From ideas to gamechangers

Europe has a solid deep tech foundation - and turning ideas into world-changing companies
European fintech is soaring, and the region is also doubling down on specialised and frontier tech including open source, crypto and deeptech. But there is still more to do to ensure science in university labs has a path to commercialisation - academics cite a lack of aligned incentives.

Web3 and crypto continue to grow
The 10 largest rounds raised by European crypto/Web3 companies in the first nine months of 2021 collected a total $3.2B in new capital. This includes Europe’s largest ever crypto round (and Europe’s largest ever Series B) raised by France’s Sorare in September 2021.

A record year for Deep Tech funding
European deep tech companies have already raised close to $20 billion in the first nine months of 2021. This is more than twice the level invested in during the entirety of 2020. Rounds of $5M or less account for around 50% of the activity.

Academics want to commercialise their ideas
University labs play a crucial part in the deep tech pipeline. 25% of academics say the most important step is to increase incentives for commercialisation versus publishing. 18% say supporting commercialisation of intellectual property is most important.
The ideas of today are the game changers of tomorrow

So how can we qualify the trends and get a possible glimpse of the future? As ideas evolve into companies, it is not uncommon for the business model, go-to-market strategy or even sector to evolve as well - leading to an ever-evolving taxonomy. In this year's report, we are attempting to gain insights across different themes and sectors by analysing both investor sentiment and capital flow. In our survey, we presented investors with a list of themes and asked them to chose the ones they were most excited about. The table lists those different themes as well as the definition of the companies that belong to each as described in the survey.

Overview of key themes

Based on the themes and definitions from the survey.


The illustration below provides some examples of how these themes were then mapped against different partners' taxonomy to gain insights into both private and public markets.

Planet Positive, deep tech and health systems are top of mind for angel investors

The network of active angel investors continues to strengthen in Europe and as they often are the first money in, the themes they are most excited about are potentially an interesting leading indicator. Across the board, survey respondents are most excited about Planet Positive companies (e.g. companies working towards transitioning to sustainable energy, water, as well as solutions for recycling and handling waste) and angels are no different. Yet there is still a relatively smaller share of companies fitting this thesis that received funding in 2021. The biggest 'convergence' between capital flow and theme excitement is deep tech. It is the second most cited theme by angels, a segment defined by Dealroom that raised 23% of total funding in 2021. Future finance is a close second - the continued excitement from respondents also speaks to the edge Europe has in this space.

Share of angel respondents who selected the below responses versus share of 2021 capital invested by themes

  • % of angel respondents
  • % of 2021 capital invested
Angel investors only. Respondents could select up to three answers.
2021 is a record year for deep tech funding in Europe

2021 has proven to be a record year for European deep tech companies, which have already raised close to $20 billion in funding in just the first nine months of the year. This is already more than twice the level of capital invested in deep tech companies during the entirety of 2020.

Capital invested ($B) in European deep tech companies

All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.

Deep tech startups are at the core of the new wave of innovation combining hardware and digital. The new platforms will be platforms for autonomous cars and flying taxis or for automation of work or home tasks.

While digital startups have made shopping or communication more convenient, Deep Tech startups solve our deep societal problems. Deep Tech startups will provide limitless, sustainable energy, as well as new materials for more efficient construction and an increase in food supplies while reducing the impact on the environment.

Deep Tech startups are based on three factors in which Europe is a world leader: a strong hardware component, non-easily replicable intellectual property coming from science, and talent with a high level of skills in engineering and science. Europe has one of the best education systems and is also attracting the best talent thanks to the startup visas that are spreading across most of Europe.

We only have a bottleneck that needs to be tackled: financial instruments adapted to the high risk and long term investments needed for Deep Tech startups.

Mariya Gabriel

European Union | EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

Close to 50% of deep tech deals are below $5M

As is to be expected, the majority of capital invested into deep tech companies is concentrated in rounds of $100M or more, which account for 65% of total investment levels in the first nine months of 2021. By deal volume, rounds of $5M or less account for around 50% of the activity.

Capital invested ($M) and deal count in deep tech by round size, 2021

  • Capital invested ($M)
All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.
Is there a funding gap for deep tech at Pre-Seed and Seed?

Deep tech companies accounted for around 21% of total funding rounds in Europe during the first nine months of 2021. Deep tech's relative share of total deal activity varies, however, depending round size. Notably, the share of early-stage rounds of $5M or less raised by deep tech companies is materially lower than the overall average or larger round size buckets. Just 13% of these rounds were raised by deep tech companies, representing only 17% of capital invested. This raises, though does not fully address, the question of whether there is a funding gap for deep tech companies at the Pre-Seed and Seed stages where rounds of this size are most common. There is also a notable difference for rounds of $50-100M, which also fall below the overall average.

