Neelie Kroes’ European Leaders Club is bringing sexy back to entrepreneurship in Europe – is that enough?

Mar 22, 2013
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Neelie Kroes

Last week, Commissioner Neelie Kroes welcomed nine entrepreneurs to Brussels for the first meeting of the European Leaders Club. Armed with experience and the desire to bring Europe “up to code” with the rising digital economy, the club hopes to bring to light some of the strongest issues in the European Startup Scene. Baptized the European Leaders Club, Neelie Kroes welcomed select press journalists to an informal press conference, surrounded by the likes of Skype & Kazaa founder Niklas Zennström, Rovio chairmen Kaj Hed, as well as representatives from Seedcamp, Tuenti, UKTI & more.

Bringing Sexy Back.

There’s no question about it – this new Club is sexy. Kroes was the first to admit that Europe needs to see that Entrepreneurship is, well, just that. While we idolize American tech geeks like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, our European equivalents don’t quite get the praise they deserve. Personally, I was nearly speechless sitting across the table from Niklas Zennström – half of my iPhone’s music library is populated with music I “shared” off of Kazaa in 2000. To me, European entrepreneurship is already sexy – then again, I’m not the problem, Europe is.

Kroes proudly admits that the first step is awareness – only after people are aware that there are great entrepreneurs in Europe can they begin to appreciate the possibility of launching their own company. We here at the Rude Baguette have been giving French entrepreneurs visibility for a while now – look like we’re on the same page as the European Commissions.

Only time will tell what step two, three, and so on are – Kroes and the other club members were hesitant to discuss concrete actions, with UKTI’s Joanna Shields saying “we’re just happy to be able to come together and discuss a topic that’s very important to all of us.”

One caveat I feel needs to come with the prospect of making entrepreneurship sexy is that what Europe lacks more than a spectacular and glorious success is a spectacular and glorious failure – someone that everyone brands as a winner and somehow manages to fall burning from the sky. As long as there is no discussion (and too much protection) around failure as an entrepreneur – a safety net which ultimately pulls down the ceiling of potential achievements for European entrepreneurs.

Getting feedback. Staying Lean.

With an all-star advisory board that would make any startup founder’s head spin, Neelie Kroes certainly has enough input about what’s going on in Europe these days. In addition the European Leaders Club, Kroes talked about her Young Advisers – a group of young entrepreneurs in Europe from whom she receives advice around how to improve the European ecosystem for entrepreneurs. Kroes has already put in to place several action items that she feels will improve the ecosystem – support for IT job seekers, support for IT job creators, and more.

No delusions about it: global means global.

During the interview, I brought up what I consider to be one of the hardest parts about launching a company in Europe – the lack of Exits to European companies. Clearly, European startups are getting bought by US companies, but it seems that there is less of a return the ecosystem itself than if a European company buys another European company; the problem comes when you look at the current list of European tech candidates – SAP, France Telecom, BT, Deutsche Telekom – and realize there really aren’t a lot of possibilities. On the other wise, despite London’s best efforts, there doesn’t seem to be an IPO market in Europe either – so how do we resolve?

In response, Kroes stated that Europe can not try to fence in its entrepreneurs. I definitely agree with this sentiment – VC funds and otherwise that carry the condition of remaining in Europe will slowly be phased out or considered 2nd tier – however, I think there’s a difference between fencing in entrepreneurs and creating an attractive digital ecosystem which provides comparable advantages to the US market (the difference is namely the fence). Given recent Tech IPOs in the US, I’m surprised that companies like Criteo are still planning on IPO-ing on the NASDAQ; however, maybe we need one more spectacular failure for Europe to start looking domestic.

Why no French Entrepreneurs in the Club?

Many were quick to point out that there are no French entrepreneurs in the European Leaders Club – while many would’ve like to see names like Marc Simoncini and Jacques-Antoine Granjon, I think that these names are the very names France needs to dispel from its vocabulary when it comes to French success. In all honestly, France has no great example of successful GLOBAL entrepreneurs.

Marc Simoncini built a dating site. Granted it’s a big European player and he had a nice exit, but let’s not pretend it’s anything other than a dating site. For his next venture – Jaina Capital – he chose an investment strategy of only taking majority stakes in startups, the very practices that we would be quick to laugh off as insane if it were anyone other than Simoncini. Let’s laugh anyway.

The luxurious Jacques-Antione “JAG” Granjon – a man who managed to build a company which does a billion euros in revenue, and still managed to fail. Vente Privee is being beated at its own game in the US by a company that openly admit to having copied it. Vente Privee is a wonderful example that you can make enough money to be set for life, and still somehow manage to fall short of any reasonable person’s expectations. Also, let’s not forget: Vente Privee is an eCommerce site. That’s all.

So no, we will not be seeing any French entrepreneurs join this club anytime soon – nor should we. France needs to set the bar a bit higher to sit at the same table as Spotify, Skype and Rovio.