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The 8 Biggest Startups in Europe by Funding

The European Union (EU) is an international organization that counts 28 countries and members. Just recently, many people had their feathers ruffled when one of the bigger members of the EU decided they wanted out. Even with the proposed withdrawal, the collective remains an economic powerhouse. 19 of the 28 countries in the EU use the same currency (the Euro), and it’s the second most traded currency in the world after the U.S. dollar. If you look at the EU in terms of economic output, it’s the second largest economy in the world behind China.

When it comes to innovation, the EU isn’t growing as many unicorns as you’d expect with the bright minds at CB Insights showing us 16 startups in the EU that have achieved mythical unicorn status:

Company Name Funding Country Sector
Spotify $8.53 Sweden Internet Software & Services
Otto Bock HealthCare $3.50 Germany Healthcare
Auto1 Group $2.80 Germany eCommerce/Marketplace
Klarna $2.50 Sweden Fintech
VistaJet $2.50 Malta On-demand
Adyen $2.30 Netherlands Fintech
Hellofresh $2.09 Germany eCommerce/Marketplace
CureVac $1.65 Germany Healthcare
BlaBlaCar $1.60 France On-Demand
Saxo Bank $1.45 Denmark Fintech
Global Fashion Group $1.10 Luxembourg eCommerce/Marketplace
OVH $1.10 France Big Data
Avaloq Group $1.01 Switzerland Fintech
AVAST Software $1 Czech Republic Cybersecurity
letgo $1 Netherlands eCommerce/Marketplace
MindMaze $1 Switzerland VR/AR

Zee Germans are leading the pack with 4 unicorns and we also see that fintech and ecommerce make up half of all the sector allocations. For the sake of this article, we’re going to write about the top 8 startups in the above list by funding, then tackle the other 8 in a second article. Here is a look at the 8 biggest startups in Europe by funding.

The Behemoth

If you haven’t heard of Spotify, we’re guessing you don’t listen to music—that’s how completely this Swedish company has taken over the industry. Founded in 2006, the company is valued at a whopping $8.53 billion, with $1.56 billion in funding from Fidelity, Goldman, Founders Fund, Kleiner Perkins, etc, ad infinitum. Spotify is the unicorn of unicorns, the kind of company every entrepreneur strives to build—a technology that upended an entire industry and changed the way the world consumes media through interfaces like this one:A platform that streams music from virtually every musician on Earth, Spotify is a necessary evil for bands, an integral part of life for consumers, and a star in its over 30 investors’ portfolios. The company makes its money through a “freemium” business model where users pay not to hear ads and for other perks. Its monumental success played at least a partial role in Stockholm taking a new spot in the top 20 of global startup cities. 

Improving Mobility For the Disabled

Ottobock Healthcare has been an innovator in Germany since 1919, and we first came across them in our article on The Most Incredible Bionic Hand You’ve Ever Seen. The company, valued at $3.5 billion with an undisclosed amount of funding, has worked for decades to develop products to make life more mobile for those with disabilities. Focusing on prosthetics, orthotics, mobility products, and medical care, Ottobock is known for its innovative use of AI in its products. Its C-Leg, for instance, was the first completely microprocessor-controlled lower limb prosthesis system on the market.

The Michelangelo prosthetic hand is controlled by muscle signals, so the user can execute different types of grasping. Ottobock invests a significant portion of its sales in research and development helping to transform the company into a world leader in the mobility solutions market.

Wheeler Dealer

Auto1 Group, Europe’s leading used-car marketplace, was founded in 2012 in Berlin and is now valued at $2.8 billion. With $521.84 million in funding from financial powerhouses like Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman, and JP Morgan, Auto1 considers itself a stock exchange for cars, valuing and buying them from a variety of sources, then selling them for a profit to a network of dealerships. The company uses its own cash to buy and store the cars until their sale, which speeds up the process for sellers from an average of 90 days to about 10. According to an article by TechCrunch earlier this year, the company’s platform facilitated 300,000 transactions last year with revenues exceeding $1.5 billion and they expect to capture 10 percent of Europe’s used car market with existing funding.