Share of overall capital invested and deal count for deep tech companies, 2021

  • Capital invested
  • Deal count
All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.
What is next for deep tech?

As deep tech companies mature and attract capital from a broader range of investors, there tends to be a gradual shift in the industry perception of what does and does not represent the current 'frontier'. In 2021, many companies that have long since been considered to be at the frontier of pushing technology boundaries in areas such electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL), space tech and synthetic biology, went on to raise mega funding rounds in both the public and private markets. Will they continue to be perceived as the 'frontier' of deep tech? What will emerge as the next frontier?

Top 10 largest rounds for deeptech companies in 2021

All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.

European moonshots

There is no limit to the ambition of Europe’s boldest founders. From nuclear fusion to electric jet airliners to green steel and biomanufactured chemicals, European tech companies are taking on some of humanity’s hardest problems. The era of the European moonshot has well and truly arrived.

011h (Spain)

Sustainable building development

BioNTech (Germany)

Biopharmaceutical company pioneering the development of individualised therapies for cancer and other diseases

Carbo Culture (Finland)

Carbon tech startup that removes carbon from the atmosphere

Destinus (Switzerland)

Transportation company building near-space vehicles and the infrastructure to power the transportation network

Dioxycle (France)

Capture and convert carbon dioxide into chemical products

Einride (Sweden)

Electric and autonomous freight tech company

Exscientia (United Kingdom)

Pharmatech company that uses an end-to-end AI platform to design and discover new drugs

FabricNano (United Kingdom)

Cell-free manufacturing company that develops a DNA-based flow reactor to unlock the future of biochemistry

H2 Green Steel (Sweden)

Large-scale steel producer based on a fossil-free manufacturing process

Healx (United Kingdom)

AI-powered, patient-inspired technology company, pioneering the next generation of drug discovery for rare diseases

Heart Aerospace (Sweden)

Electric regional airplanes (Germany)

AI in implementing security

ICEYE (Finland)

Empowers others to make better decisions in B2B and B2G industries

LabGenius (United Kingdom)

Biopharmaceutical company developing protein therapeutics using a machine learning-driven evolution engine

Lilium (Germany)

Electronically powered vertical takeoff aircraft company

Manna Drone Delivery (Ireland)

Provides drone delivery as a service stack to restaurant chains, dark kitchens, and online food delivery platforms

Mosa Meat (the Netherlands)

Food technology company producing slaughter-free hamburgers made from cow cells

Northvolt (Sweden)

Lithium-ion battery manufacturing producing eco-friendly batteries

Renaissance Fusion (France)

High-temperature superconductor and stellarator company

Spinnova (Finland)

Ecological innovation that turns cellulose into textile fibre simply, without harmful chemicals

There are many promising European SaaS startups in the making that have enormous potential to produce companies equal to the Americans.

The Metaverse, NFTs and crypto/blockchain are obviously very hyped at the moment and will continue to be so, but I’m genuinely excited about deep tech and the next-generation SaaS companies utilising product-led growth and open source distribution models. As we’ve passed the 'AI hype' we’ve seen some major outcomes, especially in the US (Snowflake, Databricks, Confluent, etc.), as companies of all sizes have started to process and store increasing amounts of data. But there are many promising European SaaS startups in the making that have enormous potential to produce companies equal to the Americans. UiPath has been a great example of this, but there’s plenty more to come.

Kim Fai Kok

Framtid | Co-Founder

Emerging clusters around carbon culture and hydrogen energy point to the next frontiers in deep tech

Clusters of deal activity provide insights into emerging spaces and into specific pain points that next-generation startups are looking to solve. Filtering specifically for European deep tech companies started post-2015 and that have received early-stage funding provides a window into some emerging themes that are starting to pick up steam. The smaller clusters (i.e. those with the smaller deal count) can be telling of a more nascent trend (e.g. carbon capture, DNA data storage, hydrogen energy) versus larger clusters with greater activity, such as quantum computing and AI-powered drug discovery, which have already drawn wider attention from founders and investors.

Emerging spaces in deep tech by deal count

Based on "emerging spaces" classification by Pitchbook for European-based companies founded post 2015 and have received either accelerator, angel or VC funding.


