Last week, yours truly hopped on a Eurostar train to London for one of the most anticipated tech events in Europe: The Europas, an awards ceremony / unconference organized by TechCrunch's Mike Butcher.
I won't bother to bore you with the details of the magnificent venue (Old Billingsgate) and amazing views from outside, the party or the surprise performance by Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst (or a look-a-like who really looks alike).
Rather, I wanted to publish an overview of who won the awards this year, but also some words about why I believe they emerged as victors in their respective categories. (Not sure if it really warrants a disclosure, but I was part of the long list of judges for this year.)
Here's the full list of the winners of The Europas awards 2014, with some reflections on why we think the company or person(s) won the category:
The Europas Grand Prix Award
Our take: founded by friends Jon Reynolds and Dr. Ben Medlock, UK-based Swiftkey is living proof that you can build a global startup from Europe. The startup is mostly known for its predictive keyboard for Android, has raised tens of millions in funding and recently made its app free.
Big deal, but even bigger is the fact that Apple is warming up to third-party smartphone keyboard developers, which bodes fantastically well for SwiftKey.
Best Entertainment or Media Startup
Our take: Logical winner, despite some intense competition in this category from two of the world's leading subscription-based music streaming platforms.
With more than 250 million users and a just opened swanky new office, SoundCloud is one of Berlin's (and Europe's) mega tech stars, and a recent $60 million injection at a $700 million valuation hasn't stopped the likes of Twitter from sniffing around for an acquisition of late. In fact, expect more of that.
The other nominees were: Deezer, MUBI, Songkick, Spotify and YPlan
Best E-Commerce Startup
Our take: Online food ordering is hot in Europe and beyond, and Rocket Internet-backed Foodpanda is one of the fastest-growing companies in this space without a doubt. Still, Delivery Hero seems to be the bigger one in Germany and also in full growth mode (with $260 million in funding to boot), and Russia's Ozon is definitely on a roll with a recent $150 million financing round.
You can argue Ozon isn't a startup anymore after 15+ years in business, but then other juggernauts such as Just-Eat and ASOS should perhaps also have been finalists in this category.
The other nominees were: Delivery Hero, Ozon, Thread, Tictail and YemekSepeti
Best Education Startup
Our take: The Germany-based language learning startup has become one of the worldwide leaders in this highly competitive space, and doesn't shy away from making acquisitions (even in the U.S.) to maintain its momentum.
If you can beat the likes of Memrise and Busuu in this category, that says something. Babbel was founded in August 2007 and now has approximately 250 employees and freelancers serving millions of users - its app have already been downloaded more than 25 million times to date.
The other nominees were: Busuu, Fluentify, Gojimo, Memrise and ShowMyHomework
Best Startup Accelerator or Incubator
Our take: Since its founding in 2010, Startupbootcamp has accelerated about 140 startups, of which close to 3/4 received follow-on funding. Those are the kinds of stats that get you awards.
Startupbootcamp runs programs in a range of cities all across Europe and is poised to do even more in the next few years. It's no surprise that there are lots of startup accelerators in Europe, so winning this category means Startupbootcamp had to get an edge over other strong contestants like Seedcamp and Techstars London. It also means Europe has quite a few strong accelerators, in general.
The other nominees were: Axel Springer Plug & Play, Entrepreneur First, Le Camping, Seedcamp, Techstars London and The Family
Best Advertising / Marketing Startup
Our take: The London-based multi-platform ad company was up against some stiff competition, particular Brandwatch and Socialbakers but won the award because of its impressive momentum (400% revenue growth announced last March) and ambitious plans for global expansion.
The other nominees were: Adbrain, Brandwatch, Future Ad Labs, Socialbakers, Struq
Best Gaming or Social Games Startup
Our take: How do you win this award, with the likes of Wooga and Zeptolab also vying for the crown?
The other nominees were: Brainbow, MAG interactive, Peak Games, Wooga and Zeptolab
Best Social Mobile Startup
This was a fairly easy win, but mainly because AppLift and AppsFire might as well have belonged in the 'advertising / marketing' startup category.
The other nominees were: AppLift, AppsFire, Cleverbug, PinDrop, State
Best FinTech Startup
Backed by Y Combinator, Accel Partners and Passion Capital, GoCardless aims to expand its payment solution (which is based on direct debit) across Europe, but it has a number of mountains to overcome to go from fintech startup to leading financial service provider. We'll keep an eye out.
The other nominees were: Funding Circle, iZettle, Klarna, PayMill and Transferwise
Best Enterprise, Software as a Service or B2B Startup
Our take: While the likes of Wunderlist and Prezi are very interesting products that significant businesses are currently being built on, DataSift has already cracked a very profitable nut: processing social data for a wide range of professional purposes = huge growth potential.
The other nominees were: Duedil, import•io, Prezi, Qubit and Wunderlist (6Wunderkinder)
Best Hardware Startup
Our take: arguably one of the sexiest products in a considerably wide range of them within this category, Ukraine-born Petcube is "on a mission to provide smart gadgets that connect pet owners and keep their pets healthy and entertained" - which makes for a ridiculously enormous global market if things work out the way the startup hopes it will.
The other nominees were: Blaze, CubeSensors, IntelClinic (NeuroOn), Jolla, Kano and ROLI
Best Sharing or Crowd Sourcing Economy Startup
Our take: the carpooling market in Europe is booming, and France-based BlaBlaCar has a lot of potential in this space as it competes heavily with Germany's Carpooling.com (which oddly wasn't nominated in this category).
With millions of euros in funding in the bank and more than 1 million monthly active users, BlaBlaCar has the potential to grow to a leading transportation alternative across Europe, which is obviously a growing market as the likes of Uber and Hailo have demonstrated. Other possible winners would have been European equity crowdfunding leader Seedrs and HouseTrip.
