Technology Review asks: “Which disruptive European companies did we miss”?



Behold the power of Twitter. After we wrote an article this morning saying that MIT’s Technology Review only deemed 6 European companies “disruptive”, Technology Review author Brian Bergstein got back to us to ask us “which European companies should we not have missed?”

As an added difficulty, he specifies:

@whiteboardmag Note that we choose cos. that did something definitive over the past year. Can’t just be “generally innovative.”

— Brian Bergstein (@BrianBergstein) 4 maart 2013

It’s a bit of a trick question, as Bergstein is well aware. It’s not that the Technology Review list isn’t nicely curated. On the contrary, it’s a nice, browsable list with a few big players (Microsoft, Google, Dow Chemical), a few exciting visionary things (SpaceX) and some sexy startups like Pinterest and Nest.

Nitpicking, you might say that some of the companies mentioned (Apple and Facebook in particular) don’t seem like they’ve done so much “definitive” stuff this year. The introduction to the list says clearly that “Apple had to scramble” to stay on the list. Facebook is an even bigger stretch. So these companies are visibly on the autofill list. Until proof of the contrary, they get featured.

As far as the European companies are concerned. My main observation was that it mainly features big players (Philips, ABB, Siemens, Audi, Novartis). Also, some are absent while they were clearly innovative and definitive last year. Why are Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook AND Apple on the list, but not SAP? SAP switched their biggest products to their new realtime tech SAP HANA, which it introduced barely two years ago.

Also, why leave BMW off the list in favor of Audi? It’s more a coin toss than anything else. Like Audi, BMW is working on driverless technology, as well as on EV’shydrogen cars (with Toyota) and low weight carbon fiber research (with Boeing). Its driverless features are very similar to Google’s, but are invisible, just like Audi’s. The list has all the big US tech companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Intel) but only one European car maker.

The European companies also clearly lack the “mix’ that the American selection does have. I find it hard to believe that we don’t have any European startups that are really “disruptive”. I think ElasticSearch should probably be on the list. Maybe Criteo too. Xavier Niel’s Free Mobile is killing the French telecoms almost single handedly - is that not disruptive? What about Klarna or Tradeshift? Fon? Spotify, Deezer, Rdio? Kiosked? Viloc and Sigfox (while both still young companies) are doing great things in the internet of things space. Biocartis is on its way to an IPO with its molecular diagnostics tools.

I’m only referencing companies that I wrote about, and since I only started four months ago with Whiteboard, I’m probably missing a ton.

Of course, I do realise that these European startups don’t have the media amplitude of Path or Pinterest, and that is the European problem that I wanted to highlight with this morning’s post. If you look at Technology Review’s list, it’s clear that a big part of the reason that Path and Pinterest were included is because of the celebrity status of their CEO. Dave Morin’s name rings a bell. So does Ben Silbermann’s.

Now quickly: name the CEO of Criteo. Tradeshift. Wooga. See? I think this is because we don’t have real European media – or better yet: global media that are based in Europe.

This European void on the global scene is hurting our image in a very real way. Sara Lacy wrote today about “stodgy” Europe (she notes with surprise that Europe is actually good at e-commerce!) Jeff Jarvis wrote this weekend about how Europe is not innovative anymore, because of the Samwers and the ancillary copyright:

“Rather than innovating and finding the necessary opportunity in their disruption, these publishers — conservatives who otherwise would diminish government — go running to the Chancellor and her party to pass their Leistungsschutzrecht. To be fair, this is not purely a German disease. It is a European ailment as well.” (more here)

As I said in the comments to Jarvis’ column, innovation in Europe has very little – probably nothing – to do with some unsuccessful (!) lobbying from Axel Springer and a few other publishers, and even less with the Samwer brothers. In 2011, Germany applied for 13 000 patents in Europe, as many as the US (a country 4 times bigger). Technology Review’s list (and PandoDaily’s and Jarvis’ remarks) says more about our lack of strong media channels than with disruption and innovation.

Anyway: about that list. You’ll send us a ton of companies in the comments, right?

[Photo: dbrekke, Flickr]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist at Humo whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning post before starting Whiteboard in 2012. He profiles entrepreneurs and businesses and loves to chat on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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