Together with Karima Delli, European deputy and chairperson for European Parliament’s Transport Committee, and ViaID, BCG has co-founded the European Startup Prize for Mobility (EUSP) in 2018. With the award ceremony for the second edition fast approaching, it is a good time take a step back and analyze the European mobility startup.

Looking at the numbers, Europe is currently behind on the international mobility startup scene. The number of world champions created in the European Union is fairly low. It has five time less unicorns than the US, and is below Israel, a country 60 times smaller. Analyzing the key pillars that made the success of the US and the Israeli mobility startup ecosystems, we can understand why Europe is not competing at the same level as its rivals, and realize the improvements that have been made in the last couple of years.

The US and Israel created successful ecosystems based on common pillars

Israel and the United States are role models when talking about mobility startup ecosystems.

Israel managed, in a matter of years, to revolutionize the field of smart transportation. It counts roughly 600 startups focused on autonomous vehicles and smart mobility, 3rd in the global ranking for number of autotech and mobility companies, in a country with a population similar to New York City. It is the birthplace of some of the biggest successes in the field, namely Mobileye (sold for over $15 billion to Intel in 2017), Waze (sold to Google for $1 billion) or more recently Via.

The US, with a particular focus on the Silicon Valley, has always been at the forefront of the transformation mobility is experiencing. This relatively small 67-kilometer corridor between San Francisco and San Jose is responsible for the emergence of the most dominant companies around the world like Uber, Convoy or Lime.

These two countries think of mobility as a global infrastructure, rather than a collection of separate services. To manage that shift towards infrastructure, they articulated their ecosystems around common pillars. They understood the need to have a strong focus on tech, the benefits of private/public partnerships and smart subsidies, and the necessity to address a global market with appropriate business models. To top it all off, they managed to attract massive private funding, allowing startups to develop on their own, without the need to fully depend on large corporates.

Focus on deep tech

An ecosystem that wants to succeed in the mobility field needs to have a strong focus on tech. Revolutionizing smart transportation requires a cross-pollination across various subsectors in technology (hardware, software, sensors and analytics…) that can only be achieved in an environment fueled by tech culture. The best mobility startups are first and foremost tech startups. For instance, one third of Uber and two third of Via employees are engineers.

Skilled individuals is one part of the equation. The Silicon Valley has top-class universities, like Stanford or the University of California, among the most funded and repetitively in the top 10 global rankings. Same goes for Israel with the Technion. They provide individuals with knowledge in tech and applied research, form communities of expertise and interpersonal networks constantly exchanging and helping each other, driving innovation in the region.

Coexistence with large corporates is the second part. In both ecosystems, corporates work alongside startups and universities to innovate. They have R&D centers in the area where they invest heavily, benefiting to the whole community. To illustrate, Israel is #1 in OECD rankings for R&D investments as % of GDP.

Private and public cooperation and smart subsidies

The US and Israel have strong and increasing public private cooperation. Public authorities have understood that they cannot resolve every issues on their own, and have to work with companies offering innovative, rapid and flexible solutions.

Los Angeles is a very spread-out city and had troubles solving the first and last-mile that makes it challenging for people to get to and from public transit stations. Rather than searching for a long and costly solution on their own, they partnered with on-demand shuttle-based service Via as part of a pilot program to give people rides to busy public transit stations.

Along with those partnerships, they also offer smart subsidies to finance experimentations. They provide substantial funding to allow projects at scale, bringing real value and learnings. The Israeli government is currently building a MaaS experimentation in Tel Aviv, again with Via, offering ~$1200 a year to 100K citizens (a total of over $100 million in funding) if they agree to reduce their use of personal car and favor on demand shared transport through a dedicated app. This will allow the startup to gain experience on the MaaS, and potentially roll out the concept internationally.

Global addressable market and sharp business models

To become world leaders, startups have to think global from the start. With 8 million inhabitants, the Israeli market is too small for ambitious entrepreneurs, so from scratch startups are made to scale and their products are aimed for global use. And with 330 million inhabitants, the US market is large enough to create a potential world leader within the national borders, and quickly after start the internationalization process.

Along with this global thinking, Israeli and US startups also build sharp business models. They seek to mix tactical innovation, putting a stake in the ground with fast-proven business models, and strategic innovation which are essential to building a transformative vision. The transformative vision translates into human centric business models, with the purpose of changing the way people behave. Autofleet for instance aims at changing the behaviors of PHV drivers, by having a new vision with a business model where drivers are paid hourly rather than on a per ride basis. Waze is doing the same with their new short distance carpooling service, organizing focus groups with customers to understand the triggers that makes people carpool and using these insights to adapt their business models.

