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VCs Have Much More to Offer European Founders Than Funding Be sure to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of your investors.

By Hjalmar Winbladh

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When considering the countless pressures entrepreneurs face in startup life, fundraising -- and all its associated complexities -- is likely the first obstacle that springs to mind. However, building a prosperous business requires much more than just money. While capital is clearly key, financial investment alone should never be seen as a silver bullet for startup success.

Related: European Startups Find Success When They Stop Trying to Be Like Silicon Valley's

Instead, when considering funding, founders should also think about how they can gain access to an ecosystem of potential stakeholders and a wealth of expertise. After all, there's no point in having money if it's not invested wisely. There's a whole community of founders out there who've made plenty of mistakes before, so there's no need for fledgling entrepreneurs to make the same ones again.

Arguably, it's this ecosystem that's the most valuable asset for entrepreneurs. Being plugged into a solid network not only gives access to advice, but also opens doors to collaborations between startup founders and larger corporations. Think partnerships and potential customers, which will in turn give others the confidence to buy into an emerging service. What's more, members of a VC network can help answer any questions that arise along an entrepreneur's journey -- and no doubt there will be many.

Making the right hires with the right people

As just one example, successfully scaling teams as a company grows can be a big challenge and finding the best people can be costly in terms of both time and money. That said, hiring the right people at the right moment is crucial for success.

Although it's standard practice to have lots of spinning plates at the bootstrapping stage, post-investment, founders must resist doing everything themselves. Chances are, they've been juggling a number of roles across the business -- finance, marketing, product, HR and more -- to get their company off the ground. For the business to scale, however, founders need to surround themselves with a team of experts in each field so they can focus on leading the company.

For all aspiring entrepreneurs, scaling can be one of the most problematic periods of running a business due to the sheer number of team transitions that happen at once. However, this is a prime area where venture capitalists can support founders. They've been through all of these scaling problems firsthand and are an invaluable source of information for startups and scale-ups going through similar experiences.

Related: There Are Plenty of Non-Equity Funding Options for U.K. Startups, If You Know Where to Look

An era of European opportunity

Bearing in mind all of the above, it's evident that startups have the best chance of success if they opt for VC funding, rather than debt-based bank funding. Traditional financial institutions will never be able to offer the supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem that comes with VC or angel investment, which must be increasingly highlighted to all aspiring business owners. Once an entrepreneur has decided to seek out VC funding, however, questions are inevitably conjured about where in the world this should be.

The U.S. has long been renowned for its access to capital but, in fact, there's now a mammoth opportunity for VC capital in Europe specifically. Last year was record-beating for Europe's VC ecosystem, with €16.9 billion in capital invested -- the highest number ever recorded for Europe. And it's clear why: Transformational technology shifts are occurring across countless industries, and this disruption is spurring on truly innovative companies, serving both businesses and consumers alike.

Currently, some of the most famous -- and, crucially, valuable -- European technology companies are consumer names. Spotify, Skype, Supercell and iZettle are just some of the brands that spring to mind. Staggeringly, Spotify is now valued at more than $33 billion, while PayPal just paid up $2.2 billion for iZettle -- a Swedish fintech company -- in June this year. To add to this, China's Tencent bought a majority stake in Supercell -- a Finnish mobile gaming company -- two years ago for over $8 billion. On the B2B side, Europe's reputation as a hotbed of technology continues only to grow, nurturing startups and scale-ups in vital sectors such as cybersecurity, AI, big data, mixed reality and business-critical software.

Related: Why Raising Capital Is a Challenge for European Startups

The power of community

Ultimately, VCs are much more than just investors. They have seen something in a founder and their business that speaks to them and makes them want to be part of the journey. Once fresh funding has come in, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of new capital -- whether it's for a launch, expansion or product research and development.

However, entrepreneurs must not forget that most VC investors have a wealth of experience that they should be tapping into. From how to best market a product, how to hire the perfect team and how to expand internationally, VC funding brings a team of people who have seen and done it all before. Undoubtedly, VC relationships are about so much more than mere cash; they bring a unique opportunity for a two-way relationship that benefits everyone. After all, it's one thing to have a good idea, but knowing where to take it is what truly opens doors for startups.

Hjalmar Winbladh

Partner at EQT Ventures

Hjalmar Winbladh is partner at EQT Ventures. He's been on the frontline of European entrepreneurship for the last 20 years, whether that's founding businesses, selling businesses, advising businesses or being a VC. A seven-time entrepreneur, Winbladh has achieved a number of successful exits and witnessed the milestones that mean Europe is now as exciting and confident as Silicon Valley.
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