Recently, I’ve noticed a new flood of negativity building up in Europe’s startup scene. Sure, the Euro isn’t doing particularly well and France (and apparently Will Smith?) is a little uneasy with what François Hollande’s government has in store. And Europe isn’t culturally as over-the-top optimistic as its transatlantic neighbor. Still, sometimes it feels like Europe’s tech scene enjoys a bit of self-bashing, whether it be about entrepreneurs’ incapability to “dream big” or VC’s ROI.
Here’s Will Smith proudly supporting François Hollande’s proposed 75% tax on annual income of over 1 million euros.
“Europeans lack ambition.”
GigaOm’s Bobbie Johnson published an article earlier this week that got off to a bit of a gloomy start, with standard stereotypes of “Europe is risk averse, Europe is short on capital, Europe doesn’t have enough big successes to build on.” Really?
But I’ll have to say that my favorite part of the article was the title: “Europe doesn’t lack ambition, but some Europeans do.” Uh…right. But unfortunately, Johnson isn’t the only one thinking this. I can’t help but ask how this is any different from anywhere else in the world, please? I’m not going to name any names but I can tell you from experience that there are definitely unambitious American entrepreneurs too. Turns out, they’re just better at marketing.
The US cares about Europe, too.
As Johnson later points out in his article, not all Europeans are looking across the Atlantic wishing they were in the US. In fact, Europe – while it may still not be home to pre-revenue companies like Instagram that get swallowed up for $1 billion – has made tremendous progress in the last few years. And here are a few of the big successes from Europe’s tech scene to prove it.
Americans enjoy Europe for the high speed rail? Not a startup but still tech!
But while Europe should also not forget that the US is also interested in what happens over here. Numerous American startups – like Airbnb, Uber, Twitter, Netflix, Eventbrite, Foursquare and Fab – have also started to look to Europe, with many of them putting Europe on the top of their international expansion list. Plus, Airbnb, Twitter and Fab have even made acquisitions of European companies. Since when is that not to like?
In addition to the debate about whether or not European entrepreneurs lack ambition or not is the issue of Europe’s VCs. Atlas Venture’s Fred Destin who once proudly waived the flag to mark the arrival of the European Super Angel published a piece in The Kernel last week properly questioning the future of venture capital in Europe.
He correctly noted that there are more and more initiatives in Europe that rely on public money – which has more or less always been the case in France. Prior to the arrival of funds like Kima Ventures, accelerator programs and even crowd funding platforms, entrepreneurs in France were dreaming up innovative ways to get ahold of the money they needed. Still, a majority of them were turning to grants and para-public bank, OSEO, as their only hope. Now the French government also has 2 funds that directly compete with local VC funds that are already raising less than before. (I’ll have to do another post on this whole ordeal, stay tuned.)
Wow, you’re an entrepreneur?
Still, governments are now starting to tune in to entrepreneurship and are finally recognizing its value for economic growth. While setting up funds that directly compete with VCs and proposing 75% taxes on anyone who actually makes it to Zuckerberg status isn’t particularly encouraging, there are other initiatives that prove that this is potentially all part of the learning process. Tax incentive schemes encouraging wealthy individuals to become business angels and invest in startups is just one of many examples that can be seen in multiple European countries.
Plus, while European students traditionally dream of working in large, monster-like corporations, it’s now becoming trendy to become an entrepreneur and work for a startup. This is a huge shift in the mindset.
It’s hard to sit back and watch these negative articles about Europe’s tech scene be published time and time again without wondering if Europe enjoys a bit of self-bashing. After all, the American ecosystem doesn’t collapse on itself or have an existential crisis every time it hits a bump in the road, why should we?