Europe’s tech clusters in London, Berlin, Paris, and elsewhere, host thousands of fast-growing technology startups.
And if you look solely at “unicorn” startups that are worth AUD$1.3 bilion (US$1 billion) or more, they’re even starting to rival Silicon Valley.
We ranked the 34 coolest startup CEOs in Europe, taking into account the founders’ personal careers, as well as how innovative their companies are.
We’ve decided to use a broad definition of “startup” for this list, in line with VC Paul Graham’s definition as pretty much any fast-growing company. So we’ve got companies that range in size from a handful of people all the way up to companies that are on the verge of going public.
We also decided not to include Israeli startups on this list. You can see our ranking of tech startups in Israel here.
Additional reporting by Shona Ghosh, Hannah Roberts, and Lara O’Reilly.
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Sean Murray is the CEO of Hello Games, the small British game development studio that created 'No Man's Sky' -- one of the biggest (and most controversial) games of 2016.
Hello Games used to be known for its 'Joe Danger' series which let people play as a stuntman on a motorbike, pulling off stunts and tricks. But Murray had an ambition to build something much bigger.
'No Man's Sky' lets players explore a vast universe that was created by an algorithm. Its scale has impressed everyone from Kanye West to Elon Musk. But not everyone was a fan. The game caused outrage online after it failed to live up to many of Murray's promises. Cut features included planetary physics, rivers, and large spaceships.
The younger sister of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Arielle Zuckerberg, was an early investor in this Finland-based startup, which has so far raised $3.28 million in seed funding.
Set up by a team of former game designers, including CEO and cofounder Pietari Päivänen, Future Fly is best known for its gamified chat app Rawr which lets its users create 3D-animated avatars.
DocPlanner is a service that lets users find doctors and book appointments. It was founded by Mariusz Gralewski, a former University of Warsaw computer science student, who serves as its CEO today.
In June 2016, the Polish startup acquired and merged with Spanish rival Doctoralia, and raised $26.23 million (£16 million) in a Series C funding round.
Dominik Richter is the cofounder and CEO of Berlin-headquartered HelloFresh, which delivers recipe kits to people's houses so they don't have to venture to the supermarket.
The company operates out of Germany and has expanded to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. Richter has also convinced celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to create recipes for HelloFresh.
Founded in 2009, TrueCaller is a universal address book for your phone. It flags up businesses and spam calls, so you know who's trying to get in touch, even if you haven't got their number saved.
It is a Swedish business, and Alan Mamedi, its CEO and cofounder, studied computer science at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Swiss medical-technology company Ava is the maker of a £199 bracelet which tracks fertility without relying on the user to input any data, as is the case with most fertility-tracking apps.
Cofounder and CEO Pascal Koenig worked in wearable tech for more than 10 years before setting up Ava. It raised $13.12 in a Series A funding round and started shipping to Europe in January after launching in the US in July 2016.
Amazon veteran Gordon Willoughby is fresh to the top job at Amsterdam-based WeTransfer, taking over from one of the founders, Bas Beerens, in December.
WeTransfer is a painless way to send email attachments, letting you upload files then send a link to your intended recipient. The Amsterdam-based company wants to take on its US rivals Box and Dropbox, with Willoughby set to bring some gravitas to the business.
Country: The Netherlands
French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport founded mobile dating app Happn in 2013. Three years later the app had accumulated some 10 million users, including 1 million in the UK.
Happn allows users to view photos and bios of people they have crossed paths with in real life. Last May, the company introduced a feature that allows users to say what they want to do in the next few hours.
Blendle is the micropayment app for journalism that lets people pay per article from sites like The New York Times and The Financial Times instead of having to pay every month for a subscription.
Marten Blankesteijn founded the company in The Netherlands in 2013 with cofounder Alexander Klöpping. Blendle raised $4.98 million in funding in 2014 from Business Insider's parent company Axel Springer and The New York Times, and it expanded to the US in March 2016.
Country: The Netherlands
Teads is a France-based video ad tech company that claims to have invented the 'outstream' video ad format -- video ads that appear within the content of an article and only autoplay when they are viewable on screen.
In August, Teads raised $61.65 million in new debt financing. It helped the company expand into Asia and also fund its September acquisition of UK-based video and mobile ad creative firm Brainient.
Business Insider estimated Teads generated more than $183.63 million in net revenue in 2015. The firm has more than 450 employees.
Dimo Trifonov is the man behind London-based Feeld, a dating app with a difference. Formerly known as 3nder, it's focus is on kink and alternative sexualities -- something that has had it labelled as 'Tinder for threesomes' in the press.
