabble in venture capital, yet generally-speaking, they still lag behind startups in their ability to leverage technology to create out-of-the-box solutions to the problems of tomorrow. Despite this, I believe they are the key to building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Europe to rival that of Silicon Valley. And you may think I’m crazy for it.
But the truth is, European startups need European corporates to grow. Matching the continent’s top startups, who desperately need the resources to help them scale up, with the top EU corporations, who need a dose of innovative thinking, just makes plain sense.
I could go on and on about how Europe suffers from a lack of capital compared to its neighbour across the Atlantic, but that is a whole separate topic in itself for another time.
If we strike more deals between corporates who have the resources, international presence – and let’s face it – the cash on-hand, with the starters who have the innovative thinking and nothing-to-lose attitude, it’s possible Europe can disrupt industries on a scale matching that of Silicon Valley.
Through Startup Europe Partnership we aim to do just that. Launched by former EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes at Davos in 2014, and led by Mind the Bridge, today SEP has made this vision of bridging top European startups to large corporations into a reality.
In its 12 “matching events” to date, SEP has brought together over 180 small businesses to meet 25 corporates (and counting) in 350+ face-to-face pre-qualified meetings.
Amid the buzz surrounding Startup Europe Week, it was my intention to direct some of last week’s conversation about what we need to help build a more entrepreneurial ecosystem to put a spotlight on corporations. That’s exactly why my conversation with Nesta’s Valerie Mocker, an expert on best practices for startup-corporate interaction, and Dale Huxford, Squire Patton Boggs counsel who advises European fast-growth technology companies throughout their entire lifecycle, focused on talking about how we’ve been successful in this experiment of startup-corporate matching, and which challenges we still face.
While we undoubtedly still lag behind Silicon Valley, I think we have more and more reasons to be optimistic. Our recent research indicates that across five EU markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK) there are over 1,000 European scaleups and almost 400 exits in the last five years. Europe today is definitely a better place to be a startup, a hopeful ‘scale-up’, and even a corporation seeking to innovate, than it was just five years ago. Startup Europe is rising; that’s a fact, not just wishful thinking.
The only risk we face comes with neglecting our startups by leaving them alone. If we don’t put in place more effective solutions, such as SEP’s matching programmes, to bridge them with established business, our startups may grow, but very slowly, and ultimately, they’ll remain in ‘nowhere land’. Startups and corporates – to misquote Italian playwright Alessandro Manzoni – “questo matrimonio s’ha da fare”.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash