Ladies and gentlemen
In the last few years, the number of tech startups in Europe has surged.
Europe produces more significant tech companies than ever before.
Our unicorn scene is gaining in strength: 40 European companies founded since the start of the millennium are now valued at more than $1 billion each.
And the future looks bright.
The European Union is now home to four of the world's top 20 startup ecosystems – London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam – with exit values rising rapidly.
Europe is home to a vibrant startup scene. Something we can really be proud of.
That is the good news. Reason to be optimistic for European startups.
But achieving the main goal of startups –scale up, grow quickly, and across borders – is far from plain sailing.
Unfortunately, we lose quite a few startups in their early stages to other countries, usually to the United States.
Startups find it difficult to find venture capital, for example. One of the main barriers to scale-up success is lack of funding.
There are still fewer exit opportunities in Europe compared with the United States, where investor funding for startups is also higher.
I would like to see EU industry opening up more to startups and considering more takeovers. Both sides would benefit:
Founders capitalise on their investment and, usually, re-invest in new startups.
Industry acquires tech expertise, new business models and skilled staff.
Startups also feel that battling against 28 different regulatory regimes in Europe is an almost insurmountable barrier.
It is easier now to start a company in Europe. But it is still difficult to gain access to a larger customer base across Europe and scale up to become a global winner.
If European startups cannot scale up quickly, it reduces their global competitiveness as companies.
Another downside is that our local ecosystems are not yet properly connected between themselves.
At the moment, we lack the scale to compete with other ecosystems like China or the United States. This is despite the fact that Europe is home to dozens of increasingly dynamic digital hubs, with growing tech communities.
Linking and networking them unlocks more of their potential, and offers the scale that we need to compete globally.
Europe's regions can play an important role in helping startups over problem areas like these. We should not underestimate how regional diversity and local policymaking can help them to develop and grow.
For a young startup, going regional can be a useful stepping-stone on the road to going international, or at least inter-regional.
The Startup Europe Week starting today will bring together entrepreneurs and dozens of European regions.
The benefit is mutual:
firstly, to raise awareness about the resources and opportunities available locally for tech entrepreneurs;
secondly, by linking and interacting with other regions to create new networks and ecosystems.
The initiative complements the Startup Europe programme.
It is a good way to create pan-European communities that can help startups to expand beyond national borders.
Ladies and gentlemen
Local and regional support for startups and new business creation is a must. It is also the necessary complement to the work done by EU institutions.
I am thinking particularly of the European Commission's Digital Single Market strategy, which directly addresses the problems faced by startups today.
It aims to reduce and remove obstacles so that startups have more freedom to innovate and scale up in Europe, while operating across the EU's borders within the internal market. We have already started to put the strategy into effect.
In December, we presented a proposal to simplify and modernise the EU's rules for online and digital cross-border purchases.
Doing this will help e-commerce startups because it will become easier for them to comply with laws across the EU. In turn, they will be able to expand across national borders more quickly and offer their services to more customers.
We are also working to explore ways to attract more venture capital as part of the Capital Markets Union – Improving access to financing for all businesses across Europe, startups in particular. It will look into alternative forms of finance, such as crowd-funding and crowd-lending.
It will also explore ways to increase and diversify sources of funding. This includes access to cross-border finance with equity and venture capital for startups and SMEs.
Encouraging cross-border investment is especially important as we advance towards a single and connected European ecosystem. But at the moment, differences in national regulations around the EU do not make cross-border investments particularly easy.
This leads to a splintering of markets, as well as startup ecosystems. Naturally, it will take some time to improve this situation.
But in terms of what can be done now, the importance of networks - and linking them together - cannot be understated.
I encourage everyone to make the most of the Startup Europe Week and help Europe's many startups to grow and succeed.
I wish this new initiative every success.