The name change came after the app provoked the ire of Tinder. The Match Group-owned dating app accused 3nder of trademark infringement; it denied it, but ultimately rebranded -- although not before Trifonov led a campaign for people to send photos of their dirty socks to Tinder to signal their displeasure.
Guillaume Fourdrinier founded Agricool with his brother Gonzague Dec, the two sons of a French farmer.
The company, which grows fruit and vegetables without pesticides inside shipping containers, plans to breed 91 tons of strawberries plants across 75 containers in Paris in 2017. And it raised $5.64 million in a Series A funding round in November.
The average iPhone owner has probably never heard of Adyen, but they almost certainly will have used it. The Dutch payment processing company is responsible for the billing mechanisms used by Uber, Airbnb and Spotify, earning itself unicorn status in 2015 after being valued at £1.6 billion. Van der Does set up the company with CTO Arnout Schuijff after long respective stints in the payments industry.
Country: The Netherlands
Tom Blomfield is the CEO of banking app Monzo, which gives customers a new debit card that is linked to an app.
Monzo raised a £4.8 million funding round in October 2016, bringing the total amount of investment in the company to £12.8 million. Before founding Monzo, Blomfield was one of the cofounders of GoCardless, another fintech startup.
Ijad Madisch is the CEO of Berlin-based startup ResearchGate, which is a social network for scientists backed by Bill Gates. Founded in 2008, the site allows scientists to share their work and provide feedback to others in their field.
The company raised $45.91 million in June 2013 in a round that was led by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and venture capital firm Tenaya Capital.
Hans-Holger Albrecht is the CEO of French music streaming company Deezer, which was one of the internet's first streaming sites. Just like Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz, it was an early European success story. But things didn't go smoothly for Deezer in its early days. It was shut down over copyright infringement allegations in 2007. But the site returned with an improved royalty model which let people buy music through iTunes.
Deezer announced in 2015 that it planned to go public in a listing that would have valued the company around €1 billion (£856 million). But it later cancelled the listing and announced that it had raised €100 million (£85 million) in funding instead.
Udo Schloemer founded Factory Berlin -- Germany's largest startup campus -- in 2011 after backing more than 50 startups as an angel investor.
Factory is now home to some of Berlin's best-known startups, including SoundCloud and Wunderlist, as well as Silicon Valley teams from Twitter, Uber, and Pinterest.
The space was backed by Google last November with around €1 million (£800,000).
'EVE Online' has a legendary reputation among gamers: It's a huge, vastly complex multiplayer space simulator where anything goes and wars involving thousands of people can do damage worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
CCP Games is the Icelandic company behind it, and Hilmar Veigar Pétursson is its CEO. In 2016, CCP made new forays in virtual reality, launching 'Eve: Valkyrie,' a space combat shooter for Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, as well as 'Gunjack 2: End of Shift,' a space shooter for Google's Daydream headset.
This French music speaker company raised €100 million (£853 million) in a Series C funding round in November to boost its expansion in the US and Asia. The company says it has been doubling its turnover every year and is planning to open new flagship stores alongside its Paris, London, and New York locations; and invest in more R&D.
Former Googler Azmat Yusuf founded Citymapper in 2011 as a guide for Londoners to navigate the city's bus network. The app evolved into a multimodal travel platform and today it is used by millions of people worldwide.
In January 2016, Citymapper raised $52.47 million from Index Ventures, Benchmark Capital, and a number of angel investors.
Taxi app Blacklane rivals Uber by allowing passengers to pre-book rides with professional drivers. It was cofounded by Jens Wohltorf alongside CTO Frank Steuer.
The Berlin-based startup netted eight figures in August during a Series C round led by Daimler, with an eye to rapid expansion. Unlike Uber, Blacklane has run into few regulatory issues -- once over pricing in 2013 and again in 2014 over using Smart cars.
Herman Narula is one-half of the two-man founder team behind Improbable, a London startup that wants to be the 'Google of Simulation.' The founders went to the University of Cambridge together before creating the company in 2012. It builds software that powers sophisticated simulations done by its customers -- doing the heavily lifting so customers can focus on modelling.
It has been backed by well-respected US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in 2015, partnered with Google on a development program in 2016, and is in the process of expanding to San Francisco.
Jacob de Geer cofounded iZettle in 2010. It's a Swedish payments business that lets small businesses take card of payments with a point-of-sale hardware device. It's available in 10 countries around the world, and in January 2017 it raised €60 million (£51 million) in funding (including debt), at a $655.82 million valuation.
Payment company Klarna is a rare Swedish unicorn, valued at $2.95 billion. It was cofounded by Siemiatkowski with Niklas Adalberth and Victor Jacobsson, though Siemiatkowski is the only one still involved day-to-day with the company.
