Startup Genome: 2022 was tough — but a recession is a great time to invest in tech

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Startup Genome: 2022 was tough — but a recession is a great time to invest in tech

Thomas Macaulay

Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Senior reporter

Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy. Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy.

The tech sector is experiencing an unprecedented slowdown, but analysts see immense opportunities for startups that survive the downturn.

Across the world, VC funding in 2022 plummeted by 35% from the previous year, according to a new study from Startup Genome and the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN). The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2023 (GSER 2023) also observed slowdowns in deal counts, exits, and unicorns. But a deeper dive unearths grounds for optimism.

After a year of heavy market losses, inflation is now slowing and economic growth appears to be holding up. The headwinds remain challenging, but the GSER 2023 notes that recessions are good times to invest in startups. 

Historical trends substantiate the theory. Startups funded during the Great Recession had higher exit multiples over total money invested than those funded during economic expansions. During downturn years, startups that achieved Series A financing were able to multiply by 20 the value of that round by the time of exit. 

“Lean economic times can produce high-performing startups.

Tangible examples of successful startups born in a recession include Spotify raising a Series A in 2008, Twitter doing the same in 2007, and Flipkart in 2009. Similar successes emerged after the 2001 dot-com crash. When the bubble burst, pessimists tolled the death knell for the tech industry. Within a few years, their prediction was proven entirely wrong.

The spree of mass layoffs is also set to unleash a fresh wave of startups. A vast pool of elite talent with tech know-how and industry expertise is now looking for new ventures. 

“Given that over half the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list launched during a recession or bear market, we know that lean economic times can produce high-performing startups,” said Jonathan Ortmans, Founder and President of GEN. 

“Despite recent downturns in investment, this report foreshadows where we might see the world’s most disruptive and solution-driven companies emerge in the years to come — and provides unparalleled insights that policymakers and community leaders need to build resilient startup ecosystems.”

Furthermore, the report notes that high-interest rates can actually benefit startups. They concentrate capital and talent into ventures that create value, weeding out the less competitive ventures. Indeed, while fewer startups were funded in 2022, they received larger sums. According to the GSER, the average deal size grew by 2%.

Increasingly, those investments target artificial intelligence. AI and big data was the sub-sector with the highest count of total VC deals in 2022, making up 28% of the global share. 

European prospects

The report highlights numerous positives for European startups. Despite macroeconomic woes and geopolitical tensions, 2022 was the second-biggest year overall for European VC activity after 2021, with deal count and amount surpassing pre-2021 numbers.

The continent has also captured more unicorn land. While there’s been a global slowdown in the number of startups valued at over $1 billion, Europe’s share of unicorns increased from 14% to 20% in 2022.  

Of the seven ecosystems that produced their first tech unicorn in 2022, three were in Europe: the Sofia-based Payhawk, Zagreb’s Rimac, and Rohlik Group in Prague.

Europe is also the most represented region in the GSER’s “Emerging Ecosystems,” which is comprised of startup communities at earlier stages of growth. The continent expanded its share from 37% to 41% since last year, and contains the number one ranked ecosystem: Copenhagen. 

European representation
Europe’s top five ecosystems in each category. Credit: Startup Genome

Europe’s performance was even stronger in the Strong Starters category, which features the 25 Emerging Ecosystems where early-stage funding activity is most robust. Over half of the class is European, including the top four: Istanbul, Barcelona, Estonia, and Madrid.

Among the leading ecosystems, London remains number one in Europe and joint-second globally. 

The UK capital has the most companies valued at over $1 billion. The city’s 83 exits over $50 million include Wise, at a valuation of $12.2 billion, and Deliveroo at $10.5 billion. Revolut, one of Europe’s largest Fintech unicorns, is valued at $33 billion.

In second place is Berlin. The German capital minted five new unicorns in 2022, increasing its total from 14 to 19. Exits over $50 million have increased by 40% since the GSER 2022, with AUTO1-Group attracting the highest value in a $9.2 billion IPO. 

The third spot was retained by Amsterdam, thanks to an increase in exits over $50 million, early-stage deal count, and unicorns. Banking platform Backbase is the most recent addition, valued at 2.7 billion. 

“This essential mission cannot be put on hold.

Another ecosystem that deserves special attention is Zurich. The city rose 10 places to 36th place in the world, marking the biggest year-on-year improvement in Europe. Exits over $50 million have grown a massive 300%, with Healthtech Pharvaris exiting at a valuation of $636 million. The unicorn count, meanwhile, has surged from two to six, including Blockchain company Dfinity, which is valued at $9.5 billion.

Zurich offers further evidence that startups can still thrive through a downturn. JF Gauthier, Founder & CEO of Startup Genome, expects further success stories to emerge.

“Despite current economic challenges, we are confident that, equipped with the right knowledge, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders everywhere can leverage opportunities to come together and show how innovative technologies can not only continue to drive growth and job creation, but simultaneously help save the planet and ensure a better future for everyone,” he said. “This essential mission cannot be put on hold while we wait out rocky economic times.”

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