As our podcast listeners may already know, Tech.eu has decided to recognize a Person of the Year who has made a considerable contribution to the European tech ecosystem.
We are pleased to announce that we have decided to honor Niklas Zennström for our first-ever edition of this award, as Tech.eu’s Person of the Year for 2015.
Niklas has made a very considerable contribution to the European tech ecosystem throughout his career. First, as an entrepreneur and co-founder of several high-profile ventures, including Skype and Kazaa. Skype was perhaps one of Europe’s earliest success stories that helped put European startups on the map. With $2.6 billion and $8.5 billion acquisitions by eBay and Microsoft respectively, Skype is a great example of a European startup that hit record valuation prior to the unicorn-era.
In addition to his rather exceptional entrepreneurial experience, Niklas has also contributed to the European ecosystem as a high-profile entrepreneur-turned-investor. Through Atomico, the London-based fund he is co-founder and CEO of, he has been involved in some of Europe’s more recent success stories, including FON, Rovio, Supercell and Klarna. With additional offices in Tokyo, Beijing, Istanbul and Sao Paolo, Atomico is coming in on its 10th year as an active investor in the European ecosystem with over 50 investments done worldwide.
Perhaps lesser-known to the tech ecosystem is Niklas’s philanthropic activities. Founded by Niklas and his wife Catherine in 2007, Zennström Philanthropies focuses on human rights and the environment in Europe and Central Asia. The organization is also particularly interested in protecting the Baltic Sea, through its initiative Race for the Baltic, and in supporting and recognizing social entrepreneurs through the Zennström Green Mentorship Award. This award recognizes in particular entrepreneurs tackling climate change in Niklas’s home country of Sweden, and has recognized projects like the Swedish Algae Factory, Watty and Clean Motion.
Like many high-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Niklas has a long-list of contributions he has made to the European startup ecosystem. Yet, Tech.eu selected Niklas as Person of the Year for 2015 largely because of his involvement in the launch of the European Tech Alliance. This organization is one of the first to take a truly pan-European approach to defend the interests of Europe’s leading startups. Europe does not lack people who are making a difference or are highly involved in their home market – but there are still too few who really strive for cross-boarder collaboration.
When we caught up with Niklas to better understand where the idea for the European Tech Alliance came from, he mentioned the lack of a truly European organization in Europe. With surprisingly little communication and collaboration between top European hubs like Stockholm, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki, etc., the European Tech Alliance unites top startups throughout the continent to protect and defend their interests as they continue to grow. Names like Blablacar (France), Supercell (Finland), Klarna (Sweden) and Made.com (UK) all appear on the list of companies taking part.
There are no Facebooks, no Googles – just European startups.
While Niklas has definitely been impressed with the growth of the European tech ecosystem, he still acknowledges that there are areas for improvement.
“We have a long way to go,” he says. “Europe still doesn’t have a truly big tech company – no Facebook, no Google employing 10,000 people and acquiring smaller companies.” And he’s right. But he’s confident that Europe is heading in the right direction and there will be one soon enough. Other areas he thinks Europe can improve on include access to growth capital. But, in the words of Niklas, challenges are opportunities.
Despite the room for improvement, Niklas finds that European startups have surpassed his expectations. The fact that Europe has 40 startups valued over $1 billion is far beyond what he would have imagined 10 years ago – and it is one of the main reasons he refers to 2015 as “a breakthrough year” for European startups.
So, which European startups does Niklas think we should keep an eye on in 2016? Obviously there are numerous companies in the Atomico portfolio he would like us to watch. But two perhaps lesser-known companies making headway are Berlin-based GoEuro, a travel comparison site which helps simplify travel and transportation across Europe, and Lisbon-based Uniplaces, which lists over 40,000 student accommodations in over 140 countries.
Tech.eu would like to take this opportunity to thank Niklas Zennström for all his contributions to the European ecosystem.
Featured image credit: TechCrunch / Flickr