The payments company differs from its rivals PayPal and Stripe by letting you shop without actually spending anything. The startup will cough up for customers when they purchase an item and recoups the money after delivery.
SoundCloud CEO Alexander Ljung cofounded the music streaming company in Sweden in 2007 with cofounder Eric Wahlforss. The company is now headquartered in Berlin, but also has offices in London, New York, and San Francisco.
SoundCloud has become a favourite destination for music fans online. It lets musicians, DJs, record producers, and fans upload and share new tracks and remixes.
A rumour in May 2014 claimed that Twitter was in talks to acquire SoundCloud. It was then followed by other reports that claimed that Twitter had pulled out of the talks because 'the numbers didn't add up.' Twitter announced in June 2016 that it has invested $91.82 million in SoundCloud.
Desai is one of three Funding Circle cofounders, starting the business in 2009 with Andrew Mullinger and James Meekings.
Funding Circle is a marketplace for small business loans ranging between £5,000 and £1 million. The site connects investors directly to borrowers, bypassing banks. It is headquartered in London and considered one of the UK's biggest financial technology successes.
Earlier this month, it raised £40 million from the UK government to lend to small businesses. Its total funding comes to £100 million.
German period-tracking app Clue has quickly spread around the world from its launch in Berlin, and it now has over 5 million active users. Its Series B funding round in November has brought its total funding to $38.35 million, according to Crunchbase.
Apple even came to CEO Ida Tin for help with its own software and Clue's data synced with Apple's updated health app in June 2016. The app is also available on the Apple Watch.
Brusson is the founder and CEO of $1.97 billion French ridesharing platform BlaBlaCar.
Despite not doing too well in the UK, Brusson told Business Insider last November that his app is growing like crazy on the continent and currently has 40 million members doing 4 million journeys each month.
Taavet Hinrikus is one of the cofounders of TransferWise, one of London's hottest startups. It's a fintech service that lets you transfer money cheaply overseas. Hinrikus, along with fellow cofounder Kristo Kaarmann, is Estonian, and the startup is now headquartered in London -- though the company still has offices in Estonia.
In May 2016, it snagged $34.10 million in investment from Baillie Gifford at a reported $1.44 billion valuation, after raising $76.08 million the year before.
Darktrace remains one of the UK's most exciting cybersecurity startups and Nicole Eagan, the company's CEO, helped the company to raise $85.26 million (£52 million) last July, bringing total investment up to more than $131.16 million (£79 million).
Founded in Cambridge and backed by Autonomy billionaire Mike Lynch, Darktrace also signed several lucrative deals with large corporates like Samsung in 2016.
Adblock Plus is the world's most popular ad blocker, passing the 100 million user mark in 2016.
Faida was busy on the global conference circuit in 2016, attempting to deepen the company's relationship with publishers and advertisers and prove out its theory that 'acceptable ads' are a better way to monetise the internet.
Adblock Plus' 'Acceptable Ads Policy' is the main revenue generator for the ad blocking ecosystem, with other ad blockers like Adblock also running the whitelist. Big companies like Google, Amazon, Criteo, and Taboola pay so their ads -- if they meet certain criteria -- can be served to ad blocker users.
Adblock Plus also announced the launch of two new products in 2016: An Acceptable Ads Marketplace (which launched with some controversy) and a partnership with online donation startup Flattr to develop a platform to let users pay publishers.
Kati Levoranta is the CEO of the Finnish gaming company behind one of the most downloaded mobile games of all time: 'Angry Birds'.
Last year, the 'Angry Birds' movie was released in cinemas, grossing $457.76 million (£279 million) worldwide. The company said in January that it was going to open a gaming studio in London for 20 staff.
Will Shu is the cofounder and CEO of Deliveroo, which has built an app that allows people to get food delivered from restaurants that don't typically deliver.
Founded in 2012, the London-based UberEats rival raised $365 million last August, bringing total investment in the company to $623 million. Deliveroo also introduced alcohol deliveries to its platform in 2016 and set up kitchens for restaurants in shipping containers to help ease the stress on their existing facilities.
Swedish streaming service Spotify was started by Daniel Ek in 2006, and now has 40 million paying subscribers.
Spotify is regularly touted as a possible IPO candidate, but it looks like it's planning to keep raising money for now. It raised $1.44 billion in debt funding in March 2016, despite not yet being profitable. Ek took over the chairman role in addition to being CEO in October, a sign that an IPO is planned for the future.
Ek has a long career working in technology, previously serving as CTO of online paper doll game Stardoll and CEO of torrent client µTorrent.