Europe and Start-ups : should we worry? Or is there hope?

I just read two articles (thanks Kevin and Deborah 🙂 !) about high-tech entrepreneurship in Europe. One is optimistic, the other one less so… The Financial Times just published a special report about Europe’s top 50 tech entrepreneurs and it includes Watch out Silicon Valley by Skype’s co-founder Niklas Zennström. The new York Times published A Fearless Culture Fuels U.S. Tech Giants. You might not be surprised but I mostly agreed with the American point of view. So let me begin with the pessimistic analysis…

Here’s a stark comparison: In the United States, three of the top 10 companies by market capitalization are technology companies founded in the last half-century: Apple, Microsoft and Google. In Europe, there are none among the top 10 and when it comes to remedies: “They all want a Silicon Valley,” [said] Jacob Kirkegaard, a Danish economist […] “But none of them can match the scale and focus on the new and truly innovative technologies you have in the United States. Europe and the rest of the world are playing catch-up, to the great frustration of policy makers there. The article adds: “while there are always individual exceptions to sweeping generalities about Europeans and Americans, the major barriers were cultural.” […] “Fail fast, fail often” is a Silicon Valley mantra, and the freedom to innovate is inextricably linked to the freedom to fail. In Europe, failure carries a much greater stigma than it does in the United States. […] None of this will be easy to change, even assuming Europeans want change.

Zennström is much more optimistic and I would love to agree with him… “Just as a nimble start-up can defeat a large incumbent, turning its focus and speed to its advantage, so too are we seeing that in some respects European entrepreneurs actually have an edge. The first of these advantages is highly visible: the extraordinary development of Europe’s tech hubs.” He mentions here Helsinki for mobile gaming and London for finance. He sees a second reason why Silicon Valley might be less needed. “When we founded Skype, our aim was never to build the best peer-to-peer communication service in Sweden. Likewise, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon did not set out to build Sweden’s best music service with Spotify, nor did Riccardo Zacconi and his co-founders at King aim to build amazing games for Swedes to play with. Without the luxury of a huge domestic market, we were forced to think internationally from day one — to solve global problems, to work across borders, and to move fast in doing so.” […] “In short, we are seeing the emergence of a remarkable cohort of new businesses: start-ups that begin in some of the world’s smallest domestic markets but are able, thanks to their highly international approach, to reach global scale in record time. In time, I believe, this will be as significant a trend as the historic concentration of innovation in Silicon Valley, and will play a major role in the European economy for decades to come.”

I feel like I read the same analysis from fifteen or twenty years…Just have a look, even if more recent, at Europe vs. USA: growth in IT and Biotech Only time will tell us who best analyzed the situation.

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