The tech founders are coming. That's the result of a study. More than half of the founders in Europe come from IT, software or data science. Why that's a good thing.

The number of founders with a computer science degree or data science background is increasing.
Getty Images / Yana Iskayeva

No German Google. No Meta Europe. No Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and certainly no Nvidia. There are no European tech giants. We all know that this is often discussed as a problem. For example, when it is said that there are no Series D investors or buyers of tech scaleups on this side of the globe.

It quickly sounds like a chicken-and-egg problem, namely that there are no European tech giants because there was and still is too little venture capital for such companies. But according to a study by the early-stage VC and accelerator Antler, the real bottleneck could lie elsewhere: with the founders themselves.

Tech founders work for tech giants

The report “Europe's New Tech Founders 2024” published today is an analysis of more than 1,000 founders in Europe and the USA. The authors also examined applications from 60,000 aspiring founders who applied for a place in the Antler Accelerator in Europe. And it shows that in the USA, 100 percent of the founders of the 20 most valuable tech companies and 70 percent of unicorn founders have a tech background, i.e. they have studied computer science, engineering or have comparable training as a programmer, were CTOs, software developers or worked in other technical roles.

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In Europe, however, this proportion has been significantly lower so far: only 45 percent of the founders of the 20 most valuable tech companies in Europe are “tech founders”, i.e. – as the authors of the study define the term – they have proven experience in computer science, software development or data science. Only 26 percent of European unicorn founders have a technical background.

And to make another point: It is also interesting that the authors of the study emphasize that the founders of precisely those European startups that are currently most likely to become a Euro-tech giant are tech founders. Mistral, Synthesia and Pigment have founding teams that consist exclusively of tech founders who also have stints at Google, Meta and Criteo on their resumes.

The message reads as follows: Tech founders are successful founders. And: There are no such things in Europe. Or are there? Yes. That is the positive finding of the Antler study: Tech founders are on the rise here too. Since 2023, 54 percent of founders in Europe have had a tech background. The distribution within Europe is uneven, 30 percent of tech founders come from France, 12 percent from Germany and ten from Great Britain.

The change is also evident in applications for the Antler Residencies, the accelerator's participation, according to the study: The number of aspiring tech founders rose by 300 percent between 2021 and 2023. The number of applications from founders with an AI and data background rose by 770 percent and – this should also be mentioned – the number of female tech founders rose by 234 percent.

Because of the crisis: tech talents become tech founders

Now you may of course ask yourself: What is different, why only now? The Antler study suspects a connection between the increase in tech founders and the waves of layoffs in the technology sector since 2020. In Europe alone, over 85,000 tech talents were laid off in the past three years after company bankruptcies. And quite a few of them seem to be taking the step into self-employment afterwards.

This was also reflected in the applications received at Antler during this period: between 2021 and 2023, applications from former employees of European tech companies increased by 3.5 times. More specifically, the number of technical founders coming from these companies increased by 825 percent. People from Deliveroo, Zalando, Gorillas, Klarna and applied for a residency at Antler after waves of layoffs there.

Christoph Klink, partner at Antler, finds the interplay of layoffs on the one hand and the rise of new technologies such as AI extremely promising: “A new generation of technical founders is emerging in record numbers and with more experience than ever before.” With their help, Europe's first tech giant could possibly be built in the foreseeable future.

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