A guide to Europe’s tech hubs

October 16, 2012

Europe may not have the go-for-it startup ethos that characterizes Silicon Valley but there are still a dozen or so pockets of  high-energy, high-tech expertise on the continent. From London’s expanding Tech City to the more bucolic Silicon Glen, and from Tallinn, Estonia, to Berlin, here’s our guide to European’s hottest tech hubs (listed in alphabetical order).

We’ll be talking more about Europe’s tech scene at Structure: Europe, our cloud-computing conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday and Wednesday. (You can see our list of Europe’s tech hotspots on a map here.)

Amsterdam

A rash of small startups have suddenly appeared, with small teams of developers building a wide range of apps and services.

Areas of specialty

Varied, but particularly strong around services for creative industries like video, publishing and advertising.

Major funding sources

The number of accelerators, and VC and angel investors is expanding.

Top startups

Layar, Adyen, Silk, WeTransfer

Notable exits

Soocial, Quova

Berlin

For years, Germany’s capital city has been an arty enclave with little or no industry. But now its startup scene is pushing hard, with a host of trendy startups and young entrepreneurs drawn in by low rents, an attractive lifestyle and easy access to Eastern European tech talent.

Areas of specialty

The city’s dominant tech force remain the three Samwer brothers, who built their empire by cloning American e-commerce businesses.The city is proving strong on digital media, social games and the quirky end of the consumer web.

Major funding sources

The angel network is still small, but international and European investors are increasingly drawn to Berlin, and some local VCs like Earlybird have shifted focus here from other German regions. Meanwhile, the Samwers’ Rocket Internet empire is happy to fund aggressive businesses in proven markets.

Top startups

Zalando, Wooga, Soundcloud, Eyeem, Gidsy, DeliveryHero

Notable exits

Citydeal, 12designer, Betreut, DailyDeal

Cambridge

Known as “Silicon Fen”, the tech industry here was built out of the venerable university’s research departments and has been strong for several generations. It’s home to hundreds of hard tech companies: not glamorous, but it’s scored some big hits.

Areas of specialty

Regional successes like ARM, Autonomy, Aveva and CSR give a good indication of what to expect: semiconductors, wireless, data and biotech are all strong here.

Major funding sources

Active alumni networks and connections to European VCs make Cambridge an attractive destination for investment, but proximity to London means most investors choose to visit rather than stick around.

Top startups

AlertMe, Bromium, Taptu, Jagex, Neul

Notable exits

Autonomy, CSR

Dublin

Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and other American tech giants run big European operations from Dublin.

Areas of specialty

Many of Dublin’s biggest successes have been in B2B and SaaS, but there’s a wealth of different industries here, from gaming and apps to telecoms, big data and CRM software.

Major funding sources

Active alumni networks and connections to European VCs make Cambridge an attractive destination for investment, but proximity to London means most investors choose to visit rather than stick around.

Top startups

AlertMe, Bromium, Taptu, Jagex, Neul

Notable exits

Demonware, Polldaddy

Eindhoven, Netherlands

You may cringe at the “Brainport” name, given to the region around Eindhoven, but its High Tech Campus houses more than 100 local and international companies. Local giant Philips is not the force it once was in consumer electronics, but the region still has strong links to research and development.

Areas of specialty

You may cringe at the “Brainport” name, given to the region around Eindhoven, but its High Tech Campus houses more than 100 local and international companies. Local giant Philips is not the force it once was in consumer electronics, but the region still has strong links to research and development

Major funding sources

Much of the region’s access to cash comes through corporate investment or research funding.

Top startups

Anteryon

Notable exits

Liquavista

Helsinki

Nokia’s loss may just end up being Finland’s gain. As the mobile giant slowly implodes, it is releasing batches of smart, skillful entrepreneurs into the local economy and allowing them to build interesting companies.

Areas of specialty

Mobile is at the heart of most new businesses here, but there’s also a substantial gaming industry led by Rovio.

Major funding sources

Many former Nokians are funding each other’s business ideas, and the region has good access to VC networks across Scandinavia and the Baltics too.

Top startups

Rovio, Jolla, Kiosked, Steam Republic

Notable exits

Innobase, Jaiku

London

The area of the British capital jokingly dubbed “Silicon Roundabout” is stacked with consumer web services, online retailers and mobile development teams. Now it’s morphing into the larger Tech City, with the government trying to massage the region’s access to finance and support networks.

Areas of speciality

Skype and Last.fm paved the way for a large number of consumer web services, alongside strong digital media, e-commerce and finance sectors.

Major funding sources

Europe’s strongest VCs — Accel, Balderton and Index — call the city home, and there’s a growing number of earlier stage investors and angel money sloshing around over meetings in the city’s clubs and pubs.

Top startups

Moshi Monsters, Wonga, Huddle, Hailo, Housetrip, Just Eat

Notable exits

Betfair, Skype, Tweetdeck, Lovefilm, Playfish

M4 Corridor, England

A roughly 70-mile stretch along one of Britain’s busiest highways is book-ended by two important tech clusters: one in Berkshire, where Vodafone, Microsoft and Oracle have large office parks; and the other in “Silicon Gorge”, an area around Bristol with links to the semiconductor and microelectronics industry.

Areas of specialty

The region’s most talented businesses are roughly divided between large enterprise and data-focused outfits, and telecom and mobile R&D. There’s also a strong digital media scene in Bristol, which is where IMDB (now owned by Amazon) is based.

