Who are the founders building billion dollar companies in the DACH region?

Over the past two years, the DACH region has received a lot of attention.

The region has experienced a record level investment fund, with companies ranging from fast food start-up Flink to neobank N26 raising some of the biggest fundraising rounds ever in the region. And Gorillas became the fastest company in Germany to reach unicorn status.

Between September 2021 and now, the DACH region has also spawned a record number of unicorns. 25 companies have crossed the $1 billion mark during that time, representing nearly 40% of unicorns to date, according to startup investor Antler.

But what made the founders of DACH unicorn so successful? And what are their characteristics and backgrounds?

antler to analyse the founding teams of these 25 new DACH unicorns – looking at what they have in common and how they differ from previous unicorn founders.

Here are some takeaways.

Share of tech founders increased in 2022

For unicorns formed between 2000 and August 2021, 26% of founders had a background in computer science and/or software development. This figure rose to 35% in the last batch of unicorns founded between September 2021 and May 2022 – let’s call it the “class of 2022”.

This change means that the proportion of founders from a typical business background (i.e. those who have studied a business degree, or worked in consulting, corporate finance, etc.) has decreased: from 58% for the previous two-decade period to 42% for the class of 2022.

The rise of tech founders is also reflected in unicorn founding teams.

Of the 25 newly created unicorns, eight (32%) of the founding teams come from a combined business-tech background, while four (16%) come from a technology-only background.

This contrasts with the unicorns formed before this cohort, where 35% of teams had founders solely from the business world. These teams have now dropped to 16% in the 2022 class as there are more tech-only and domain-only teams.

While enterprise-only teams dwindled in 2022, they still created the most unicorns (18) in the DACH region. Teams with a tech-training founder and a business-training founder built 17 unicorns.

Class of 2022 founders had start-up experience before founding a unicorn company

47% of new unicorn founders had start-up experience as an employee or founder before starting their billion-dollar company. 42% of founders are serial entrepreneurs.

Data from Antler also shows that fewer unicorn founders in the Class of 2022 have ever worked in consulting: 18% compared to 29% for unicorns minted before September 2021.

Experience as a consultant, however, still comes in handy when building a business – and perhaps catching the attention of investors with marquee companies on your resume – with 25% of all unicorn founders drawn from a consultant journey that examines data all the time.

Only 10% of founders in the Class of 2022 and previous unicorns had no experience before starting a unicorn business, challenging the stereotype of college dropouts founding businesses.

WHU spawns the most unicorn founders

The most popular universities among the founders of the class of 2022 are as follows:

  1. WHU: Otto Beisheim School of Management (Vallendar, Dusseldorf)
  2. Technical University of Munich
  3. ETH Zürich
  4. Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
  5. St Gallen (Switzerland) and London School of Economics (equality)

Interestingly, the founders of the technical university ETH usually associate to form companies, the report notes, as do the founders of TU Munich, also a technical university.

One of the main reasons for this is that several technology companies were started by founders during their student years and were created later – such as process mining unicorn Celonis and TUM’s flying taxi company Lilium, and traveltech GetYourGuide and Climate tech giant Climeworks from the ETH.

Class of 2022 unicorn founders attend different universities than previous founders

For unicorns formed before September 2021, 60% of unicorn founders went to the same 10 universities in the chart. 47% attended the top five institutions.

The Class of 2022 of Unicorn Founders attends a more diverse range of educational institutions than before. This year, 45% attended the top 10 universities listed in the graph and only 30% attended the top five universities.

Boston Consulting Group remains top employer of unicorn founders

BCG is tracked by Rocket Internet and McKinsey & Company as the top three employers for founders before starting a company — a metric that reflects the last two decades of unicorn founders.

Goldman Sachs became the fourth previous employer of unicorn founders in 2022, followed by Siemens.

The percentage of unicorn founder teams with two or more founders who worked at the same company before founding a company together remained constant at 40%.

This demonstrates that founders tend to look to their network of former colleagues first when looking for a co-founder.

Subdued plug

Antler data shows unicorn founders in the DACH region are still overwhelmingly from the traditional elite – and the path to entrepreneurship involves attending a top university and/or working at big corporations successful consulting or investment banking firms.

Does this show that attitudes towards what makes a good entrepreneur – a prestigious degree and business experience – haven’t changed within the investment community? The data reminds us that there is a long way to go before the region’s successful tech founders reflect the society they are building for.

Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. It also covers the future of work, co-authors Sifted Startup Life Newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.