In 2021, can Berlin or Paris unseat London as the world’s Startup capital?

The European startup scene is thriving. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the creativity and flexibility of entrepreneurs has been vital to finding solutions to societal problems. Many innovations have come to market quickly and will continue to have an impact far beyond the crisis.

In 2021, can Berlin or Paris unseat London as the world's Startup capital?
Photo: Getty Images

So, which cities are helping the stars of the startup world to shine brightest? The Local has partnered with ESCP Business School, which has six campuses across Europe (in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Turin, and Warsaw) and its very own startup incubator, to find out. If you know any would-be entrepreneurs with an international mindset, this guide can help them understand the European startup landscape.

Find out more about ESCP Business School and how it develops the innovators of tomorrow

London: still the leading light

The UK’s capital city remains Europe’s top startup ecosystem, both for the number of startups and the number and size of funding rounds.

London is home to several fintech giants that have shaken up financial services, including Revolut and Wise (the new name for TransferWise).

But it also offers impressive success stories in other areas. Take Karma Kitchen, for instance. It wanted to raise £3 million in funding to open new sites around Europe – and ended up with £252 million.

London is also home to one of the ESCP campuses, where students can study its unique Bachelor in Management (BSc) programme (studying in three countries in three years).

Founded by entrepreneurs in 1819, ESCP has a long history of preparing students for the business world, including the challenges of running your own company.

Will London continue to lead in its post-Brexit future? Nobody can yet be sure. But one thing’s for sure: there’s no shortage of pretenders to the crown.

Photo: Getty Images

Paris: fintech, femmes … c’est fantastique! 

Not everyone associates Paris with startup culture. But if you want to show off your up-to-date business knowledge, you probably should. The French capital has seen impressive growth in funding over recent years.  

Strong government backing has included the introduction of a free, fast-track tech visa to make it easier to bring in foreign talent. Paris’s annual Viva Technology conference has also attracted major speakers such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

The city is especially strong today in fintech. Indeed, a French junior minister described Brexit as “a huge opportunity” for Paris to compete for the title of European fintech capital. 

Tech startups are not blessed with the best reputation for diversity. But Femmes Business Angels in Paris is making a difference, with around 150 women personally investing in and supporting early startups with high potential.

The Blue Factory is a Paris-based startup incubator, launched by a group of ESCP graduates in the early 2000s. It helps students and alumni of the school to develop projects in many fields, including education, employment, food, and fashion. Support programmes cover everything from testing initial ideation to seeding – and then scaling to expand internationally. 

Students on ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc) have the opportunity to gain the kind of skills and experience that are vital in the startup world. For example, they get to work on social impact projects that make real contributions to society, as well as training with online simulations that recreate the complexity of business decision-making.

Know someone with entrepreneurial potential? Find out more about ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc) and download the brochure

Berlin: a big attraction for global talent 

Germany’s capital has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most vibrant and energetic startup centres. The city’s culture, history and sheer hipness have made it a big attraction for international talent who want to change the world through their ideas. 

There was, at least at one point, a startup being founded in Berlin every 20 minutes. Coworking spaces and hubs like Betahaus and Factory epitomise the creative atmosphere of the city, helping innovators to make new connections and drive projects forward.

E-scooters are now a key part of sustainable urban transport systems in many European cities. Berlin-based TIER only launched in 2018 but already has 60,000 scooters across 80 cities in ten countries. The firm is not only the market leader in the competitive ‘micro-mobility’ sector but is also already profitable – far faster than many big name startups manageEurope-wide entrepreneurial hotspots

The Spanish startup scene was slow to develop. But Madrid is making up for lost time and is one of only seven cities globally to have a Google startup campus. It’s also home to a number of unicorn companies – valued at more than $1 billion – such as ride-hailing app Cabify and rental homes company Spotahome.

The Italian tech ecosystem has also developed in recent years, especially in northern Italy. More international investors have begun to take an interest in the region as it has become a more favourable location for entrepreneurs.

In the north, Stockholm is home to a thriving tech scene that has helped Sweden rank first globally for capital invested in startups per capita. The city is home to the Action Against Corona initiative that supports startups that can help fight the pandemic or its social effects.

Eastern Europe also has plenty of startup talent. While funding is not always easy to find, Warsaw is home to Experior Venture Fund – Europe’s first venture capital (VC) fund set up and managed by women. Cofounder Kinga Stanislawska also established European Women in VC to help increase female representation across the continent.

