What we need to do to make Europe a leading global scaleup ecosystem according to experts at the European Scaleup Workshop in Brussels

16 November 2022

Scaleups, or high-growth firms, play a pivotal role in our economy as champions of innovation and job creation. Known for experimenting with new technologies, concepts and business models, startups are key to bring innovative value to the market. However, they can only maximise their impact once they manage to scale up. The unfortunate reality is that only a fraction of startups manage to scale up, especially in the European context. Prof. dr. Rudy Aernoudt (Ghent University and European Commission) emphasised the startling statistic that Europe hosts over 36% of startups worldwide, yet 14% of the world’s unicorns are based in the old continent (McKinsey, 2020).

Just as the scaleup landscape in Europe started to recover from the pandemic (European ScaleUp Monitor 2021), the economy has been hit with additional challenges from rising inflation to the energy crisis. In times of increased complexity and ambiguity about the future, it is crucial to bring together knowledge and expertise across borders, from both academia and practitioners, in order to realise growth opportunities across the continent and ultimately make Europe the world-leading scaleup ecosystem.

Building upon the previous workshop led by Nordic Innovation in 2019, Vlerick Business School and Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship joined the team to gather top academic experts and practitioners at the European Scaleup Workshop in Brussels on the 7th of November 2022. In this workshop, experts within the scaleup field discussed the state of the art around European fast-growing companies, including scaleup research and statistics, training programmes as well as implications for policy.

Prof. dr. Justin Jansen (Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship and Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University)

Towards an integrated scaleup agenda

The workshop kicked off with a thought-provoking talk by Prof. dr. Justin Jansen about what we (need to) know in the field of scaleups and high-growth firms. Jansen highlighted the importance of working towards an integrated research agenda, recognising high-growth as a multifaceted process in terms of pace, rhythm and persistence. He introduced a typology of high-growth firms to better understand these dynamics as well as the need for more collaborative efforts throughout Europe to foster a European scaleup ecosystem:

“Scaling up is not a challenge of an individual country or region. Effective policy and programmes starts with knowledge and insights about the dynamics and differences within and between countries and regions to better understand how to support high-growth firms at a European-level”

The subsequent panel discussion[1] zoomed into the challenges and success factors of high-growth, emphasising the importance of an approach that recognises the heterogeneity of growth paths in the European scaleup ecosystem and contributes to the ‘Science of Scaling’.

Key learnings from the latest scaleup statistics and successful scaleup programmes

Access to complete and relevant data is key to conduct thorough research. The second session[2] dived into the latest scaleup data in the Nordics, the UK and a selection of OECD countries. This involved a rich discussion between the speakers who are working on the state of the art scaleup analyses, who highlighted the disparate needs of the various types of firms in the European scaleup landscape that should be taken into (policy) consideration.

Irene Graham, UK Scaleup Institute (left) & Peter Bøegh Nielsen, Statistics Denmark (right)

On top of key data-driven insights, a panel of experts[3] took the stage to share learnings from implementing scaleup programmes across all-over Europe. Their main learnings included, but were not limited to:

  1. Providing insightful content from different stakeholders within the ecosystem (both online and offline); while
  2. Investing in strong networks and in-person peer-to-peer exchanges to foster bottom-up learning.

Stuart Rock ​(World Class Britain), Marta Testi (ELITE), Prof. dr. Veroniek Collewaert (Vlerick Business School), Lars Crama (Up!Rotterdam), David Golding (Innovate UK)

Next steps to address the scaleup gap

The workshop wrapped up with a breakout session for participants to engage in roundtable discussions about the insights uncovered during the day. This session was introduced by Philippe Huberdeau, Secretary General of Scale-Up Europe, the new initiative by President Macron to make Europe the new powerhouse for deeptech startup and scaleup entrepreneurs. The outcome of the sessions underlined the urgent need for:

  1. Harmonisation of high-growth definitions;
  2. Harmonisation of data in order to improve access to informed insights for the entire ecosystem. With stronger data and insights, there can be stronger policies and programmes to support different types of scaleups;
  3. A common vision and language to go beyond borders among regional ecosystems in Europe;
  4. A sustainable way for increasing knowledge-sharing among experts from practice and academia.

Stakeholders across the European scaleup ecosystem have valuable insights to learn from each other and cooperating together is therefore essential, as highlighted by Svein Berg (Nordic Innovation) in the concluding remarks. The valuable knowledge that exists around the topic of scaleups should be leveraged through the power of collaboration and together with our partners, we are working towards an integrated scaleup agenda.

Leonardo Fuligni, Deputy Director of Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship & Philippe Huberdeau, Secretary General of Scale-Up Europe

Would you like to find out more or contribute to strengthening the European scaleup ecosystem?

Feel free to reach out to us via or our partners at Vlerick Business School via (Prof. dr. Veroniek Collewaert, Director Scaleup Centre) and Nordic Innovation via (Anna-Maija Sunnanmark, Head of Nordic Scalers program).

The slides from the workshop can be accessed here.

[1] featuring Prof. dr. Jan Lepoutre ​(ESSEC Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation), Prof. dr. Dimo Ringov ​(Scaleup & Growth Strategy Centre, ESADE) and Prof. dr. Rudy Aernoudt (Ghent University and European Commission) – moderated by Prof. dr. Veroniek Collewaert (Scaleup Centre, Vlerick Business School​)

[2] featuring Peter Bøegh Nielsen (Statistics Denmark), Irene Graham (UK Scaleup Institute​), Alexander Lembcke ​(OECD) and Ludger Odenthal ​(European Commission) – moderated by Anne Lidgard ​(Vinnova)

[3] featuring Anna-Maija Sunnanmark (Nordic Scalers), Prof. dr. Veroniek Collewaert (Masterclass​), David Golding ​(Innovate UK/EDGE), Marta Testi​ (ELITE) and Lars Crama​ (Up!Rotterdam) – moderated by Moderated by Stuart Rock ​(World Class Britain)

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