Bringing Europe into the digital age

Written by Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl on 3 March 2020 in Thought Leader
Thought Leader

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl explains how Europe can boost the number of its digital unicorn companies.


After Brexit, the European Union only hosts six percent of the world’s unicorns – i.e. young, fast-growing companies valued at more than $1bn. This is a poor reflection of the digital health of our continent. In fact, two thirds of EU-based companies leave within the first two growth phases.

There are many promising start-ups, but we need to invest in them and provide them with the opportunities to grow within Europe. At our Masters of Digital conference, a fantastic Danish company, Corti, won our annual ‘Future Unicorn’ award.


Every year, we identify which companies have the potential to become one of the next European tech giants. Among other things, Corti has developed a ground-breaking artificial intelligence application that can detect signs in a patient’s voice that they are about to have a medical issue like a heart attack.

This means that medical professionals can detect potential problems earlier – lifesaving, effective and simply brilliant. In handing Corti their prize, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel asked them and the other finalists – Doks. Innovation and Nova Leah from Ireland – what they needed to take their businesses to the next level.

"If we are serious about bringing Europe into the digital age, that means boosting our infrastructure and enabling citizens to get good jobs"

First, they said we need workers with the right skills. We need to train people to become not just users of technology but creators. Over half of Europeans will have to retrain or upskill in the next few years. We should put digital skills like coding on school and university curricula.

Second, we need to break down digital barriers between countries. At the moment, only eight percent of SMEs trade across borders. The EU is still a fragmented market, for example because of differences in data formats or tax systems. For smaller companies, these issues can be a real barrier to scaling up.

We welcomed the Commission’s new digital strategy as a blueprint to solving these issues. We have also published ‘A Stronger Digital Industrial Europe’, our strategy to drive the digitalisation of our industry and our society.

Fundamentally, it’s great to talk about the importance of digitalisation but we’ve also got to talk about money. Unbelievably, less than three percent of the Commission’s proposed budget is dedicated to digital policies

If we are serious about bringing Europe into the digital age, that means boosting our infrastructure and enabling citizens to get good jobs. We know for a fact that digitalised companies grow two-and-a-half times faster than the non-digital sector.

"We need to train people to become not just users of technology but creators"

Putting ten percent of the budget to digital policies would be a strong signal that our leaders truly recognise its potential. DIGITALEUROPE says that by 2025, Europe should be home to 25 percent of the world’s unicorns.

There is abundant innovation in Europe and I’m confident we have the ideas and spirit to do this. But it will only happen if we nurture them and provide them with an environment where they can succeed.

About the author

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl is Director General at DIGITALEUROPE

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