The 10 richest tech entrepreneurs in Europe



A list of the 10 richest tech entrepreneurs in Europe, because we know you just love lists, and we do too. Germany is very well represented, and SAP is almost like a country by itself.

1. Hasso Plattner, SAP: 7.3 billion $

Hasso Plattner

Hasso Plattner

Hasso Plattner is a cofounder of software giant SAP AG. He was also chairman of the board until 2003 and is currently the chairman of the supervisory board. In 2001, Time Magazine Europe ranked Plattner number one on its list of the most important and influential IT personalities.

In 2005, Plattner started Hasso Plattner Ventures with about 50 million of his own funding. To date Hasso Plattner Ventures has successfully invested in 20 companies with accumulated revenues of 130m Euro (2011).

Plattner has a passion for transoceanic yachting, a hobby he shares with Oracle’s founder Larry Ellison. According to reports, the two men are not fond of each other and have gotten into disputes when they met. Plattner is also fond of playing golf, and owns a golf course in South Africa.

 2. Xavier Niel, ILIAD, 4.2 billion $

Xavier Niel

Xavier Niel

Xavier Niel (1967) is a French tech entrepreneur best known as the founder and majority shareholder of the French Internet service provider Iliad (owner of the ‘Free’ brand). He is also co-owner of the newspaper Le Monde, and co-owner of the rights of the song “My Way”. He currently acts as Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors & Chief Strategy Officer for Iliad.

In 1999, Niel created Free, a French Internet service provider. The name came from the fact that modem access was really free. In 2002, Free launched a broadband package at a low price (€ 29.99 per month), which became the benchmark in the market. At the same time, Free developed and launched the Freebox: the first triple-play multi-service box in France. The free modem service had brought to the company a strong potential customers portfolio, many of them switching to the broadband for the sake of comfort.

Niel remains Iliad’s majority shareholder, holding approximately 60 percent of the share capital (as we wrote recently, a rumor has it that Free is in talks with SFR to merge mobile operations). In March 2010, Xavier Niel cofounded Kima Ventures with Jeremie Berrebi. Kima’s goal is to invest in 50 to 100 startups a year everywhere in the world. Kima Ventures already invested in 130 companies from February 2010 to November 2011 in 18 countries. Journalist Pascal-Emmanuel Gobryof Business Insider described Xavier Niel and Jeremie Berrebi as almost certainly the most active angel investors in the world.

3. Klaus Tschira SAP: 2,9 billion $

Klaus Tschira (1940, Germany) studied physics and worked at IBM prior to co-founding the German software giant SAP with Hans-Werner Hector, Dietmar Hopp, Hasso Plattner and Claus Wellenreuther. From 1998 to 2007, he was a board member at SAP. Today, Tschira devotes his time to his Klaus Tschira Foundation, one of Germany’s largest philanthropies.

The SAP cofounder donated 7 million of his shares in 1995 to found the Klaus Tschira Foundation, a nonprofit established to foster public understanding of mathematics, informatics and natural sciences (an amateur astronomer, Tschira has a small asteroid named after him).

4. Andreas von Bechtolsheim, SUN Microsystems, Google: 2.3 billion $

Andy von Bechtolsheim

Andy von Bechtolsheim, photo Brian Struble

Born in Bavaria, Germany, Andy Bechtolsheim grew up largely isolated, and began experimenting with electronics to pass time while he was in elementary school. By age 16, he had designed an industrial controller, the sale of which funded his education. After graduating from the University of Technology Munich, he earned his Master’s Degree from Carnegie Mellon University, and then began his Ph.D study in electrical engineering at Stanford University. While at Stanford, he designed the SUN workstation, and after partnering with Stanford Business School alum, Vinod Khosla, and Scott McNealy, the three founded Sun Microsystems. By 1988, just six years after its founding, Sun Microsystems was worth $1 billion.

Bechtolsheim co-founded HighBAR Ventures, an early-stage venture capital investment firm, along with two Sun colleagues: Bill Joy and Roy Sardiña. HighBAR’s investments include Mirapoint,Brocade, Tasmania Network Systems, Brightmail, and Regroup. Bechtolsheim and Cheriton were two of the first investors in Google, investing US $100,000 each in September 1998. Bechtolsheim wrote the check to “Google Inc” prior to the company even being founded. The story that Bechtolsheim coined the name “Google” is untrue. However, he did motivate the founders to officially organize the company under that name.

5. Ralph Dommermuth, United Internet, 1.8 billion $

Ralph Dommermuth

Ralph Dommermuth

Ralph Dommermuth owns over 40% of publicly traded United Internet AG, one of the leading Internet service providers in Germany. The company also provides email services and storage and is pushing the growth of mobile applications in Germany and internationally.

Dommermuth started in 1988 by offering marketing services for small software suppliers and later developed additional marketing services for clients such as IBM, Compaq and Deutsche Telekom. An avid sailor, Dommermuth and his company sponsored the United Internet Team Germany in the 2007 America’s Cup.

 

6. Hans-Werner Hector, SAP: 1,6 billion $

Hans-Werner Hector

Hans-Werner Hector

Hans-Werner Hector studied math at the University of Saarland and subsequently worked for IBM in Mannheim. It is there that he saw the potential for standardised enterprise software, and he founded SAP (Systemanalyse und Prrogrammentwicklung – “System Analysis and Program development”) in 1972 with Hasso Plattner. From the ’90s, he became less involved in operations at SAP, and in 1996 he sold most of his SAP shares.   His estimated net worth of 1,6 billion € makes him one of the wealthiest men in Germany.

