Why Europe should go beyond startups

Why Europe should go beyond startups?

By Alberto Onetti, Chairman Mind the Bridge

Note: startups are extremely important. They definitively contributed to pour new ideas and energy into the European entrepreneurial scene.

Although most people in Europe confuse entrepreneurship and startups.

There are plenty of innovative and solid businesses in Europe that don’t get lured in by the “startup halo”. These companies are typically referred to as SMEs (small and medium enterprises). They get limited visibility, though. For them no dedicated events, conferences, competitions, government schemes, accelerators nor incubators provided (no free pizza & beer either).

This limited attention occurs despite the fact that these companies are extremely innovative and – extended bonus – produce revenue and employment.

Look at eVision, a Dutch SME active in predictive vision software that generates 250M in revenue and hundreds of jobs (183 only in the last year). Or the Swedish life science company Immunovia that just got listed on Nasdaq First North. Or even the French that was selected to represent Europe in the last year SEC2SV delegation and just announced two large deals with Orange France and Magento.

These are just a few examples of the almost three thousand European companies that have been funded in the last two years by the European “SME Instrument”. Among them, there are many off-radar innovative cool companies.

Definitions matter. But we need to go beyond definitions and start focusing on the only thing that makes the difference: companies able to produce revenue and employment. No matter if they are startups or SMEs.

Cause at the end, as Winerist founders Tatiana Livesey and Diana Isac said: “Startup is just a glorified word for a SME”.

We need them both, startups and SMEs. And we need to have them growing, possibly in Europe.


  • Wolfgang Gerola

    I completely agree with you Alberto. While Angel Investing, Venture Capital, and Private Equity exist in Europe and Italy, the real obstacle is a political-bureaucratic-fiscal quagmire, however, that stifles significant economic growth inherent with an active SME or Start-up environment. Many have tried to reproduce Silicon Valley elsewhere, but I think it has less to do with universities, incubators, conferences, start-up competitions, and pizza and beer – but rather a bureaucratic, judicial and fiscal system that promotes entrepreneurial activity on a large scale. Europeans are just as innovative as their American and Asian counterparts. But why is Nigeria receiving more international institutional private equity investment than Italy?

    I would argue that some form of political lobbying is also necessary to promote an environment where companies can grow and produce the innovation, revenue and employment that all of Europe, and especially Italy, so desperately need. What is needed is an environment that allows for capital – both private and institutional – to be easily deployed, realized (or lost) and reinvested in other opportunities. This would require significant systemic reforms at a political level. It will not be easy in a country like Italy where a simple bureaucratic, fiscal and legal issue typical for start-ups, such as bankruptcy reform seems to be going nowhere.

    • Alberto Onetti

      Good points, Wolfgang, and thank you for your time.

      Of course Italy is still lagging behind the “big” countries in terms of n.of startups, scaleups, and investments, as we often pointed out in our SEP Reports. The good news is that something is slowly changing and paving the way for a brighter future.

      Of course, Silicon Valley cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. Period. Italy is not an exception here. Italy needs to foster a strong network of players able to support SMEs, startups and corporates, because you know how much our economy needs occupation and revenue.

      We focus on the only thing we are good at: creating bridges. A bridge between Italy and Silicon Valley, Europe and US, policy makers and entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs and large corporates. We truly believe it’s the only way to hit a “big bang” result, for the sake of our country.

  • /

    This is the most intelligent and useful point of view I’ve ever read on the start-ups topics in the past five years.
    In the world of investors there is a kind of fever that leads to chase only start-up projects in a very early stage in which to invest.
    Many of these projects, however, are cash burning machine and not produce any kind of exit.
    Start-up accelerators, funds and VCs often invest more for self-marketing reasons that for real business purposes. This is true especially for institutional and public investors.
    In Italy, there are thousands of SMEs that produce product and process innovation every day. We do it on the real market by creating jobs and contributing to GDP.
    The SMEs system would need finance to explode and compete on international markets by bringing a wave of innovation and leading the country growth.
    Unfortunately SMEs are much less sexy than a start up launched by a bunch of guys just come out of a private university.
    The investors must to believe in entrepreneurship already existing in the country and to invest in SMEs.
    Thank you for this article.

    • Alberto Onetti

      Thanks for your kind words and valuable point of view.

      The problem is that SMEs are most of the times off-radar to investors and media. On the one hand, because they are perceived as un-sexy. But also ‘cause they are not used to present themselves in sexy outfits. I see it as a huge opportunity.

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