European tech startups and scaleups to watch in 2021

Europe’s startup scene is often overshadowed by Silicon Valley, but the continent is gaining ground with more than 70 tech startups valued at over $1bn.

Europe’s startup scene is often overshadowed by Silicon Valley, but the continent is gaining ground with more than 70 tech startups valued at over $1bn.

Here, Sifted’s reporters dig into the data, strategy and challenges behind the most important European startups and scaleups. We ask which companies are making waves and which are the ones to watch in 2021?

Keep reading below and stay informed about Europe’s new economy!

For in-depth analysis of the French tech ecosystem, dive into our recent report here.

(P.S The data is from European Startups with valuation estimates from Dealroom. If there is anyone missing from this list, or anything is wrong, please let us know by email at [email protected]).

Key

Year founded

Amount raised

Last funding round

Valuation

Employees

TravelPerk's logo

TravelPerk

Manages travel policies, budgets, and payment methods, as well as offers customer support services

travel; enterprise software / online travel agency; booking & search; business travel

travelperk.com

Barcelona, Spain

2015

€271m

SERIES C

€233-349m

100-500

BUX's logo

BUX

Stock trading app

fintech / investing;financial management solutions

getbux.com

Amsterdam, Netherlands

2014

€100m

DEBT

€76m

100-500

Sifted Take

BUX is the largest neobroker in all of Europe — a milestone it reached in July 2020 when it reached 300k users after launching the app in Belgium and France.

It has two core products: BUX Zero for stocks and ETFs, and BUX Crypto for cryptocurrency trading. In 2020, its user base grew to 350k. It’s certainly benefited from the recent crypto boom, with a 50% increase in new users since December 1 2020, and a 500% increase in average daily trades during the same period. BUX Zero is available in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium and BUX Crypto is available in another four European countries.

Its latest funding round was in 2019, when it raised €11.4m from firms including Velocity and Koltzbrinck Ventures. In total, it’s raised €35m at a valuation of €76m post money.

Mollie's logo

Mollie

Payment methods in your website and app

fintech / payments

mollie.com

Amsterdam, Netherlands

2004

€849m

SERIES B

€909m

100-500

Sifted Take

Not the only payments unicorn on this list, Amsterdam's Mollie is focusing on small and medium-sized business customers.

It's also hoping to win customers from the likes of Stripe by being better tailored to the needs of European businesses, with local language customer service and payment methods.

Read more: Mollie becomes latest fintech unicorn after €90m raise

GoCardless's logo

GoCardless

Simple and cheap way to take payments online: no merchant account, no credit card fees, no hassle

fintech / payments

gocardless.com

London, UK

2011

€198m

SERIES F

€882m

100-500

Sifted Take

GoCardless is not one of the glamorous fintechs that grabs headlines.

Companies pay GoCardless to collect direct debits from customers on their behalf. It then takes a fee of up to 1% from those transactions and in return also provides data to help businesses retain their customers for longer.

The company processes about $15bn in payments annually for nearly 60k organisations in the UK, Europe, US and Australia (for example SaaS company DocuSign, travel site TripAdvisor and fitness company Les Mills).

GoCardless’s cofounder and chief executive Hiroki Takeuchi is hugely respected in the London startup world, not least because of his return to the business following a life-threatening bike accident in 2016, which left him paralysed from the chest down.

Like many other fintechs, GoCardless benefited from the rise in digital payments during the pandemic in 2020. But after expanding into the US and launching its global direct debit network in 2019, the big question is how these international moves transpire for the company in the first real post-Brexit year.

Further reading: Brunch with Hiroki Takeuchi, founder of GoCardless (https://sifted.eu/articles/hiroki-takeuchi-gocardless-interview/)

MindMaze's logo

MindMaze

Build novel interfaces for neurorehabilitation, game training and 3D imaging in real time

health / medical devices

mindmaze.com

Lausanne, Switzerland

2012

€99m

GRANT

€909m

100-500

Sifted Take

For many people around the world with neurological diseases, MindMaze is a godsend. It has developed digital therapies to help patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, among other conditions. It also has an even more futuristic arm of the business, which is exploring human-machine interfaces.

Read more: The European startups hacking your brain better than Elon Musk’s Neuralink

Exscientia's logo

Exscientia

Applying AI and big data processing to accelerate discovery and development of drugs

health / AI

exscientia.ai

Oxford, UK

2012

€610m

SERIES C

Sifted Take

The first to automate drug discovery, last year the startup was part of the UK's search for Covid-19 cures, screening nearly every known approved and pre-clinical drug for use against Covid-19.

Read more: How AI is finding drugs to treat coronavirus

Skeleton Technologies's logo

Skeleton Technologies

Developer and manufacturer of high energy and power density ultracapacitators

Tallinn, Estonia

2009

€172m

SERIES D

€165-248m

100-500

Isar Aerospace's logo

Isar Aerospace

Develops next generation rockets for sustainable access to space for small and medium satellites and satellite constellations

Gilching, Germany

2018

€160m

SERIES B

€300-450m

100-500

Depop's logo

Depop

Mobile marketplace that enables individuals to buy and sell items

fashion / apparel

depop.com

London, UK

2011

€91m

SERIES C

€225-338m

1000-5000

Sifted Take

Second-hand clothes reselling app Depop is a huge hit with teenagers in Europe and the US, where it's growing fast.

