Even as Europe grapples with political uncertainty, its startups just got a major vote of confidence.
On Thursday, Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom announced a $765 million investment fund through his London-based VC firm Atomico. It's one of Europe's largest-ever venture funds, and will be aimed at early and mid-stage tech companies across the continent and the U.K.
"We've always believed that Europe is a very lucrative market for tech," says Hiro Tamura, a managing partner at Atomico, of the company's decision to launch the new fund. But it's been underserved by the investment community, he counters. "Once a company explodes--in a good way--they go to Sand Hill Road. It's a shame to be part of the ecosystem and not be capable of funding it."
Atomico, which Zennstrom co-founded with Mattias Ljungman in 2006, is hoping its new fund will help change this. The company made more than 75 investments to date--in high-profile companies including Klarna and Skype--and counts veterans from tech giants including Uber, Spotify, Google and Facebook among its investors.
Still, the outlook for European businesses in 2017 is uncertain at best. Britain is now preparing to exit the E.U., threatening London's status as a hub for international businesses that want access to both the European and American markets. Meanwhile, several EU countries--including France, the Netherlands and Germany--will hold elections this spring. Some have argued that the surprise victory of U.S. President Donald Trump harbingers a similar win for far-right candidates abroad, and that could provoke changes to free trade deals and immigration policies.
"The big issue [for businesses] is the macro level uncertainty about where the EU is going politically and economically," said Geoffrey Heal, a professor of social enterprise, finance and economics at Columbia Business School, in a January interview with Inc.
Local entrepreneurs and investors are nonetheless bullish. "We've had some political headwinds, but the underlying European tech ecosystem remains strong," Zennstrom told the New York Times. "Success of tech companies is very binary: they will work or they will not," he added. "Some macro-economic ups-and-downs are not going to make a big difference."
To his point, U.S. businesses will likely continue to seek opportunities in the region. Facebook acquired the Belarus-based Masquarade, a selfie app, in March of last year, and Twitter paid $150 million in June for Magic Pony, the London machine-learning startup. Overall, European tech startups raised $17.1 billion in 2016, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to the technology news website Tech.eu. Still, the U.S. ecosystem remains dominant, with companies raising $40.9 billion in 2016, according to CB Insights data.
Others suggest that uncertainty can have advantages for the business community. "Those are the times that breed the best outcomes, and what pushes people to innovate," says Atomico's Tamura. The investor nods to startup successes like Airbnb--which launched during the last recession, and is now said to be worth as much as $30 billion.