The 2022 Benelux Unicorn Founder Roadmap: How to build unicorns in Benelux

As everyone anticipates the next wave of ultra-successful companies in Benelux, what does it take to get there? What do the successful founders of Benelux unicorns look like? This report is an in-depth look at the Benelux startup ecosystem and its brightest stars. And above all, it is for anyone who is helping build the next 50 unicorns in Benelux.


Ronald Jan Schuurs

Ronald Jan is an experienced operator, entrepreneur and investor, with expertise in a.o. e-commerce, fintech and healthtech. He has spent over a decade with various C-level roles in tech startups including Rocket Internet and Delivery Hero. Previously he has been a strategy consultant at Booz & Co and an investment banker at ABN Amro. INSEAD educated.

We believe the European tech future is bright. At Antler—both across the region and around the world—we work with founders from day zero and support them on their journey to greatness and hopefully, of course, unicorn valuations. 

With this goal in mind, we looked at the Benelux unicorn founder landscape from the following angles:

  1. Founder’s background
  2. Founding teams
  3. Road to unicorn
  4. Unicorn investors

View the full report.

The report analyzes 123 founders across 33 unicorns and 21 “soonicorns”—tech companies expected to achieve billion-dollar valuations in the near future. Next up we will introduce a few interesting learnings from each one of the four angles.

Founder’s background: Benelux unicorn founders are highly educated and different schools provide a more or less equal foundation to become unicorn founders.

Benelux unicorn founders have a higher degree of education than in Europe on average. In Benelux, 67% of unicorn founders have either a Master’s or PhD degree while

55% of unicorn founders have at least a Master’s degree in Europe. Moreover, it looks like the universities in Benelux greatly support entrepreneurship across the board and no university has a monopoly on successful tech founders in the region. While the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology tops the charts with five unicorn founder graduates, it is closely followed by Vrije Universiteit Brussel and HOGENT in Belgium that both produced four graduates.

Founding teams: The founding teams in Benelux are small but almost all have some business background.

36% of Benelux unicorns are founded by a solo founder, making it the most common founding team size. However,  the trend seems to be changing. Only four out of the 21 soonicorns from the Benelux region are founded by a solo founder.

Shockingly but not surprisingly only three out of 71 (4%) unicorn founders are women. There are no unicorn teams that were founded by only women and no teams that have more than one woman as a founder. 91% of the teams are all-men, 9% are mixed, and 0% all-women.

Additionally, business knowledge in the founding team seems to be almost a prerequisite for making it to the unicorn valuation. 97% of the unicorn founding teams have at least one founder with a business background. Only one team did not have anyone with a business background.

Road to unicorn: Benelux welcomes an increasing number of unicorns with nine new unicorns in the past two years alone.

Benelux follows the global trend of an increasing number of companies reaching unicorn valuation. In 2021 we saw five new unicorns reach unicorn valuation, which is the highest number of unicorns per year on record. This year we have already seen four new unicorns, making the total for the past two years nine.

On average, it takes Benelux unicorns 10.9 years to reach unicorn valuation, but the time to reach the unicorn valuation has been cut in half (50%) in the past 30 years. Additionally, it looks like the more members in the founding team, the less time it takes for the team to reach unicorn valuation. The time it took to reach the unicorn valuation was half for four-person founding teams compared to solo founders.

Unicorn investors: 21.3% of Benelux unicorns’ investors are from the Benelux region—most are based in the US.

The top three countries where Benelux unicorn investors are from are US (38%), Netherlands (13%), and UK (10.6%). Moreover, 21.3% of Benelux unicorn investors are from Benelux: 13% from the Netherlands, 6.9% from Belgium, and 1.4% from Luxembourg.

While 19 investors have invested in more than one unicorn in Benelux, there are six who invested in the companies before their unicorn valuation round. Index Ventures has invested in three Benelux unicorns. It has made the highest number of investments into Benelux unicorns before they reached their billion-dollar valuation.

For more insights, you’ll need to check out the full report. We truly hope you enjoy reading it and draw useful insights to make your future ventures even more successful. Let’s work together to build the next 50 unicorns in the next five years!

Download the full report.

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