When I pause and look back at these last decade of startups vs. big corp debate, something starts to bug me more and more. We are at a point where we collectively underestimate the extent to which large groups are the only ones in a real position to trigger disruptive innovations. The startup disruptor narrative has taken over, and oh boy, what an amazing narrative. In reality? Not so much. How many startups have disrupted Amazon in the e-commerce sector, Apple in consumer tech, or Facebook in... destroying democracies? Sure, TikTok might get there. Can we forget that it's anything but a startup and massively fuelled by Chinese public money at that?
The reality is that on any given day, a multinational that adjusts its position one iota will embark millions of customers within a few weeks in a paradigm shift. That some of these multinationals were startups once looks more and more like a historical glitch in the business matrix. The dot com bubble burst in the early 2000s was never replicated, not even in 2008 and probably not in 2022 either. And even back then, how far would have these mythical startups gone if the incumbents wouldn't have been already slowly walking to bankruptcy on their very own?
What's my point here?
Maybe (just maybe) we should start to pay more attention to the middle market. The large SMEs and the small MNCs that still see the light of the market clearly, and can as well leverage some early network effects. The companies that understand finance and HR and yet still innovate. The ones where there were seasoned managers with multicultural backgrounds and scaling skills.
I mean, deeptech is fine and all that. Sure. And the bet of investing in technology startups that are potentially so game-changing that ten years from now, they will transform an entire economy sector is not faulty. What seems to me more and more messed up is only playing this EuroMillions lottery and thinking it will pay the mortgage.
Because if anything, it didn't work for the last decade and half. Not to mention that I'd be hard-pressed to identify tech sectors open enough for Europe now that China is leading the tech race and the US is gearing to catch up (or the other way around, no one knows anymore).
The way up for Europe will depend more and more on its medium to large corporations (it always has). Give me a Schneider anytime over a Uber or a Spotify. Startups? We gave them too much credit for quite long enough. They might be just a distraction.