The top 5 best European ICT hubs

Lucy Hattersley

Thursday 30 October 2014

From the industrial powerhouse of Munich to ambitious investments centres like Paris’s La Halle Freyssinet and London’s transformed Silicon Roundabout, vibrant hives of startup activity are springing up across the European continent.

California’s Silicon Valley may be world famous, but it’s far from the only area infused with startup energy. Across Europe, ICT centres are springing up that rival the go-for-it attitude found on America’s West Coast. And positioning yourself in one of these locations will give you networking opportunities, access to R&D innovations and a better chance of venture capital.

The European Commission monitors and ranks 34 areas of high-energy activity across the continent in its European ICT Poles of Excellence (EIPE) Atlas. Many of these areas – such as London’s Silicon Roundabout – will be familiar to anybody in the tech industry, but the EIPE Atlas also breaks down strengths and weaknesses of each area. It tracks 42 different factors for each location, split across three basic areas: R&D, innovation and business.

Here, according to the EIPE Atlas, are the top European ICT hubs in Europe.

1. Munich, Germany

The Bavarian capital is the strongest overall area in Europe for startups, thanks in no small part to its exceptional scores in both R&D and innovation. Munich’s tech prowess is unsurprising given the area’s proud history as the base of Germany’s eternally strong car industry. Munich is the location of the TUM (Technische Universität München), one of Germany’s leading academic institutions (by QS rank).

Where Munich falls short is when it comes to business, with weak agglomeration and internalisation scores reported. Munich is a large city, with 1.4 million residents, yet it is hard to pin down a specific area as its tech hub. This dispersal of talent may be one reason Munich is way down in 14th place when it comes to venture capital investment, lagging behind smaller cities such as Edinburgh, Belfast and even Copenhagen. Federal-led initiatives like Invest in Bavaria are looking to attract more funding to the area.

2. East London Tech City, London, UK

It is no surprise to find London’s East London Tech City ranking high. Dubbed Silicon Roundabout, you can find Tech City situated in between the Old Street roundabout and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. Tech City comes in second place overall on the EIPE Atlas, but ranks first across the whole of Europe for venture capital investment.

3. La Halle Freyssinet, Paris, France

France is following London’s lead and investing heavily to transform an old Parisian train and truck hub, known as Halle Freyssinet, into a startup incubator. French entrepreneur and venture capitalist Xavier Neil is providing funding for the venture. Branded “1000 Start-ups”, La Halle Freyssinet aims to provide entrepreneurs access to 33,000 square metres of space for new businesses.

Paris already scores highly on the EIPE Atlas, coming in at third place. While Paris doesn’t stand out for R&D as much as Munich, or have the networking and venture capital clout of Tech City, it has an incredibly balanced scoreboard in the EIPE Atlas. Paris is excellent across the board. La Halle Freyssinet building is due to open for business in 2016 and, like Tech City, will form a central hub for Parisian startups.

4. Karlsruhe, Germany

Just as Boston has MIT, Karlsruhe in Germany has KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology). Karlsruhe is almost the polar opposite of Munich – this tiny town has an incredibly vibrant and tightly networked community. According to the Technologiefabrik Karlsruhe project, while only 300,000 people live in Karlsruhe, there are already over 300 startups alongside 70 established technology firms.

5. Cambridgeshire, UK

The Cambridge Cluster, referred to colloquially as Silicon Fen, is fifth on the EIPE Atlas’s list of startup areas. It is tempting to draw a straight line between the University of Cambridge and this startup culture, but historical links with Acorn Computing and the headquarters of ARM Holdings have cemented the technology vibe in the area. It’s hard to put an accurate figure on the number of startups in Cambridgeshire, and estimates range from 1000 to 3500 depending on how generously you draw the boundaries.

Watch out for more startups springing up in Europe

While Germany, the UK and France dominate the top of the EIPE Atlas, it’s worth noting that there are many other vibrant tech areas in Europe. Stockholm, Helsinki and Amsterdam have large startup scenes. Whether it’s because of historical industry in the area, vibrant academic centres or sheer financial determination to take an area and make it a tech hot spot, there’s plenty of startup activity transforming cities across Europe.

Image: The University of Cambridge

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