June 17, 2019

Some of Europe's most successful startup hubs are in tiny towns, not capital cities

Who knew that there was so much startup activity going on in the small European towns of Oulu, Oss, Montpellier and Sandwich?

We all know that startup hubs are buzzing in the major European capitals of London, Paris and Berlin. It’s not even surprising that the second-cities of Barcelona, Munich and Milan are also a hive of activity.

But who knew that there were so many startup hubs in the small towns of Oulu, Oss, Montpellier and Sandwich? That’s the takeaway of Sifted’s data-dive this week, thanks to some data from the research company PitchBook.

First, check out the top 10 non-capital European cities by the number of angel, seed and early-stage venture capital deals from 2013 to 2018. No major shocks, right?


But then look a little further down the list at the next 15. It shows the sizeable deal flow in cities such as Leuven in Belgium (population 100,000), Épalinges in Switzerland (population 8,000), Cork in Ireland (population 124,000) and the Helsinki suburb of Espoo in Finland (population 272,000).

Sure some of these are due to one big company — like ADC Therapeutics in Épalinges, Switzerland (also home to the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research).

But in other small towns, there is quite a wide range of companies raising money. Espoo, just outside Helsinki in Finland, has spawned mobile phone company HMD Global, satellite monitoring startup Iceye, and MariaDB, a database management company. Meanwhile Leuven (Belgium's eighth largest city) is home to Parkwind, which builds offshore wind farms and ViroVet, a biotech company for livestock.

We can see the same dispersion of success across the continent when we look at where the exits are coming from.

Here are the top non-capital cities by the number of exits from 2013 to 2018.

Again there is a prominence of some very small towns. Oss, with just 90,000 people, tops the non-capital rankings with $4.5bn worth of exits. St. Gallen, Gosselies, Saint Helier and Sandwich also feature pretty prominently.


These deals are obviously skewed by some big deals, but still it is rarely due to just one massive deal. There are some interesting startup hubs growing in smaller cities across Europe.