How European Cities are Building Tech Capitals*

No, I’m NOT writing yet another article on which city of London, Paris or Berlin is going to be Europe’s leading startup city. I think that debate is well overplayed and quite frankly a pointless conversation to have. But – as many of you already know – what has fascinated me over the last few years has been watching how the European ecosystem is developing and how different cities are building tech capitals and in very different ways.

TechCity this, TechCity that.

TechCity. London. UK. They’re practically synonyms now. What an awesome brand. And I think many other European governments would agree, perhaps begrudgingly. Also known as “Silicon Roundabout” or “East London Tech City” (according to Wikipedia), is a rather successful attempt to transform East London into a British version of Silicon Valley. Many European cities have attempted to do this, including France’s Sophia Antipolis. However, the UK government has done a terrific job at building a local ecosystem; rumors claim that the area only had 15 tech/startup companies in 2008 and today could well have up to 5,000 – according to an article in Wired.

A recent article in the Economist claims that London moved faster than both London and Paris in creating this type of local ecosystem and that it already boasts some terrific successes, noting, Moo, and several others.

But beyond TechCity, one initiative I have been a huge fan of (and I’m clearly not alone) is that of Google Campus. I’ve written about the space before (although, yes, it was a while ago*), although in not very much detail. What I particularly like about the space is that it essentially houses an entire ecosystem; key actors like Startup Weekend, Seedcamp, TechHub and then offers a terrific free coworking/coffeeshop and an events space as well. Way to go Eze Vidra.

Berlin’s New Block.

I admit that I know far less about Berlin’s ecosystem when compared to London or Paris. But one initiative that blew my mind when I was in Berlin not too long ago was The Factory. Announced earlier this year and named apparently after the UK’s Factory Records, this startup space is said to span up to 16,000 square meters (this is the surface I was told by the team although it seems there have been other numbers published here, here and here). The space is completely privately funded and will host some Berlin’s hottest startups in one central location, including Soundcloud, 6Wunderkinder and the likes. The space – which is currently under construction and said to be ready in Spring 2014 – is essentially an entire block of startup space.

Check out the video by VentureVillage, you can even visit the underground bar they discovered during construction.

What I like in particular about the approach to The Factory is that it’s a completely different approach to TechCity London. It’s not led by the government, it’s not striving to give Berlin a TechCity-like brand. It’s essentially a response that recognizes some of the difficulties of the Berlin ecosystem, for example, being too dispersed and spread out.

A recent and rather depressing article in The Economist claims that Germany’s problem is that it does not innovate. The article mentions the same boring clichés we hear all over Europe (lack of funding, absence of sexy IPOs, blahblah) and fails to mention any new initiatives or companies, sticking simply to Rocket Internet and Xing as its main examples. Now, I’m no expert in German startups, but I think this article does not at all reflect the reality of Germany’s growing startup capital. But I could be wrong.

Paris: 1,000 startups and counting.

Naturally everyone has now heard about France’s plans to build the biggest startup incubator in the…world. Led and funded 90% by Free/Iliad’s Xavier Niel, the space plans to host up to 1000 startups. That’s Dave McClure x2. Announced officially on September 25th, the surface is 30,000 square meters and will likely include a fablab and even some administrative organizations to help French simplify the lives of French startups.

While Paris doesn’t really have a shortage of coworking and startup spaces (seems there is a new one popping up just about every day), this initiative will not only help to consolidate the ecosystem but will also help to simplify administrative headaches given that there will be administrative groups on site. And the numbers alone make it by far one of the most ambitious projects to come out of Europe and will definitely put the Paris ecosystem on the map.

Almost forgot Europe’s “other” countries.

Seems we spend so much time focusing on London, Paris and Berlin (like I said, annoying debate) that we tend to forget to look at what is going on in the other European countries. For example, Portugal. In June, Bloomberg highlighted the nation’s capital city and growing startup scene, including local players like Startup Lisboa.

  Please note: this video is not in English 🙂

There are lots of other initiatives from around Europe that deserve to be highlighted as well (feel free to post more in the comments) but what I particularly like seeing is an initiative that communicates on an international level but is able to respond to a local need.

* Yes, I haven’t written in a while. Thanks for noticing 🙂

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