Success stories

Successful and resolutely European

Not every start-up wants to move to America. Here are four that have remained loyal to their home turf.

The take-away

  • Sweden’s Spotify is the world’s leading music streaming service with more than 100 million users.
  • Europe’s educational levels and work ethic can make up for its high wages and steep taxes.

Switzerland
The first unicorn

EPFL spinoff MindMaze specialises in combining virtual reality, brain imaging and gaming technologies. Currently offering proprietary neural rehabilitation VR headsets to treat such conditions as strokes, CEO Tej Tadi told The Economic Times: “Our big vision is that five years from now every device should have a MindMaze chip in it.” In 2012, MindMaze raised $10 million from governments and private investors who valued the company at $100 million. Just four years later, the Swiss company joined the unicorn ($1 billion + valuation) club.

France
A thriving tech ecosystem

Fred Mazzella co-founded Paris-based ridesharing service BlaBlaCar 11 years ago and “due to the size of the country, which necessitates regular long-distance travel for millions, the French people welcomed us with open arms”. While Mazzella complains that the EU is not truly harmonised for tech businesses, “Paris has been a real asset for BlaBlaCar’s growth”. He adds: “The city has a blossoming tech ecosystem, filled with top talent and like-minded entrepreneurs, and has also become increasingly attractive to new businesses and investors.”

Sweden
Streaming but not leaving

With 100 million users, Spotify is the world’s leading music streaming service. So, it’s hardly surprising that Martin Lorentzon and Daniel Ek, who co-founded the company in Stockholm 10 years ago, have received tempting offers from American suitors. So far, Spotify remains resolutely independent and Swedish. Even so, Lorentzon and Ek recently penned an open letter threatening to leave the country if certain education, tax and housing issues are not addressed.

Denmark
High wages, skilled people

With 500,000 new reviews posted each month, Trustpilot is the website the world visits to post and read customers’ opinions of online businesses. This success is particularly impressive considering the high wages, steep taxes and extensive employee legislation Peter Mühlmann faced in Copenhagen when he started the company in 2007. He cites Europe’s educational levels and work ethic as “an important factor” in Trustpilot’s growth. “We have considered moving our headquarters outside the EU”, he says. “But the environment for people with good ideas is vibrant and very encouraging here.”

Fred Mazzella (BlaBlacar), Peter Mühlmann (Trustpilote)