Major funding sources

Most of the money still comes through corporate channels, with startups tending to gravitate a few miles further east to London to score investment.

Top startups

DataSift

Notable exits

PicoChip

Moscow

Buoyed by the huge growth in the Russian internet market, the high earning capacity of Muscovites, and their voracious consumerism, a whole generation of tech startups is trying to find success right now. Watch particularly for entrepreneurs who have honed their skills overseas returning home to start their own businesses.

Areas of specialty

Russia is a law unto itself: While many ideas here are retreads from elsewhere, they’re more than just copycats: in many cases, there are specific tweaks that need to be made from them to work in the Russian market.

Major funding sources

Growing network of angels and seed investors is linking into big ticket funding from Germany, the U.S. and Scandinavia. The biggest individual Russian investors, however, tend to put their money into businesses elsewhere.

Top startups

KupiVIP, Ozon, Kaspersky Lab, Tinkoff Digital

Notable exits

Yandex, Mail.ru

Munich

Berlin may be provide the soul, and Rhein-Main may be the business center, but Germany’s venture capital industry is concentrated in the south of the country — not least because it’s the base for the nation’s ever-strong auto industry.

Areas of specialty

Rocket Internet calls Berlin home, but the company likes to recruit voracious Bavarian MBAs and consultants from Munich and turn them into hungry startup entrepreneurs. What they lack in originality, they make up for in precision.

Major funding sources

Two of Germany’s big startup investors — Hubert Burda Media and Holtzbrinck, which are both spinoffs of publishing companies — have their bases in Munich, and fund plenty of local and foreign entrepreneurs.

Top startups

Veact, Westwing, Trustyou

Notable exits

Tiramizoo, Amiando

Paris

Many investors think Paris has seen its best days, not least because the insular environment and punative tax regime send many entrepreneurs packing. But when startups work here, they go big.

Areas of specialty

Media, advertising, and e-commerce are strong, particularly in the segments where French brands can draw on the national obsession with haute-couture and luxury. Wireless is seeing some inventive activity too.

Major funding sources

There are some large venture companies, often tied to local telcos or software companies, but local investments tend to be inwardly focused.

Top startups

Criteo, DailyMotion, Deezer, Viadeo

Notable exits

Vente Privee, Netvibes, Joliebox

Silicon Glen, Scotland

The central belt of Scotland became known as “Silicon Glen” thanks to the presence of large international tech firms like IBM, Motorola and National Semiconductor. But it has struggled to keep up as China and South Korea have exerted their manufacturing power and is now significantly weaker than it used to be.

Areas of specialty

While the area was traditionally a stronghold for semiconductor makers, a decade of office closures, layoffs and pullouts have led to a shift towards software development, SaaS and games.

Major funding sources

There aren’t many indigenous sources of cash, but strong startups have few problems accessing money.

Top startups

Skyscanner, Rockstar North, FreeAgent

Notable Exits

oneDrum

The Software Cluster/Rhein-Main-Neckar, Germany

This roughly hewn region runs from Frankfurt, the country’s financial heart, in the north, to Walldorf, home of SAP, in the south. That means it’s a hot spot for smart, enterprise-focused companies that develop software for businesses — and even if it doesn’t grab the headlines often, it turns over a pile of cash big enough to make most eyes water.

Areas of specialty

This is one of the places where the software that makes the world run starts: SAP, Software AG are just a few of the names from this region. A bunch of gaming companies have started up here, too.

Major funding sources

Being at the financial center of Europe’s most robust economy has its benefits. Lots of private angel activity and good funding networks — though limited VC activity.

Top startups

Mindjet, Netbiscuits, Open-Xchange

Notable exits

Systemhaus (T-Systems), Phenomic

Stockholm

Sweden’s capital has a lot going for it: highly connected and inhabited by a cadre of global citizens. Local entrepreneurs have a tendency to think laterally and challenge the status quo, whether through legit means — like Spotify and MySQL — or in more controversial circumstances, like Kazaa and The Pirate Bay.

Areas of specialty

Telecoms and P2P are traditional strengths, but don’t expect those services to be delivered in the usual way: the Swedes have a tendency to come out of left field with their offerings.

Major funding sources

Swedish investors have been active recently, and local VCs Creandum and Northzone are strong right now. Meanwhile, investment group Kinnevik has been on a tear recently, funding businesses in Germany, Russia and across Scandinavia

Top startups

Spotify, Rebtel, Klarna, Wrapp, iZettle, Toca Boca, Minecraft

Notable exits

Qliktech, Pricerunner

Tallinn, Estonia

With the government pursuing a high-growth, internet-enabled agenda for nearly 20 years,Estonia has developed a strong engineering culture and helped build major properties—most notably Skype. Many local entrepreneurs have moved elsewhere to start up on their own, but a strong scene remains in place.

Areas of specialty

With wizardly programmers everywhere you turn, Estonia’s built a strong base of enterprise-focused software, services and security.

Major funding sources

The top local seed investor is probably Ambient Sound, started by a group of former Skype employees. But Estonian firms are drawing money from around the continent thanks to strong links with people who have joined major companies.

Top startups

Erply, Fortuno, Defendec

Notable exits

Skype

(c) 2012, GigaOM.com.

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