Not All Funding Is Created Equal: Where to Look When Raising Money in Europe
Having plenty of options doesn't always make things easier, does it? Rather, it can leave you aimlessly flipping between alternatives, and maybe even regretting the choices you made in the end. Remember that time you got overwhelmed by paint colors, and chose that really awful shade of green? Case in point.
In business, entrepreneurs are faced with making difficult choices all the time. But, naturally some decisions carry more weight -- and this is especially true when it comes to funding. When seeking out funding it's imperative to sift through all the options, and choose a partner with the right industry expertise and contacts to help you succeed. But, with 28 countries to pick from, where should you start looking for funding in the European Union? It can all get pretty overwhelming -- so here are a few tips to get started:
Know what country is pushing your sector.
European Commission initiative Startup Europe is designed to boost the region's startup scene through incubator programs, events like Startup Europe Week -- and of course, funding. At current, Startup Europe offers 20 different types of support opportunities for startups in a range of industries -- from IT to health to education.
But, while the EU does provide a nice umbrella of funds, it's prudent for entrepreneurs to look beyond and see what individual countries offer, too. There's a fragmentation in the way companies are funded in Europe, and particular countries are experts in specific sectors. So, if you want to raise your chances of funding success, you need to pinpoint which country is pushing your industry.
Take Finland, for example. The country boasts the fastest growing gaming industry in the world, and according to the latest data, the industry had a record-high turnover of €2.5 billion in 2016 -- roughly $3.1 billion. Finland is also home to Rovio Entertainment, the makers of Angry Birds, and about 20 percent of people employed in the gaming industry are foreigners. So yes, it's a good idea to head to Finland for gaming investment.
In France, there are a few main focuses. For one, the country promotes the aerospace sector.
France is a dominant force in the global aerospace industry, and exported $53 billion in aerospace goods in 2016 -- the second most in the world, just behind the U.S. France also boasts Aerospace Valley, an innovation hub in the south of the country that's home to hundreds of aerospace companies and about 8,500 researchers. It also employs nearly 125,000 people -- with the goal of creating up to 40,000 jobs in the next seven years.
France has also become a leader in deep tech -- things like AI, IoT and data analytics. According to a KPMG analysis on global venture funding, the rapid evolution of deep tech innovation in France isn't a surprise given the country's long history of scientific competence. In 2017, France raised €2.7 billion in VC funding -- the most in Europe. This is perhaps a testament to the fact that 88 percent of investors believe the deep tech market in France will grow to be the strongest in the region.
And if you're looking for VR funding? Head to the U.K., France or Sweden. According to a report by the Venture Reality Fund -- a VC firm focused on AR/VR and mixed reality -- the U.K. wins the title for having the most companies overall, and France leads the way on continental Europe for the most VR development. Sweden however, is catching up in the race for housing the highest number of well-performing startups in the industry.
You wouldn't go to Germany to buy cheese, or to France to buy a car. So, before taking the first funding opportunity that comes your way, it's imperative to do your homework, ask the industry leaders, and discover which country will best support your product.
Go to places looking to develop the local economy.
According to the European Innovation Scoreboard 2017, Sweden is the EU's innovation leader. Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K., Finland and Germany follow closely behind. However considering the $10-billion fund for innovation announced last summer under President Emmanuel Macron, it's surprising France didn't make the list.
The French startup ecosystem is gaining steam, and I'd argue it's the next big place to look for VC funding in the EU. In fact, 2017 was already a huge year for VC investment in France. For the first time in five years, the country closed the most funding deals in Europe. And in Q4 alone, more than $275 million of VC funding was invested in startups. And thanks to the wide government support, this investment is only expected to advance throughout 2018.
Another perk of looking to France is that it's home to Station F -- the largest startup campus on the world. Based in Paris, the new 365,972-square-foot campus has more than 3,000 workstations, 26 international startup programs and houses tech giants like L'Oreal, Amazon and Facebook. In fact, Facebook's own Sheryl Sandberg applauds the French ecosystem, saying the country has "some of the most innovative technology companies in the world."
Ultimately, I'd highly recommend startups in search of funding head to France. And even better, since the country makes up 15 percent of EU's GDP, expanding your company there will enable you to tackle a huge share of the EU market off the bat.
Consider funding your ticket to acquiring European competitors.
While in the U.S. startups raise higher rounds and have higher exits -- $23.75 billion was invested in U.S. companies in Q4 2017 -- the funding scene in Europe is inherently different. On the flip side, just $5.7 billion was invested in European companies in Q4. And while in 2017 282 VC-backed companies exited in Europe, 769 companies saw exits in the U.S.
U.S. investors have come to expect larger and more frequent exits, because they take more risks. However, Europeans aren't as risky, so they get less returns. Also the U.S. market for VC-backed exits is much bigger, so there is more liquidity. So instead of companies having to find rapid exit strategies, startups in Europe have more free rein to use Series B and C funding to acquire European competitors. After all, this is usually the only way to successfully expand across borders -- a necessary move if a startup wants to grow within Europe.
Take the path French car sharing company Blablacar has taken, for example. Around the same time period in 2015, Blablacar bought German competitor Carpooling.com and Hungarian competitor Autohop. Why? The company used the acquisitions to move into Germany, as well as Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Croatia, where Autohop operated.
Doing business in the EU is inherently different from anywhere else in the world. However, one thing is for sure: The funding ecosystem in the region is growing stronger, and there's plenty of support out there to help startups succeed. It just depends on where you look.