Attract private funding

Funding is obviously a key pillar in the success of an ecosystem. It provides startups with the ability to expand, experiment, and innovate. Being well funded gives startups the time to develop on their own, be agile with regards the business model and find the best formula to succeed.

The US ecosystem is by far the most funded with $13.5 billion raised by mobility startups in 2018, in front of the EU with $2.6 billion and Israel with $310 million. However, looking at those numbers with respect to the GDP of the regions, Israel comes on top with the EU still far behind.

Europe on its way to replicate those ecosystems, and the European Startup Prize for Mobility is here help

When we started the European Startup Prize for Mobility, our ambition was strong: in a fragmented European market, where talent and funding are scarcer than in the US or in Israel, we wanted to uncover future global leaders and help them scale fast. Analyzing Europe today using the key pillars of the US and Israeli ecosystems, we see where efforts needs to be made, and the achievements that have already been done.

Regarding the focus on tech, Europe is building a handful of tech hubs in its national capitals to try and recreate Silicon Valley like environments. The Plateau de Saclay, located in the south of Paris, is a great example of this kind of initiatives. The project is articulated around two goals; build a university regrouping 14 secondary education establishments and 280 research labs, and incentivize the installation of R&D centers from large corporates. This new university will have the strength to become a global reference in the academic world, and the coexistence with corporates should create a favorable tech environment for the emergence of startups.

Looking at the indicators for the 2019 applicants to the European Startup prize for Mobility, we are proud to see many more tech startups, offering real product and technology differentiation. We find a balanced split between service (Software, platform / marketplace, apps) and product (IoT, vehicle, hardware / equipment) startups, yet many of them fit into both categories, integrating a data collection program or proprietary software in their physical products. This will allow them to be real game changers and encounter far more success.

Public private partnerships in Europe is still in its early days. Few projects exist and they are very local. European mobility players must work in closer cooperation with public authorities to put their innovation capabilities at the service of cities development. The BCG is working to carry this idea across Europe and change the state of minds of public authorities to develop these win/win partnerships.

Same observation can be made for smart subsidies. The total amount is already fairly low compared to Israel and the US, and more importantly it is diluted between too many projects. This prevents the launch of pilots with appropriate scale that could have real impacts and learnings.

Thinking globally remains a challenge for European startups. In terms of size, EU countries are in a grey area between the US and Israel; large enough to peacefully develop but too small to learn how to scale. Startups have difficulties to benefit from the full EU population potential due to the fragmentation of markets, with different languages, cultures or payment methods. They often end up being MVPs in local markets, and can be leaders in their country but totally unknown in the neighboring one. The European Startup Prize for Mobility’s primary mission is to help the expansion into this high potential European market. By giving the best startups the opportunity to travel across the continent and pitch at prestigious mobility events, it gives them the visibility they need to conquer new geographies.

The BCG mentoring is also there to help startups find the sharpest business model. We have, for some times now, encouraged startups to turn to B2B business models and are delighted to see that 75% of 2019 applicants have a B2B approach (vs. 60% in 2018). We will continue to work along this year’s laureates to help them develop scalable, profitable and human centric business models.

Funding in Europe is the hardest pillar to tackle. It is usually the positive results of the above mentioned pillars that tickle the interests of private funds. The lack of funding pressures startups into early exits, selling to large corporates. European entrepreneurs have the belief that their success is measured by the speed at which they can cash out. But once they are bought by corporates, they often suffocate under the weight of hierarchical processes preventing them to reveal their full potential. The European startup Prize for Mobility aims at giving startups the confidence that they can succeed on their own, despite less favorable funding conditions than their US and Israeli rivals. We provide business connections to sign new contracts and partnerships, and a mentoring to strengthen their businesses and attract private investors.

Bolt is an example many European entrepreneurs should follow. Since its launch in 2013, the startup expanded in 30 countries across Europe and Africa by spending less than $100 million. Due to lower funding than their American rivals, they had to developed different skills, focusing on operations and cost management. In comparison, Lyft recently stated in its IPO filing that they had net losses of $911 million in 2018 and that profitability might never be achieved. Using their monumental financial capabilities, they have valued growth over profits for years. But it might not be the right way to go. Indeed, if we take a closer look at the IPO, public markets do not respond very well to this unprofitable growth strategy, with the stock dropping 12% on its second day of trading, below its initial IPO price. European startups might be on a slower but steadier track to success.

Europe has fought for international relevance on the mobility startup scene for the last few years. We now have more and more ingredients to compete at the highest level: A focus on tech with initiatives to create favorable environments, an entrepreneurial mentality that shifted towards the exterior world, and the ability to circumvent funding difficulties. With initiatives like the European Startup Prize for Mobility to help, we believe Europe has what it takes to replicate the recipe of the US and Israel ecosystems, or better yet invent its own.