Many of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs can be found today studying business programmes such as ESCP’s Bachelor in Management (BSc). ESCP’s student societies include VConnect, which aims to create a bridge between innovative students and the VC ecosystem, and ESCP Women in Leadership, which focuses on inclusivity and gender equality. 

Know an entrepreneur of tomorrow? Find out more about studying at ESCP Business School – and download the brochure for the Bachelor in Management (BSc).


‘We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark’s seasons’

Stuart Eve moved to Denmark with his family after his wife, an archaeologist, was offered a job at Aarhus University. Nearly four years later, he is the co-founder of a fair trade chocolate business in the Scandinavian city.

'We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark's seasons'
A chance meeting at their children's daycare resulted in the Ørbæk and Eve families starting their Danish business. Photo: Stuart Eve

Eve still works full time at his day job, also in archaeology. But the sweet-toothed entrepreneur told The Local that Denmark provided him with inspiration to try something out of his comfort zone – starting his own business in a foreign country.

After meeting business partner Anders Ørbæk at the daycare centre attended by their children, the two began the project, initially producing the chocolate out of their own kitchens.

“That has now moved to the renting of a professional space, so that we can scale up production and also get all the relevant food hygiene certificates and so on,” Eve said.

The archaeologist said having Danish partners had been beneficial in the course of setting up a business in the Scandinavian country, even though the process itself was straightforward.

“Actually starting the business was a matter of filling in a few forms online and showing we had 100 kroner [13 euros] in the bank. However, I think without our Danish partners, it would have been quite hard – mainly because of the technical Danish required. My Danish is pretty awful – and there are a lot of financial terms that are difficult to translate,” Eve said.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

“So I think for us it was essential to have Danish partners. Also, the food hygiene rules and health and safety, while similar to the UK, are quite onerous – and again very technical.

“I run my own archaeology business in the UK, so that has set me in great stead for the financial and business side,” he added.

The startup currently sources some of its supplies from Eve’s native UK – one aspect that may be complicated by Brexit, he said.

“My secret dream is that the chocolate business will enable us to beat Brexit and stay in Denmark for a lot longer — but we'll have to see how it pans out,” he said.


Packaged up and ready to go #somerferie #chokolade #beantobar #chocolate

A post shared by Ørbæk & Eve (@oerbaekandeve) on Jul 3, 2017 at 2:40pm PDT

It was not just the administrative side that Eve had to learn on the hoof for his Danish-based business, though – the process of producing the chocolate itself is also new.

“I was eating some Ritter Sport one evening and wondered to myself how chocolate was made, thinking it must be some incredibly complicated industrial process. So I checked out a few YouTube videos and it turns out you can make chocolate in a coffee grinder – it tastes awful because it is so crunchy, but it shows the process. From there it was a matter of buying a bigger grinder and starting to experiment. We have so much to learn still, but people seem to like what we are producing so far,” he said.

The chocolate produced by the startup – which is both fairtrade and organic – is heavily influenced by Denmark’s nature and seasonal variations, including a quarterly subscription service which can be signed up for via a crowdfunding campaign.

“We have been trying to find a way to really represent the beauty and abundance of the Danish countryside and combine it with something that Danes really love – chocolate,” he said.

“Strawberries from Samsø for summer, hazelnuts foraged from the woods for autumn, etc. Between us we have six kids so the family always come in and help during the production days,” he added.

A longer term aim is to consolidate the new company – named Ørbæk & Eve after its co-founders – as a well-known ‘bean to bar’ company in Aarhus.

“Our main reasons for doing this are two-fold. First, we eat a lot of chocolate and have become increasingly concerned by the human and environmental costs of industrialised chocolate production – there are new reports about destruction of rainforest for cocoa plantations and slave labour in West Africa, for example. In order to not be complicit with this, I wanted to figure out how it was made – and to do it myself.

“Second, we have really noticed the differences in the seasons since we moved to Denmark, so we wanted to make chocolate that reflected and celebrated the different qualities of the changing seasons,” he said.

Eve, Ørbæk and their partners are currently spending evenings and weekends on the chocolate production runs.

“As things pick up, I suspect I will move to one dedicated day a week, but we have four of us working on it, so we can usually juggle the time,” he said.

READ MORE: The Local's 'My Danish Career' series