Academics want more support for commercialising their ideas

One way to drive further investments into cutting-edge technologies is through spinouts from research institutions. As part of our survey, we asked academic and researcher respondents to pick one action that would help to better support their community to start companies and help them succeed. The most frequently cited action selected by respondents (25% of responses) was to increase the availability of research funding that is aimed specifically at idea commercialisation instead of publications. This was followed by greater encouragement and support from universities in the commercialisation of intellectual property.

If you were to pick one action from the list below that would better support the academic / research community to start companies and help them succeed, what would it be?

Academic / Researcher respondents only. Numbers may not add to 100 due to rounding.


A lack of knowledge and barriers set up by universities holds back academic entrepreneurs

As a follow-up question, we asked survey respondents to share their written perspectives on the barriers that are holding back university students from establishing more spinouts. The highest concentration of responses (33%) focused on a lack of knowledge and/or entrepreneurial mindset. This was followed closely by responses that focused on actual or perceived barriers imposed by universities that discourage spinout activity. These responses, for example, highlighted a misalignment or lack of incentives, challenges around intellectual property, as well as a perceived lack of available time to focus on the potential commercialisation of research efforts.

In your opinion, what is holding back university students from establishing more spinouts?

Academic/Researcher respondents only. Themes are mapped manually via keyword search on free-text answers. Numbers do not add to 100 as respondents could choose multiple options.


Founders who can translate cutting-edge scientific innovation to real world application are the future of the European technology ecosystem. We know Europe is sitting on a wealth of scientific talent with world class ingenuity. However, we urgently need to unshackle their entrepreneurial potential by setting spinouts up for success from day one.

As it stands, the European spinout process is more of a hindrance than a help to founders. This system needs to be overhauled, and replaced with a process that is standardised, transparent, and swift. Crucially, it must be designed with the needs of the entrepreneur in mind, rather than focusing on the risk aversion of their university. I started to shine a light on this issue, and would love to hear from you if you have a perspective on this vital topic.

Nathan Benaich

Air Street Capital | General Partner

The share of funding for early stage companies varies widely by vertical and by region

Seed and Series A companies provide a window into the deals that took place in the past three years and becomes a valuable leading indicator of the themes defining the next generation of potential scale-ups. In order to identify key themes, we compared the share of early-stage funding with the total funding at all stages for a range of themes categorised by Pitchbook. We then produced the same analysis for both Europe and the United States to surface any key differences between the two regions in terms of the thematic concentration of early-stage funding activity, separating out themes where Europe indexes higher for early-stage funding and also those where the US indexes higher. In Europe, early-stage investment accounted for 21.5% of total investment in 2021 to date. Any category where the share of early-stage investment is greater than this benchmark is skewed earlier. This includes gaming, digital health and foodtech. In the US, the categories that skew most heavily to early-stage investment include gaming, crypto/blockchain, beauty and AR, pointing towards growing activity in consumer-centric models.

Early stage funding as share of total funding by vertical and by region versus overall benchmark

  • Europe
  • United States
  • % of early stage as total investment in each region
Pitchbook as of November 1st 2021. Includes only verticals where total investment for 2021 was > $500M for the reference region.


Crypto and blockchain deal count is up 5x in Europe over the past 5 years

2021 has arguably been an important breakthrough year for wider awareness and adoption of Web3, fuelling increased investor interest. As such, it is perhaps not surprising to see that early-stage deal count across Seed and Series A stages has increased significantly in all regions globally. Despite a significant increase in Seed and Series A rounds in Europe in 2021 and a consistent growth since 2017, an explosion of activity in the US in 2021 has seen a large gap open up between the two regions. There is a growing number of emerging funds specialising in crypto/Web3 in Europe, such as Semantic Ventures and Fabric Ventures, but the scale of drypowder available in the US is significantly larger, thanks to mega funds raised by the likes of a16z Crypto and Paradigm.

Seed and Series A deal count per region and per year

  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021


More and more value and data is moving onto better, more resilient, open rails that can be broadly referred to as Web3.

As 'offline to online' has mostly finished playing out as a thesis, we believe we're now approaching an inflection point for an 'online to on-chain' migration: more and more value and data is moving onto better, more resilient, open rails that can be broadly referred to as Web3.

The design space for the on-chain economy is potentially vast and still mostly unexplored. The gravitational pull on an increasingly global, distributed pool of developers and communities is hard to resist, with new coordination mechanisms and incentives applied to some of the most pivotal and interesting problems of the modern world. Wagmi.