Tourlane's logo

Tourlane

Booking platform for customized travel packages, offering multi-week experiences to over 30 countries worldwide

travel / online travel agency

tourlane.de

Berlin, Germany

2016

€90m

SERIES C

€214m

100-500

Air Up's logo

Air Up

The world's only drinking system that gives water flavour only by smell

food / manufacturing

air-up.com

Germany, Munich

2018

€21m

SERIES A

€72-108m

50-100

PayFit's logo

PayFit

Payfit simplifies payroll management, expense reports, as well as absences and leaves of your employees

fintech; enterprise software / financial management solutions

payfit.com

Paris, France

2015

€180m

SERIES B

€280-420m

100-500

Sifted Take

Ask around Paris for hot startups, people will mention Payfit.

It’s not glamorous. It’s an HR software company focused on simplifying payroll management, expense reports, as well as absences and leave of your employees. But it is the real deal.

The company started with the founders Firmin Zocchetto, Ghislain de Fontenay and Florian Fournier translating the ultra-complex French Labour Code into plain computer code and evolved from there.

It's part of a wave of SaaS companies with a similar mission including Personio and Hibob.

Airinum's logo

Airinum

An urban breathing mask for the 21st century

marketplace & ecommerce / healthtech

airinum.com

Sweden, Stockholm

2015

€0m

EARLY VC

€5-8m

10-50

Sifted Take

It launched way back in 2015 to combat the detrimental health impacts of air pollution, but could have never anticipated a global pandemic that would move disease prevention to the top of its list.

Online interest in the brand obviously peaked in March 2020, dropping in June (maybe when everyone had already bought a mask or two), but overall, they do seem to have gained a sustainable consumer following that has increased since before Covid-19 hit.

Their major backer is DHS Venture Partners.

Ledger's logo

Ledger

Provides security and infrastructure solutions for cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications

Paris, France

2014

€432m

SERIES C

€261m

100-500

HungryPanda's logo

HungryPanda

HungryPanda is the global leader in delivering Chinese food and groceries with the extensive market coverage, highest user traffic as well as annual transaction volumes

London, UK

2016

€82m

SERIES C

€255-382m

100-500

Bulb's logo

Bulb

Provides 100% renewable electricity and gas to homes across the UK

energy /

bulb.co.uk

London, UK

2014

€72m

GROWTH EQUITY

€378m

500-1000

Sifted Take

Bulb is a London-based startup which supplies renewable electricity and gas to homes. The four-year-old business was the UK’s fastest-growing startup in 2018; it has over 1.3m customers, has passed £1.3bn in revenue and has raised over £60m in venture capital.

It’s also gearing up to play a far more central role in its customers’ lives once we’re all driving electric vehicles, generating energy at home with our solar panels and using smart meters — and need someone to help us manage that (more complicated) future.

There is competition from other players in this market; in the UK, there’s Ovo Energy (founded in 2009), in Spain, Holaluz (founded in 2010).

But Bulb has been growing far faster, and has more customers. The next big (and potentially dangerous) move for the company is international expansion into France, Spain and Texas. It has launched for “friends and family” in each of these markets. A full launch is planned in 2020. But can Bulb put a dent in the dominance of the incumbents in those markets as it has in the UK?

Further reading: Bulb Energy: the fastest growing startup in the UK

Sennder's logo

Sennder

A digital freight-forwarder platform for full truck loads

logistics & delivery / transportation

sennder.com

Berlin, Germany

2015

€283m

SERIES D

€1bn

500-1000

Sifted Take

The Berlin-based freight forwarder is Europe's latest unicorn after a round led by Accel, Lakestar, HV Capital, Project A and Scania.

It’s among others like Zencargo and FreightHub in that it’s trying to digitise a wildly outdated logistics system, which is currently worth $427bn in Europe alone.

For the last two years, the company’s been developing a shared platform to connect truckers and customers. The company has offices in seven countries and has 800 employees.

Find out more here.

Five's logo

Five

Leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to build navigation systems to power autonomous cars

transportation / autonomous & sensor tech; navigation & mapping

five.ai

Cambridge, UK

2015

€72m

SERIES B

€149-224m

100-500

Monese's logo

Monese

Online banking platform that offers banking solutions for individuals and businesses

fintech / banking

monese.com

London, UK

2013

€73m

SERIES B

€218-327m

100-500

Pleo's logo

Pleo

Decentralises company spending, eliminates expense reports and reimbursements and simplifies bookkeeping

fintech / financial management solutions; payments

pleo.io

Copenhagen, Denmark

2015

€206m

SERIES B

€450m

100-500

Sifted Take

Pleo is one of a group of European startups tackling the issue of corporate expenses but is one of the fastest-growing.

The company issues company cards, with accompanying software, which allows both employees and managers to automatically match receipts and track all company spending in real-time.

Founded by two former Tradeshift members in 2015, the company offers cards all connected to the same Pleo account so employees don’t need to charge expenses to their own credit cards and then claim back from the company.

Led by Jeppe Rindom, the company does not really see itself as a fintech, saying it has more in common with communication tools such as Slack, Asana, and Trello rather than with fintech companies such as Tink or Klarna.

It's backed by the likes of Swedish investors Kinnevik and Creandum as well as the American private equity firm Stripes.

Further reading: Pleo: “We don’t see ourselves as a fintech company”

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