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Which start-up companies will be Europe's next unicorns?

Europe had a landmark year in 2021 but is still lagging behind other continents in breeding tech unicorns.
Europe had a landmark year in 2021 but is still lagging behind other continents in breeding tech unicorns.   -   Copyright  Canva

By Amanda Kavanagh

European start-ups had a landmark year in 2021.

American venture capital firms invested almost $118 billion (€118 billion) in deals this side of the Atlantic last year, according to financial data company PitchBook.

A boom year by all accounts, and so far, 2022 displays strong confidence too.

Unicorn companies are those which reach a valuation of $1 billion without being listed on the stock market, and some 30 VC-backed start-ups in Europe joined the unicorn stable from January to June this year.

On track

In Europe, invested capital is still on track to exceed €99 billion ($100 billion) for a second consecutive year, though it is predicted to slow down in the second half of 2022, amid cost-cutting measures in the tech industry.

Meanwhile, fundraising has noticeably slowed in the US and Asia, where just 118 and 35 companies, respectively, exceeded the threshold valuation for unicorn status in 2021.

There are many theories on why Europe has lagged behind Silicon Valley in breeding tech unicorns.

Many US unicorn founders have previously worked at large US-headquartered multinationals, in particular PayPal, and have leveraged that experience to start successful tech companies of their own.

The college alumni network in the US is also particularly strong. Both of these factors are very useful for fast-tracking investor connections.

In comparison, according to London-based Series A investor Mosaic Ventures, 65 per cent of 197 European unicorn founders surveyed are repeat founders.

Some 55 per cent had no previous industry experience of the sector their unicorn operates in; less than 10 per cent had worked at another unicorn or big tech company; and the top five alma maters account for less than 15 per cent of founders in the sample.

In Europe, real-world experience in operating a business matters more, as does total years’ work experience, and taking an outsider perspective to tackle an industry’s pain points.

Today, some 150 tech unicorns are European, just 13 per cent of the world’s total. Though only a fraction of the US market in terms of investment – a third the size specifically – European unicorns have doubled in number since 2020.

Bright future

A "virtuous cycle" is expected. As successful European companies produce experienced founders, more future unicorns will form. A bright future lies ahead, led by founders with a mix of experience and education, making Europe’s start-up scene even more dynamic and innovative.

According to M&A firm i5invest’s 2022 European Unicorn & Soonicorn report, Germany is Europe’s fastest unicorn breeding ground, with the top four fastest unicorns ever originating in Berlin, while the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and Austria are home to the most European unicorns, in that order.

Some 76 per cent of funds going into Europe’s high-valued tech companies are headquartered in the US, followed by China and Russia, with about a 3 per cent stake each.

Next big things

Some fast-growing start-ups predicted as soonicorns (or soon-to-be-unicorns) include Helsing, a German AI technology platform pitched at government organisations, Blackshark.ai which makes 3D simulation environments, plus The Stryze Group and Heroes – both companies which buy Amazon sellers and scale them.

But there’s no shortage of aspiring companies in Europe, and many are scaling and hiring rapidly. Here are three jobs from Euronews.jobs to consider.

Implementation Consultant, Lightyear

Fintech Lightyear was founded by brothers and entrepreneurs Chris and Roger Gregg in 2017. It specialises in automating data entry and streamlining the accounts payable process for businesses of all sizes.

It’s now seeking an Implementation Consultant for a Belfast-based role to provide account set-up and training services to businesses and partners, ensuring software is successfully embedded within their processes.

Two or more years’ experience in a similar software implementation and training role is preferred, as is an aptitude for tech and the ability to learn new systems quickly.

Find out more about this Implementation Consultant role.

Full-Stack Engineer, HERO Software

HERO Software is a fast-growing tech start-up operating in the crafting space, and provides customers with intuitive software for project planning and processing.

The Full-Stack Engineer will design and develop new features for Hero’s cloud platform. The successful applicant must be in Hero’s Hannover office once a quarter, but otherwise can be remote, and will ensure the quality of software through code reviews and testing and will work closely with the product team on concepts.

You’ll need experience in full-stack web development (PHP, JavaScript, MySQL) and knowledge dealing with modern MVC frameworks and PHP8.

Find out more about this Full-Stack Engineer role.

Product Manager, Amadeus

Amadeus has been around for over 30 years, but the travel giant never sits still. It is now seeking a Product Manager for Hospitality Payments, where you’ll define and shape the overall vision and strategy for the payments product and department.

The successful candidate will support the delivery of MVPs (minimum viable products), product evolution and bespoke customer developments by liaising with engineering and ops teams, as well as third-parties.

You’ll need hospitality payments experience, with particular experience with hotels’ direct channels. Payments experience working with APIs, SDKs, tokenisation and hosted payment pages is preferred.

Get more information on this Product Manager role.

See which European start-ups are hiring. Check out Euronews.jobs, set up alerts and bookmark the link for regular check-ins