Alex Shelkovnikov

Semantic VC | Co-Founder

US crypto investors are active across all stages in Europe

The quality of European talent and startups in the crypto and blockchain space continues to attract the interest of investors from outside the region. In fact, as a relative share of overall participation in funding rounds for European crypto and blockchain companies, US investors are significantly more active than in the broader European tech market as a whole. The pace of their participation in crypto and blockchain increased materially in 2021 and at a faster rate than the rest of the market too. Looking at rounds of $20-50M raised by European crypto and blockchain companies, for example, US investors accounted for more than 50% of the total capital invested.

Share of capital invested by US investors by round size, European blockchain / crypto companies versus all European companies

  • Blockchain / crypto companies (2020)
  • Blockchain / crypto companies (2021)
  • All companies (2021)
All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.

2022 should be an exciting year for crypto with Web3 applications increasingly being embedded into mainstream platforms such as Discord or Twitter.

This will make crypto much more accessible to a mass audience and will drive innovation in the space. Central Eastern Europe, with the likes of Ramp Network or Tenderly coming from there, has an amazing density of Web3 talent and I am excited to back the next winners to emerge from the region.

Separately, the API-ification of infrastructure is a gamechanger. In our portfolio, we’ve seen this year the likes of Weavr, Primer, Appwrite and Liveblocks remove friction and complexity in building applications - both B2C and B2B.

On the gaming front, Play-To-Earn is profoundly changing the way games are designed and monetised. With Europe being home to some of the best gaming talent globally, I look forward to seeing teams from all across the continent following Sorare’s lead to build the next wave of Play-To-Earn games.

Sia Houchangnia

Seedcamp | Partner

Crypto goes big in Europe. Wagmi.

Europe’s leading crypto companies captured the attention of the global investor community to raise huge growth rounds in 2021. The top 10 largest rounds raised by European crypto/Web3 companies during the first nine months of 2021 collected an aggregate $3.2B in new capital. This includes Europe’s largest ever crypto round (and Europe’s largest ever Series B) raised by France’s Sorare in September 2021. Austria’s Bitpanda and the UK’s Genesis Digital Assets are notable for both having raised two separate rounds that made the top 10 for the year. These rounds are an indication that European crypto has gone increasingly mainstream, at least in the eyes of the global investor base.

Top 10 largest equity rounds raised by European crypto/web3 companies

European blockchain / crypto companies reaching a $1B+ valuation

The rapid rise in funding activity over the past 12 months should not mask the fact that Europe has already produced a number of successful, growth stage companies in the crypto and blockchain space that were founded 10 years ago, such as Bitfury and In total, Europe has now produced at least eight crypto and blockchain unicorns, including five that surpassed the billion-dollar milestone for the first time during 2021, such as Sorare, Ledger and Bitpanda.



Celsius Network





Selected VC-backed open source companies that raised funding in 2021

Another important and fast-growing theme in European tech is the growing significance of open source, which is attracting increasing levels of investor interest and capital. Total capital invested in European open source companies has already reached almost $1.4B in just the first nine months of 2021, according to Tracxn, up more than 7x on the less than $200M raised in the full year of 2020. The most significant funding rounds of 2021 also elevated two further European open source companies to unicorn status, namely Aiven and Odoo.





Hugging Face



Europe houses 30% of open source developers worldwide

Europe's growing strength in open source should not come as a surprise. Firstly, Europe is home to close to 20 million developers that are actively engaging with open source via GitHub, equating to 27.3% of the global active user base. Secondly, the accelerated digital transformation catalysed by the pandemic has served as a powerful tailwind for open source, leading to step change in the number of new open source repositories created, according to GitHub's State of Octoverse 2021 report.

Geographical distribution of Github active users

Based on The State of the Octoverse 2020 and 2021.


Funding levels have exploded across a broad range of sectors

The accelerated levels of investment in the European tech ecosystem have flowed into a broad range of industry sectors, including food, health and gaming. In absolute terms, fintech companies have been the largest beneficiaries with total capital invested increasing to almost $22B in just the first nine months of 2021. Unsurprisingly, there has also been a rapid growth in funding to enterprise software companies, which have raised more than $12B by the end of September 2021, already up more than 2x versus the annual total for 2020.

Capital invested ($M) by industry, 2019 to 2021

  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021
All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.

There is a mindset shift on the side of founders and enterprises. The fear of stagnation is no theoretical concept anymore, as enterprises are now losing market share to disruptors on a daily basis.

On the one hand, founders have understood that it is possible to solve for the complex and often somewhat hidden needs of enterprises, rather than just the obvious consumer needs they experience on a day to day basis. On the other hand, enterprises are facing strong pressure to increase performance.

Enterprises realise that to attract strong talent as well as optimise processes, they need to adopt solutions that enable their digital transformation.

