The Startup Europe Partnership was launched in 2014, at the Davos World Economic Forum, with a single purpose: to make Europe the best place in the world for startups to scale. Six years on, we are concluding our role – although the initiative will continue with other partners. This blog shares what we’ve learned along the way, from numerous matchmaking events, training workshops, research reports and conversations with scaleups and policymakers.
First, a reminder of why we helped start the project. Scaleups are key sources of employment, productivity growth and innovation for Europe. Much research has shown that young, high-growth firms contribute disproportionately to net new job creation. Maria Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, has declared that “startups and scaleups are of utmost importance for jobs and growth”.
Moreover, our 2020 report with the European Investment Bank confirmed that scaleups often develop ‘new-to-the-world’ innovations, which benefit society. For these reasons, policymakers have invested heavily in supporting startups with the potential to scale. However, many challenges persist: only 0.5 per cent of startups are expected to scale and Europe still lags behind the US in terms of the number of firms starting and scaling.
The Startup Europe Partnership aimed to close this ‘scaling gap’ through an ambitious programme of research and practical support targeted at European entrepreneurs. We ran numerous matching events, connecting entrepreneurs with corporate partners and investors (in total, scouting 20,000 startups, and matching more than 800 scaleups with corporates and investors).
We also undertook research to identify success factors for collaboration and ways to overcome the common barriers, as well as the common open innovation practices of leading firms. We held annual awards to incentivise good collaborative activity, recognising over 100 large European firms (including Enel, SAP and Telefonica) that have gone out of their way to work with startups. We investigated internal factors that might inhibit scaling, such as entrepreneurs’ motivations to scale. And we tried to signpost the paths to scale, to make it easier for startups to identify the right route for them.
Since it began six years ago, the Startup Europe Partnership has laid the foundations for a strong pan-European startup ecosystem, by bringing together startups, corporates, investors, and researchers across the continent. Just like it ‘takes a village to raise a child’, so it takes a strong ecosystem of corporates, investors, researchers and entrepreneurs to grow a startup.
Although Nesta is now concluding its role in the partnership, the programme will continue under the aegis of our partners, Mind The Bridge, and will hopefully continue to support hundreds more startups to become scaleups, fulfilling their role as job creators and engines of growth, and helping Europe bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.