After leaving SAP, Hector became an angel investor in software, biotech and health. He also became a philantrope together with his wife Josephine Hector, giving money to mostly cultural and medical causes. In March of 2008 he funded the Hector Wissenschaftfonds for 200 million €. From this fund, the Karlsruher Institut für Technology is to receive 5 million € each year, 180 000 € of which is earmarked for ‘Hector Fellows’ at the Institut.

7. Niklas Zennström, SKYPE, 1.3 billion $

Niklas Zennström

Niklas Zennström, photo Picnic Green Challenge

Niklas Zennström cofounded some of the most legendary European companies like Skype, Kazaa and Joost. Zennstrom was Skype CEO until September 2007 when he became the company’s chairman. In 2005, Skype was sold to eBay for $3.1 billion. Afterward, it was bought back by a consortium that included Zennström, and was sold again to Microsoft for $8.5 billion cash in 2011.

In 2006 Zennström founded ‘Atomico’, a VC fund that to date made “over 50 investments over four continents, including Skype, Fon, Rovio, Jawbone, Klarna and Fab, with an exclusive focus on the technology sector”. Zennström co-founded Zennström Philanthropies, where he is actively involved in combating climate change, improving the state of the Baltic Sea and encouraging social entrepreneurship.

8. Janus Friis, SKYPE, 1.3 billion $

Janus Friis

Janus Friis

Janus Friis (born 26 June 1976, Denmark) is best known for co-founding KaZaA, and the P2P communication network Skype. Friis and Zennstöm also developed Joost – an interactive software application for distributing TV shows and other forms of video content over the Web. The assets of this service were sold to Adconion Media Group in November 2009. Independently, Friis founded video streaming startup Vdio in 2011.

Friis was a high school dropout before starting a job at the help desk of CyberCity. He met Zennström in 1996, who at that time headed Tele2 in Denmark. Friis is also co-founder of Altnet, a network that sells commercial music to KaZaA users.

9. Yuri Milner, DST Global, 1 billion $

Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner

Born into a Jewish family in 1961 (Moscow), Yuri Milner was the second child of Russian intellectuals. His father is an expert in management and organization. Milners mother, worked at the capital’s state-run laboratory for disease control. Milner studied theoretical physics at Moscow State University. In 1990 Milner became the first non-émigré from the Soviet Union to go to the United States to receive an MBA at the Wharton School of Business. The press quoted him as saying that he made this decision after “being disappointed in myself as a physicist”.

In the late nineties, after reading a review by Morgan Stanley on the prospects for online businesses, Milner decided to create an internet company. In 1999 Milner created a new company, NetBridge. In 2000, Milner became the president of Netbridzh Services Ltd (netBridge). Netbridge succeeded in transferring a variety of U.S.-pioneered internet business models to Russia, creating companies including Mail.ru, the portal List.ru, online auction site Molotok.ru (based on eBay), free web-hosting Boom.ru (based on GeoCities), and online shop 24×7 (Amazon.com).

In 2010, Milner divided his Digital Sky Technologies into two parts, taking email portal Mail.Ru public. Milner plans to invest in every startup that comes out of Silicon Valley-based incubator Y Combinator without reading the business plan. Yuri Milner hit the Forbes billionaires list for the first time in 2012 thanks to the growing value of his shares in Facebook, Zynga and Groupon. In 2011 his new fund DST Global II bought stakes in Twitter, Spotify, Airbnb and Chinese online retailers 360buy.com and Alibaba Group.

10. Samwer brothers, Rocket Internet, 1 billion $

Marc Samwer

Marc Samwer

The Samwer brothers Oliver, Marc and Alexander are the founders of Rocket Internet, a Berlin-based incubator “renowned for its effectiveness, ruthlessness, and its penchant for shamelessly knocking off the brilliant creations of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest.

“In a country with one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurship in the world—Germans are so risk averse that most still don’t use credit cards—Samwer is an anomaly: a swashbuckling Internet mogul with an estimated net worth of $1 billion.” (Inc.)

In an interview with Manager Magazin in 2010, Oliver Samwer explained that his goal is to create companies that become market leaders, and that he hopes to establish Germany as an important center for Internet entrepreneurship. “In the industry there’s a lot of people who created one or two successful companies. When you do that, it’s possible to ascribe that to luck. We founded over a dozen successful ventures, and as many exits. That has nothing to do with luck.”

Disclaimer

Obviously, we are not the tax revenue service, so these figures could be off – by a LOT. So, remember that lists are supposed to be fun. Taking them too seriously can be harmful for your health. If we forgot someone, tell us. If you think our numbers are wrong, tell us. Sources for the list were: Forbes, Inc., Fortune, celebritynetworth.com, Manager Magazin, Wikipedia.

Update: edited to reflect that numbers are in $, not €

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About the author

Vlad Ciurca

Vlad is a young manager and entrepreneur with over 5 years experience in retail, warehousing, business development, event organizing and product management. He is a Specification Engineer at Skobbler, working on creating map based applications for mobile devices. Vlad is the Organizer of the successful Startup Weekend Cluj event held in February 2012, and Founder of Transylvania Business Community. Prior to the above, Vlad was an Operation Supervisor at UPS and Ceva Logistics and managed a 70 person team, starting from a 4 person team. Also, he was the Co-Founder of one of the biggest online and offline communities of managers and entrepreneurs in Transylvania, Romanian Managers CLUJ, with almost 900 members. In 2011, Vlad was named a Technology and Entrepreneurship Expert in the "Young Romania Forum", a project organized by the League of Romanian Students Abroad, with the aim of getting the younger generation involved in the future of Romania. In 2012, he was a Mentor at the Imaginarium Cluj event, part of Restart Edu. You can follow Vlad on Twitter.

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