Big Brand Payments, Part 1

Another big player from Sweden is Klarna, founded in 2005 and now valued at $2.5 billion. With $521.44 million in funding from investors like Sequoia and Visa, Klarna is one of the most popular e-commerce payment solutions in Europe, used by Burberry, Overstock.com, J.Crew, Nike, Lenovo, and hundreds more. Their homepage features one of the strangest looking ice cream cones we’ve ever seen and makes no sense whatsoever:

Paging Dr. Freud

We first came across Klarna in our article about Affirm, A Leading Point of Sale Finance Provider. With Klarna, customers can just provide an email address and delivery address for online purchases. Klarna will then pay the merchant and sort out the customer with financing options for their purchase if needed. A side effect in this ease of purchase is increased conversion rates for merchants. Adlibris, one of Europe’s largest booksellers, used Klarna to improve its mobile checkout solution, resulting in an 80% conversion increase.

Traveling in High Style

VistaJet, a private aviation company, was founded in 2002 and has raised $150 million from Rhone Capital. The Malta-based company is valued at $2.5 billion currently. With over 70 planes, VistaJet operates the largest Bombardier private jet fleet in the world. If you pay $100,000 for an MBA, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll be flying in planes like this one:

Credit: VistaJet

The watchword with this company is luxury: program members are guaranteed a private jet within as little as 24 hours, every part of the trip is tailored to individual needs (think catering and wine choices), and the phrase ‘Italian leather’ is used heavily in marketing materials. As more corporations ditch the steep costs of jet ownership for the pay-as-you-fly model, VistaJet is in a solid place to capitalize on extremely overpriced transportation as a service for hard working MBAs the world over.

Big Brand Payments, Part 2

There’s something about the Norse and electronic payments. With a valuation just shy of its Swedish colleague Klarna, Netherlands-based Adyen (valued at $2.3 billion), has established a firm foothold in the world of merchant payments by providing a “friction-less payment experience”. Founded in 2006 and funded with $266 million to date, Adyen has some huge customers in its corner, including Netflix, Uber, Etsy, Spotify, Groupon, and LinkedIn. The secret is in its platform, which features support for a wide variety of payment options (250 worldwide, to be exact) in a single system, including Apple and Android Pay, all major credit cards, direct debit for recurring payments, in-app purchases, and much more. The Cambridge Satchel, a UK handbag company, saw its Black Friday sales rocket by 124% after switching to Adyen’s platform. In addition to one-time purchases, the platform also facilitates subscriptions and recurring payments more seamlessly. 

Meal Delivery Going Global

Food subscription company HelloFresh was founded in Berlin in 2012 and is now valued at $2.09 billion. $363.99 million in funding has allowed it to be at the forefront of the booming meal-delivery trend and expand around the globe. (This author even used it for a while.) These business models are a dime-a-dozen, and as soon as there’s a recession people will be cutting back on expenditures like this:

Credit: HelloFresh

It’s a bull market though, and a recent announcement of over 100 new hires indicates full speed ahead for HelloFresh. And an interesting sidenote for the industry as a whole: Albertsons recently acquired Plated (their meals are pretty great too), a sign that investment in this sector seems guaranteed to ramp up as long as people have discretionary money to throw at things like partially prepared meals and hot yoga.

Curing Cancer

Put your science hats on for CureVac, because even the basic description of this company requires a college degree. Based in Germany with $359 million in funding (including from Bill & Melinda Gates) and with a $1.65 billion valuation, CureVac “specializes in the prophylactic and therapeutic application of messenger RNA (mRNA)”. In plain english, they’re working to cure prostate and lung cancer. According to its website, CureVac is the first to harness mRNA for medical purposes, “using it as a data carrier to instruct the human body to produce its own proteins to fight a wide range of diseases”. That sounds exceptionally awesome. If you want a deeper dive on why mRNA in vaccines is so exciting, check out Handelsblatt’s piece, which calls CureVac, “the poster child of the German biotech industry”.

One fact is clear when it comes to European startups—the field is no longer dominated by Berlin and Stockholm. New hubs are emerging in Munich, Lisbon, Copenhagen and other cities, with over $2 billion invested in deep tech last year. If this set of unicorns is any indication – and it assuredly is – the Euro tech scene is one to keep an eye on for years to come.

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