The other nominees were: Bizzby, BorrowMyDoggy, HouseTrip, Love Home Swap and Seedrs
Best Health Startup
Our take: lots of players in this sizzlingly hot space, so not an easy win for Big Health, whose Sleep.io is basically digital therapy for insomnia. Health-tech startups of all types are proliferating across Europe, so this is definitely one of many interesting companies to watch closely.
The other nominees were: Clue, Lifesum, mySugr, Teddytheguardian.com, Toothpick, Vint Training and Zesty
Best Security or Privacy Startup
Our take: a logical winner as privacy protection tools are hot products in a post-Snowden revelations world. Berlin-based startup ZenMate, which offers a browser plugin that encrypts user connections and acts like a VPN, is seeing more than 20,000 new sign-ups per day.
The other nominees were: CyberGhost, Digital Shadows, Lavaboom, ThetaRay and Wallarm
Best Virtual Currency Startup
Our take: let's not kid ourselves; this category was all about Bitcoin, and there are a surprising amount of startups focusing on it all across Europe. Slovenia's BitStamp has managed to become one of the top Bitcoin exchanges in the world, and that's no mean feat. No-brainer winner.
The other nominees were: Coinfloor, Elliptic, GoCoin, Localbitcoin and Safello
Best Travel or Transport Startup
Our take: one hell of a tough category to win, but Hailo deserves it.
Launched in November 2011, Hailo is available in cities around the world - it boasts a global network of over 50,000 drivers - and has carried over ten million passengers. Its annualised sales have swelled to well over $100 million, in a very competitive space at that. Kudos due indeed.
The other nominees were: GetYourGuide, GoEuro, Kabbee, OneFineStay, Secret Escapes, TaxiBeat
Best Internet of Things Startup
Our take: solid winner, although perhaps Withings had a better shot at emerging victorious in this particular category if you ask us.
Evrythng has momentum, though, that's for sure. The UK startup, which helps companies manage their connected products, recently secured $7 million in funding from Cisco, Atomico and others.
The other nominees were: Kontakt.io, Little Printer (BERG Cloud), Relayr.io and Withings
Coolest Technology Innovation
Our take: a no-brainer, particularly now that Apple is warming up to third-party smartphone keyboard developers.
UK-based SwiftKey, which is mostly known for its predictive keyboard for Android devices, recently announced that it was going free - which is quite a big deal.
The other nominees were: 3D Hubs, CodeAnywhere, Indoor Atlas, Sayduck and The Eye Tribe
Best Fashion Startup
Our take: Logical winner. This UK startup has taken the luxury fashion industry by storm, enabling over 300 of the world’s finest fashion boutiques to access a global customer base through its online commerce platform. The company recently raised $66 million to scale.
The other nominees were: Girl Meets dress, Lyst, Stylight, Thread.com, VideDressing and Vinted
Best Angel or Seed Investor of the Year
Our take: solid winner. France-based early-stage investment firm Kima Ventures has always prided itself on backing a large amount of fledgling tech companies per year, and making investment decisions atypically fast to boot.
Recently, the seed fund took its rapid ‘spray and pray’ investment strategy to a whole new level with the launch of a new initiative, dubbed Kima15.
The other nominees were: Connect Ventures, Federico Pirzio-Biroli (Playfair Capital), Hasan Aslanoba, Peter Read and Robin Klein
Greatest Tech Influence On Society
Our take: perhaps ResearchGate would have been a more logical winner considering its global impact, but we have absolutely no problem with lauding CodeClub, a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school programming clubs for children aged 9-11 in the UK.
The one thing you can say is that it's poised to have a global impact. And let's hope so.
The other nominees were: Believe.in, Hour of Code/Code.org, Impossible.com, ResearchGate, Year of Code
Best VC Investor of the Year
Our take: almost impossible to argue against this one, despite strong competition in the category.
Index last year sold out seven companies worth more than $1 billion, and recently raised a new €400 million fund to continue to pick out future tech stars.
Some of its stats for last year: "In 2013, our network of 140 companies employed over 25,000 people, generated revenues of over €6B ($8.2B), while growing 117%, with 1,800 additional job openings." Again, very hard to compete against numbers like that - and VC is a numbers game.
The other nominees were: Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, DFJ Esprit, Earlybird Ventures, Passion Capital
Best Startup Founder or Co-founders
Our take: all of the nominees would have made for logical winners in this category, but Prezi is definitely on a roll and one of the leading stars in the European tech industry.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, it recently became the first European company to join a group of tech corporations putting $1 billion of their collective weight behind the White House ConnectED Initiative.
The other nominees were: Fred Mazzella, Francis Nappez, Nicolas Brusson (Blablacar); Azmat Yusuf (Citymapper); Matt Robinson, Hiroki Takeuchi (GoCardless); Safa Sofuoglu, Rina Onur, Hakan Bas, Sidar Sahin (Peak Games); Ben Medlock, Jon Reynolds (Swiftkey)
Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year
Our take: there's a lot to be said about Telegram and its co-founder Pavel Durov, but you can't argue that it's seeing fast growth as people increasingly demand stronger security for communication apps.
The other nominees were: Citymapper, Hassle, Kippt, Togethera, UppTalk
Europas Hall Of Fame
Daniel Ek (Spotify)
Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital)
Klaus Hommels (investor)
Martin Varsavsky (Fon)
Robin Klein (Index Ventures)
Sherry Coutu (CBE)
Xavier Niel (Kima Ventures)
Our take: difficult to make a short list for a category like this, but all of the people above more than deserve the praise they've been given.
On to next year!