Europe lacks ‘technical’ founders to produce tech giants

For the first time, a new generation of technical founders is emerging – set to build Europe’s first-ever tech giant.

This is according to research released in Europe’s New Tech Founders 2024’, a report by Antler, one of the most active early-stage VC firms in Europe. 

Analysing more than 1,000 founders in Europe and the US and the applications of 60,000 aspiring founders to Antler in Europe, the data shows that Europe is producing technical founders – defined as people with experience in computer science, software development, or data science – at scale for the first time. 

Why are technical founders so important?

Technical founders build tech giants. In the US, 100% of the founders who have built the 20 most valuable tech companies by market capitalisation are technical founders, and 70% of the founders of the 20 most valuable tech unicorns have technical backgrounds.

When you compare this to Europe, only 45% of the founders of the 20 most valuable tech companies by market capitalisation are technical founders, and only 26% of Europe’s unicorn founders have technical backgrounds. 

Ninety percent of the founders of Europe’s unicorpses – failed unicorns – have no technical expertise. 

Europe is finally generating technical founders

For the first time, technical founders are now in the majority in Europe. Fifty-four percent of the founders of tech startups that have become unicorns since the start of 2023 are technical founders. 

European unicorn success stories such as Mistral, Synthesia, and Pigment have founding teams consisting entirely of technical founders, coming from the likes of Google, Meta, and Criteo to build billion-dollar tech companies. 

Interestingly, this new generation of European technical founder is more likely to be French (30%) or German (21%) than British. After a decade when British founders have dominated European tech, only 10% of new unicorn founders come from the UK. 

The rise of the European technical founder is also apparent in the applications to join Antler’s founder residencies. The number of aspiring technical founders increased by 300% between 2021 and 2023.

There was a 770% increase in applications from founders with AI and data backgrounds, and the number of female technical founders increased by 234%.  

When looking at the job title of people leaving their jobs to found startups, technical roles are the fastest growing between 2021 and 2023. Data engineers increased by 1,850%, followed by data analyst (1,375%), and full stack developer (1,300%). 

Layoffs have turned technical talent into technical founders

This latest data suggests that layoffs have been the key driver of this change during the downturn, turning technical talent into technical founders. 

Since the start of the tech downturn in 2020, 311 tech companies have made 85,000 layoffs in Europe according to 

Between 2021 to 2023, applications from former employees of these companies increased by 3.5x. And more specifically, the number of technical founders coming from these companies has increased by 825%. 

The tech unicorns that have seen the biggest exodus of their technical talent leaving to become tech founders after announcing redundancies include Deliveroo (900% increase in founder applications to Antler between 2021 and 2023), Zalando (900%), Gorillas (700%), Klarna (600%), and (433%). 

Christoph Klink, Partner at Antler, comments: “We have tried to answer one of the oldest questions in European tech. Why has Europe never produced a truly global tech giant? The most common answer is a lack of capital. But the real picture only comes to light when you start looking at the people behind tech giants and unicorns.” 

We believe a critical reason that Europe has never produced a tech giant is because Europe has never produced enough technical founders. But that is changing. As a result of layoffs and the attraction of emerging technologies like AI, a new generation of technical founders is emerging in record numbers and with more experience than ever before. These are the founders that will build Europe’s first tech giant.” 

Antler European Founder Conference

The report is being launched at Antler’s first European Founder Conference. Fifty of Antler’s most promising European founders will come together in London for two days of events, networking, and workshops. This culminates with a major event today at Mansion House where investors and unicorn founders from the US and Europe will discuss the biggest growth opportunities in European tech.