Venture Capital/Interview/

Europe needs to grow startups faster, warns ex-Cisco boss

Some 72 European startups became unicorns this year. It won't be enough to keep up with the US and India says Chambers.

By Maija Palmer

John Chambers & Saket Modi, CEO of Safe Security

Europe needs to accelerate the pace of its startup growth, says John Chambers, the former chief executive of Cisco turned cybersecurity investor.

Chambers, who was appointed French high-tech ambassador by Emmanuelle Macron in 2018, is (perhaps unsurprisingly) a fan of the French tech ecosystem and the country’s recent push to digitise. But, he says, the continent overall is not developing large tech companies fast enough.

“Do I like French startups? Oh yeah. I like the ecosystem and the direction it is going. The challenge is not moving fast enough,” he tells Sifted. “France isn’t quite at a 100% growth year over year it’s more like 60 or 70% growth. The other [European countries] are a little bit slower, so we need to accelerate.”

“I like the ecosystem. The challenge is not moving fast enough”

Chambers says the number of unicorns created in Europe is telling. Some 72 companies became unicorns in Europe this year, far ahead of China’s 22, according to data from Dealroom. But the US is adding even more — 182 new unicorns this year — and India is speeding up too, with 16 new unicorns this year for a total of 40.

“It is important Europe accelerates,” he said.

Chambers has yet to invest in a European startup himself. He was speaking to Sifted on a European tour to promote Safe Security, the Palo Alto-based cyber security company backed by his JC2 investment fund. BT, the British telecoms company, led a $33m investment round into Safe Security earlier this year, a sign that European companies are becoming more willing to invest in startups, says Chambers.

The deal was BT’s first major investment in a cybersecurity company since 2006, a sign that the company is looking to grow in this area.

“Some 50% of the major companies in Europe won’t be there in 15 years”

“The only thing worse than making a mistake is doing the right thing too long. Some 50% of the major companies in Europe won’t be there in 15 years. You either disrupt or you’ve got a problem,” Chambers says.

Safe Security helps organisations, including customers like Facebook and SoftBank, calculate the likelihood of a cyberattack and estimate the financial cost. On the back of the BT deal it’s planning to build a large presence in Europe, hiring more than 100 people. The company is aiming to become a unicorn — with at least a part of that growth coming from Europe.

Maija Palmer is Sifted’s innovation editor. She covers deeptech and corporate innovation, and tweets from @maijapalmer

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