California may be the center of the startup universe, but Europe’s technology know-how is pushing continental companies to the forefront. From Germany to the United Kingdom, startups are shaking up traditional business models and injecting life into stagnant sectors. Fintech and biomedical sectors are particularly strong in Europe, giving a whole new meaning to European sophistication. Here are the top 10 European startups.
1. Auto1 Group
When German entrepreneurs Christian Bertermann and Hakan Koç founded Auto1 in 2012, their primary goal was to revolutionize buying used cars in Europe. Their online portal allows users to view and purchase used cars that have been pre-inspected and rated by the Auto1 team. Unlike many other used car websites, the cars are actually owned by Auto1 and not third parties. The pair’s online marketplace has been a big hit with investors. They hit unicorn status in 2015 and have received over $1 billion in funding. Currently, their used car service is available in 30 European companies and handles more than 40,000 sales each month.
The Swedish fintech startup has been around since 2004 but did not attract international attention until 2010 when Sequoia Capital funded them to the tune of $9 million. Since then, the online bank has never looked back. They have since expanded their services into both the United Kingdom and the United States. Klarna now has more than 60 million customers and is one of PayPal’s biggest European competitors. Along the way, Klarna has snapped up thriving payments startups to add to its stable, including BillPay and Cookies App. They achieved unicorn status in 2011 and have received over $600 million in funding to date.
In 2006, Pieter Does leave his job at the Royal Bank of Scotland to found Adyen, an Amsterdam-based startup that provides financial services to online companies. Adyen’s technology allows businesses to bypass banks and communicate directly with credit card companies. By 2014, Adyen had snagged more than $260 million in funding and been valued at $1.5 billion. Today, Adyen handles payments for some of the biggest names in technology like Netflix, LinkedIn, Spotify and Uber. In January 2018, eBay announced it was ending its longtime partnership with PayPal and switching to Adyen. The startup is reportedly considering an IPO for 2018.
Ingmar Hoerr was a doctoral student at the University of Tübingen when he launched his biotech firm CureVac in 2000. Hoerr had the scientific know-how, but he lacked experience in finance and business. Despite these hurdles, Hoerr managed to grow his company into one of Germany’s most successful startups. The company’s innovative genetic technology attracted investors like Dietmar Hopp, the Bill Gates of Germany. Eventually, CureVac hooked Bill Gates himself in 2015 when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation injected $52 million into the company. Today, CureVac is on the forefront of developing new vaccines for diseases like AIDS and influenza.
Before Uber and Lyft stormed onto the ridesharing scene, a small French startup was steadily transforming the way that people travel by car. Frédéric Mazzella first dreamed up BlaBlaCar when he realized that most drivers travel alone and empty seats could be filled with the right technology. He launched his long-distance carpooling website in 2008 and quickly attracted interested investors. By 2015, the startup had received over $300 million in funding and operated in 12 European countries. In 2017, they added a daily commute option to their offerings. BlaBlaCar has since expanded to over 60 million users who catch rides in countries like Brazil, Mexico, and India.
While working at Skype, Taavet Hinrikus grew frustrated with excessive bank fees on his international money transfers. He joined with his friend Kristo Kaarmann to launch a startup that would reduce the cost of these transactions. Based in London, TransferWise has grown from a tiny startup offering transfers from Estonia to the United Kingdom to a large company processing more than $1 billion a month in transactions. TransferWise has expanded into more than 40 countries, including the United States, China, and Mexico.
Swiss entrepreneur Tej Tadi used his background in electronics engineering and neuroscience to launch a new virtual reality startup in 2012. With MindMaze, Tadi hoped to harness modern VR tech to improve the lives of neurology patients. The company received grants from the Swiss government to work on various VR products designed to aid inpatient rehabilitation. In 2016, the Hinduja Group invested $100 million in the startup, allowing them to reach a $1 billion valuation. In 2017, the FDA approved the company’s MindMotion VR software for use in patients recovering from strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead first met when they were studying Computer Science at Cambridge. Directly after graduating, they decided to form a startup to work on their product, software that could be used to simulate environments in video games. The pair launched Improbable and has never looked back. Their SpatialOS platform allows video game developers to design elaborate virtual worlds using many different servers and engines. Venture capital firms were immediately interested in Improbable’s tech and provided the startup with more than $50 million of funding. The company finally hit unicorn status in 2017 when Japanese conglomerate SoftBank invested over $500 million in Improbable.
9. Funding Circle
Founded by a team of American and British entrepreneurs in 2010, Funding Circle provides a quick way for small and medium-sized businesses to obtain a loan without having to approach a conventional bank. The London-based startup quickly attracted venture capital firms like Index Ventures and Accel, raking in more than $50 million in its first three years of operation. The company exploded after expanding into continental Europe and the United States. It achieved unicorn status in 2015 and has continued to receive injections of cash from Accel and other investors. The company has made loans totaling $5 billion to 40,000 businesses since it was launched in 2010.
After selling his biotechnology firm to an American pharmaceutical company, Ken Mulvany was looking for his next big idea. He turned to the rapidly expanding AI sector for inspiration and hit upon a new way to help medical researchers by founding a new startup, BenevolentAI. The company’s software analyzes medical studies and academic publications to predict the outcomes of medical trials. Mulvaney’s vision was met with enthusiasm in the startup community. He raised $87 million in funding from British and American investors, achieving unicorn status in only two years. The startup is currently concentrating on ALS and Parkinson’s disease research.
From burgeoning German startups to innovative British banking firms, the startup community in Europe has never been more promising. These European startups are turning all eyes to the continent and attracting investors from all over the world.