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WHU Alumni among the Most Successful Founders in Europe

A report from Antler highlights the healthy start-up ecosystem in Europe

Only one school, Oxford University, stands ahead of the Rhineland-Pfalz-based WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Managementwhen it comes to the number of graduates who start companies that eventually become what are known as “unicorns.” That is the result of “Europe’s New Tech Founders 2023,” a report recently published by venture capital firm Antler. The report, built upon one of the most comprehensive databases in this sector, also proves that WHU even comes out on top when looking at the ratio of student body size to number of start-ups.

Their names are Zalando, Flixbus, and Flink, and they have become well known far beyond the borders of Germany. They are young and yet wildly successful companies known as “unicorns.” And they, along with a further twelve start-ups, have all been founded or co-founded by WHU alumni. Start-ups achieve this fabled status when they have achieved a market value of at least US$1B before going public or before an exit. WHU reaches the pole position both in Germany and in a comparison of 19 other European countries, coming in at #2 just behind Oxford University, an institution with 13 times the number of students enrolled.

Antler’s report considers collected data from over 70,000 European start-ups and the 845 founders of 387 unicorns. Aside from the number of unicorns, it also showcases the numerous developments that have taken place over the past few years. The start-up ecosystem in Europe has had to weather a severe period of turmoil over the past 18 months. In 2022, start-ups secured 25% less in venture capital than they had the year before, with only 47 new tech-focused unicorns joining the ranks (over 105 in 2021). Additionally, the market value of 45 former unicorns ebbed below the billion-dollar threshold.

Despite these difficulties, the report finds in Europe an ecosystem that is in better shape than ever before: Thousands of start-ups were founded in 2022, and early-stage funding (i.e., pre-seed, seed, and Series A funding rounds) surpassed the previous year’s records—and that in the face of a challenging economic environment. The report also revealed that Europe’s start-ups are now producing its own talent, with older unicorns now behind new, emerging start-ups. Entrepreneurs of the current generation have a stronger focus on having a positive impact. They are much more likely to occupy sustainability-oriented fields, such as energy production or technology for healthcare and the environment.

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