GigaOM Euro 20: The European startups to watch

For years, Europe’s startup community has been painted as the undernourished younger cousin of Silicon Valley. Yes, there have been successes — Skype, MySQL, and Yandex, for example — but there have been fewer billion-dollar web companies born out of Europe’s diverse continent (500 million people, 27 countries) than have been created within the 50-mile strip from the Golden Gate Bridge to San Jose.

Whether the lack of maturity of the continent’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is a result of an ingrained culture of low risk, or whether it’s Europe’s hefty government regulations, remains the subject of much debate. Regardless, for years the most successful European web entrepreneurs have seemed to have been those who have packed up and headed to California.

But all that’s starting to change. I first noticed the difference when I returned to Britain at the end of 2010 and covered startups across the continent, after a couple of years in San Francisco. There was a frenzy in the air: entrepreneurs seemed more driven, more enthusiastic and had a greater sense of community.

The new euro-preneur

Alexander Ljung, the Swedish CEO of Berlin-based audio platform Soundcloud, thinks the transition happened about four years ago: “You used to bump into startups that were doing the typical German thing of building a clone. Now the whole city is one crazy startup — chaotic, unstructured and with a counter-culture vibe.”

It seems like Europe’s entrepreneurs are finally embracing their outsider status, and focusing on the things that make them unique, rather than trying to recreate the Valley bubble across the pond.

In particular, there are the European countries that boast some of the most advanced broadband infrastructures in the world: it’s not unusual to get 100 Megabit lines in a city like Stockholm, for instance. That infrastructure encourages entrepreneurs in those regions to build mobile and web innovations that could catch on globally as the rest of the world catches up.

The European startup culture also benefits from its status as a patchwork quilt of nations, its flexible labor market, and its wealth of cultural hubs. Ian Hogarth, the co-founder of London’s music events service Songkick, didn’t follow his peers from Y Combinator to Silicon Valley. Instead, he saw more value in Songkick immersing itself in the cultural and music world of London, rather in the bubble of Northern California.

The Euro 20

The fact is, Europe’s web scene is now thriving. and as a result we’ve compiled a list featuring some of the best and brightest European web startups — what we’re dubbing the GigaOM Euro 20. Depending on how closely you watch Europe’s online scene, some of these companies may be familiar to you. Others you may not have heard of. But all of them are worth watching closely.

For this list, we focused on businesses that rely on the web and connected devices, and we’ve avoided a few broad sectors — such as hardware, telecoms and studios making packaged games — which deserve complete lists of their own. And worth noting, we’ve discounted any company that graduated on to acquisition or flotation.

So, for the next few days we will be profiling the 20 startups that we feel best represent Europe’s current tech scene. We organized our list around perception, and we’ll roll out each section individually. As lists go, it is intended to be a guideline rather than a rulebook. It’s not exhaustive, and clearly, with such a diverse and vibrant continent as our playing field, it never could be.