As a result, demand for innovation is soaring and the initial reservations big companies had against startups are fading. Founders are capitalising on this shift, partnering with enterprises that move fast enough to digitalise, and disrupting those that stay behind.

Judith Dada

La Famiglia | General Partner

Strong tailwinds continue to power certain verticals

Zooming out to broader sectors and verticals, the impact of the pandemic has been mixed. Sectors such as recruitment, music, robotics and gaming have continued to benefit from strong tailwinds and have even further accelerated in 2021. Listed are the star performers: sectors that are on course to triple investment levels since 2019, while more than doubling compared to 2020. These industries speak to broader changes in the market - be it the raging war for talent, the rise of the creator economy and the appeal of audio, with large rounds raised by the likes of Epidemic Sound or Dice, or the 3B gamers globally that continue to fuel growth in the space.

Change in capital invested (%), 2021 versus 2020 and 2021 versus 2019

  • 2021 vs. 2020
  • 2021 vs. 2019
All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 figures show data up to September 2021.
Fintech ahead of the pack

In absolute terms, fintech had the most significant increase in investment in the past year, followed by enterprise software and transportation.

Absolute change by industry vertical of capital invested ($M), 2020 versus 2021

All data excludes Israel and the following: biotech, secondary transactions, debt, lending capital, and grants. 2021 is annualised based on data to September 2021.

Embedded finance allows any business to act like a fintech, eliminating the need for a bank in the middle of each transaction. This means better control over the customer journey under one ‘digital roof’.

I’m particularly enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by embedded finance, the integration of financial services into non-financial customer journeys. Starling is well-placed to grab the opportunities arising from this, through our Banking as a Service, or rather Starling as a Service, offering.

Not only that, ease-of-payment can become part of the marketing push. Car companies are already working on embedded finance processes where drivers can pay for anything from fuel to parking via vehicle voice assistants. There’s no need to get out of the driving seat.

I'm also excited by Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). In fact, I sit on the Bank of England's CBDC Engagement Forum. But I don't think they will disrupt the financial ecosystem in the coming year.

Anne Boden

Starling Bank | Founder and CEO

Companies are scaling to unicorn status faster than ever

In September 2021, Flink became the fastest ever European startup to scale to unicorn valuation. This surpassed Gorillas, the record holder for eight months, which in turn eclipsed Hopin’s 2020 record in March 2021. This year has been groundbreaking, with newly minted unicorns dethroning the previous leaders such as Skype (29 months), Graphcore (31 months) and Northvolt (32 months).

9 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2021

9 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2021

14 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2021

17 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2020

18 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2020

22 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2021

22 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2021

22 months

to reach $1B+ valuation in 2021

Fintech companies make up 20% of all $B+ companies and 33% of those that are still private

Fintech has proven to be the dominant category in terms of producing billion-dollar companies from Europe, accounting for 20% of all $B+ companies from Europe and one in three of those that are still private. In total, Europe has produced 65 fintech companies that have reached unicorn status. Enterprise software is also very well represented, having now generated more billion-dollar public companies than any other category. Gaming and entertainment makes up the final place in the top three, thanks to Europe's strong historical track record in the space.

Number of $1B+ European tech companies by status across top 10 categories, all time

  • Private
  • Public
  • Acquired
Based on data up to 15 November 2021.


More unicorns to join the stables, from more countries

We relied on Dealroom's methodology for 'future unicorns' to get a sense of where the ecosystem might be headed. These are companies with a valuation between $225-900M with its last funding year being at least 2018. Looking at the landscape of tech companies in Europe today, we are anticipating a strong pipeline of future unicorns. Europe could already be home to more than 850 future $B+ companies, or more than a thousand unicorns in total. Iceland, Serbia and Greece are expected to join the ranks of unicorn home countries. A few countries have a particularly active pipeline, with Italy expected to jump to 15 and Belgium to 24.

Number of future unicorns by country

  • Current unicorns
  • Potential unicorns
Based on Dealroom's analysis of future unicorns: companies with a valuation between $225-900M with its last funding year being at least 2018.

Looking ahead to 2022 I think there will be a renewed focus on businesses with sustainable business models and those that are having strong positive societal impact.

We found incredible founders building in ‘out of favour’ sectors like social networks (for example Organise which is building a network for people to improve their rights at work and Mirthy, a network for older adults). We also invested in the future of entertainment and gaming, including in virtual reality company SideQuest. I hope this goes beyond a trend and instead is a durable shift, given the potential that technology has to tackle the biggest challenges we face.

Check Warner

Ada Ventures | Partner