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Tech entrepreneurs are flocking back to Europe: We want to do it our own way, in our own place

Jonas Almgren
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Berlin Seeks To Draw London Startups And Companies
Tech entrepreneurs are flocking back to Europe (Source: Getty)

From Dropbox to Spotify to Deliveroo, it is undeniable that Europe now truly has startup success stories to contend with Silicon Valley.

This trend has been bolstered by a wave of European tech entrepreneurs moving back home from the US, bringing with them the knowledge and the culture we so desperately need to foster our startup scene. They include such high profile individuals as William Tunstall-Pedoe, inventor of Amazon Echo, who has recently returned to Cambridge, after several years working for Amazon in the US.

Britain now has the second highest level of venture capital invested per capita in the world, after the US - something I couldn't have imagined in 1990 when I left Sweden as a bright-eyed engineering grad of Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, looking to make my way in the world.

In those days, Silicon Valley was not just the best place to be, it was the only place to be. Had I stayed in Sweden, my only option would have been to work for a big company like Ericsson. There simply wasn’t such a thing as a "startup scene" anywhere else in the world.

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A spherical Amazon Echo
The inventor of the Amazon Echo has moved back to Cambridge (Source: Amazon)

I spent an exciting, fruitful, intense 22 years there - 14 of them in the Valley, and eight in New York. I was lucky enough to work with Steve Blank as part of the close knit team who invented the world’s first CRM system for marketers at startup Epiphany - we scaled that company through its early stages to IPO.

In 2010, I cofounded the VIP Art Fair in New York, and in 2013 I finally made the move back to Europe, to London, where I launched online art marketplace, Artfinder.

But why London? Like many of the entrepreneurs who have moved back - I could’ve stayed on the West Coast - Artfinder is a global business and the US market is extremely important to us, actually taking over the UK in terms of revenue in the last month.

But for myself, for other entrepreneurs who were right there in the heart of Silicon Valley in those early years, there was something compelling about the thought of bringing that knowledge and expertise home and helping to develop a scene that had already grown so much in those years we were away from it.

There is now truly a sense of excitement around European startup hubs like London and Berlin, with a real recognition, on both sides of the pond, that there's huge potential for growth here. There's a great quality of education, nurturing a new generation of talent, who hopefully won’t feel the need to get out like we did.

According to the European Tech Funding Report, the first quarter of 2016 was a record breaking period for startup funding, with 790 deals worth €4.8bn (£4.25bn) taking place, with the UK leading the way with more than €1bn raised across 122 rounds.

Europe also has a large number of "megacities" - big cities with infrastructure, diversity and an environment that attracts people - all things Silicon Valley doesn’t have. The argument is, big cities are simply better locations for startups than the relative vacuum of the Valley.

Startups which have grown in Europe tend to be leaner and meaner than those in the US, due to that fight for funding. They are also more likely to understand how to conquer new markets, whereas US startups can grow without ever having to look outside one country’s borders.

We arrived in Silicon Valley as young men and women ready to learn how to take over the world. Now we want to do it our own way, in our own place and we’re proud to be succeeding.

Read more: Don't underestimate Europe's tech entrepreneurs - they're more ambitious than you think

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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