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Humility and Optimism: Reflections From Slush 2023


    This year certainly seems to be the one that the rest of the world figured out Slush’s *not-so* hidden secrets. Conference highlights made headlines throughout the tech ecosystem, notching top placements in Axios and TechCrunch, and notable bylines in many other publications. That much is unsurprising – no secret can remain hidden forever. For many folks in our European network, Slush is the one and only conference they choose to attend each year.

    I’d written about my experiences at Slush in 2018 and in 2019, and although attendance has since then shrunk in size (which I believe is a good thing) many of the wonderful things about the event have stayed constant that make the long journey so worthwhile. There is ironically something very welcoming about the cold, dark, and snowy (this year, at least) environment that creates an atmosphere conducive to networking and staying out late. I have never attended an event quite like it and am unaware of any that exists that more deeply encourages staying inside and building new connections. In that respect, for the second year in a row, we had the opportunity to partner with our dear friends at Crane Venture Partners on an oversubscribed, founder-focused meetup that brought together more than 100 entrepreneurs working on building solutions in B2B software – undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip.

    Conversations around the meetup struck a balance between humility and optimism. The venture ecosystem in Europe has corrected meaningfully from its peaks in 2021, a narrative that has played out similarly across other regions of the world. As investment has been pared back, founders have been forced to focus on more sustainable growth and cash-efficiency, which is not necessarily a bad thing in the long run. This year’s State of European Tech, a comprehensive publication that Slush launches in conjunction with Atomico and others, had a number of data points that supported cause for continued optimism around the European ecosystem and gave a glimpse into where things might be headed. Below are a few nuggets that I thought stood out from the report (as well as conversations at the conference):

    • Investments in Europe have slowed but are stabilizing. Similar to other regions of the world, venture investment across Europe has slowed meaningfully in recent quarters (though it would appear that, at earlier early stages, investment volumes are stabilizing). Investors are on track to deploy $45B into European companies this year, off the peak of $100B in 2021. Surprisingly, this 55% correction is still less pronounced vs. US venture dollars deployed, which, according to the Q3 Pitchbook NVCA Venture Monitor, is scheduled to clock in 64% off its 2021 high watermark. 
    • Europe continues to outpace the US in terms of first-time or repeat founders that are starting new companies. This has been a consistent trend over the last 5 years, and has become especially pronounced in the world of AI-focused talent, where the number of employees engaged in AI/ML roles in Europe has outpaced that in the US since 2019 (increasing more than 10x over the last decade).
    • The alumnae flywheel that has been spinning in the US since the early days of SaaS and Cloud is gaining momentum in Europe. In the last five years, Europe has seen 111 billion-dollar tech exits, including Spotify, Supercell, Wolt, Delivery Hero, Adyen, and Skype – just to name a few – as talented employees depart to build their own companies. Skype alumnae, for example, have spawned more than 900 startups, some of which have already become multi-billion dollar businesses, including Wise and Bolt.
    • The complexity of issuing employee stock options in Europe remains high. There is still no common set of standards across the EU, which has left each country to independently figure out its own legal and tax codes. For many reasons, this continues to be a major topic of conversation among founders and investors, especially for those whose business operations transcend countries where local regulations differ considerably in how employee stock options should be treated.

    Looking back, I’ve always smiled when asked, “Why would you fly almost halfway across the world to northern Europe in the winter when temperatures can be sub-zero and there is hardly any daylight?” To this day, I still believe Slush is a one-of-a-kind meetup where the format is as welcoming, well-organized, and enjoyable as any. So perhaps the answer to the question above is understandable only for those who have made the journey. If you haven’t been, I’d strongly encourage you to do so. 

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