Funding for European startups plummets

The year 2023 marked a challenging yet resilient phase for the European tech ecosystem. Facing tough macroeconomic conditions, Europe saw a significant reduction in funding levels, reaching just over half of 2022's levels at $45 billion. Large funding rounds and the creation of new billion-dollar companies slowed down, testing the venture asset class's strength and resilience​​. Startups Magazine looks at the Atomico State of European Tech Report 2023.

Despite these challenges, European tech demonstrated notable resilience and signs of stabilisation. The ecosystem bounced back to a value of $3 trillion, recovering from the previous year's losses. Layoffs, which were prevalent in 2022, levelled off, indicating a possible end to the worst phase. Overall funding levels remained the third highest on record, showcasing the ecosystem's ability to self-correct after the highs of 2021 and early 2022​​.

European tech is now outpacing the US in terms of new startup formation. However, the rate of startup formation has slowed, attributed mainly to the weeding out of first-time founders, leaving a dedicated class of repeat founders who are adapting to higher demands for raising capital, attracting talent, and winning customers​​.

A crucial aspect of the report was the noticeable drop in startup funding. The report highlights that Europe's total investment reached only about $45 billion by the end of the year, a steep decline to just over half of the levels seen in 2022. This downturn reflects the broader global trend, where funding has pulled back significantly. Moreover, there was a marked slowdown in larger funding rounds. The number of 'megarounds' (rounds over $100M) plummeted to just 36, down from 163 in 2022 and nearly 200 in 2021. Additionally, only seven new companies achieved valuations over $1 billion in 2023, compared to more prolific figures in the previous years. This funding environment resulted in compressed fund cycles for venture capitalists, putting the venture asset class under considerable strain​​.

This reduction in funding, particularly in large-scale investment rounds, indicates a more cautious investment climate. It suggests that startups may need to recalibrate their growth and funding strategies, focusing on sustainability and resilience in a tighter capital market. Despite these challenges, the resilience shown by the European tech ecosystem, including its ability to attract and retain talent and its focus on crucial sectors like AI and climate tech, provides a strong foundation for future growth and recovery​.

The talent pool in Europe's tech sector has been one of its key strengths. Despite market challenges, there has been a net growth in the workforce, growing from just over one million employees to more than 2.3 million in the past five years. Early-stage startups are driving job creation, attracting talent from the US, and doubling the number of new joiners to the tech industry compared to growth-stage companies​​.

AI has emerged as a leading theme in the European tech startup ecosystem. Europe boasts more AI talent than the US and has witnessed significant funding in AI-focused companies. AI startups made up 22% of all European mega-rounds in 2023, even surpassing 2022 levels. This sector's resilience is notable given the challenging economic backdrop​​.

Climate tech within the Carbon & Energy sector has seen a significant surge, accounting for 30% of all capital invested in European tech in 2023. This marks a tripling of its share since 2021, making it the largest sector by capital raised, overtaking both fintech and software. This underscores Europe's commitment to addressing global environmental challenges​​.

Europe stands at a pivotal moment, with the potential to become the next tech superpower. The region is successfully attracting talent, starting more companies than any other region, and focusing on solving pressing global problems. However, to realise its full potential, European investors, both private and institutional, need to address the funding gap that currently exists​​​​.