The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020 (GSER 2020)

Foreword by Martina Larkin

The continued urgency for public-private collaboration

In the first half of 2020 we have witnessed how fragile and exposed our global systems and structures are to a major global crisis. As we come to terms with the global pandemic and look to the future, we have an opportunity for a global reset — to build a better, greener, and more resilient and inclusive future. Innovation, new technologies, and scientific discoveries are critical components in this reset.

If we want to take advantage of this opportunity, we need to make sure advanced technologies produced through innovation form not only the cornerstones of national economic competitiveness, but also embody the social shift toward digital and entrepreneurial lifestyles. They create a wealth of possibilities, inspiring generations, enhancing growth and providing critical solutions to pressing issues from healthcare to climate change. At the same time, innovation ecosystems, like any ecosystem, needs support to flourish and grow. The regulatory environment, access to resources, true multi-stakeholder involvement, public-private collaboration, and mentorship networks that nourish innovators are all key to a healthy innovation ecosystem.  

The World Economic Forum, as the International Organization for Public Private Collaboration, is committed to improving the state of the world by providing the platform for multi-stakeholder engagement and impactful action that shapes global agendas for a sustainable and responsible future. In the midst of the pandemic we launched a COVID-19 action platform, and we created Industry and Regional Action groups to support the agenda for a global reset which can pave the way for a better future.

The World Economic Forum continues to support innovation ecosystems across the globe, through initiatives like Digital ASEAN, Digital Europe, and the Schwab Social Entrepreneurs community. Digital Europe, for example, promotes a pan-European approach to innovation, building bridges between founders, investors, and academics as well as policymakers and corporate executives, enabling hubs to thrive from Berlin to Bratislava. Europe hosts ecosystems of varying maturity, with some of the world’s most advanced locations just a short flight from those still catching up on development. This creates a unique opportunity to observe ever-changing dynamics and to promote both local and global connectedness, which Startup Genome research shows as critical to success.

Now is the time to support such development. In the months following COVID-19 lockdowns, Startup Genome research showed that only 28% of startups have seen their funding proceed as normal, and over 74% have had to terminate full-time staff. These effects are even more palpable where connectedness is lower, and government support not be as readily available and accessible.

Public sector support, in close alignment with private investment, will be critical to restoring the vitality of startup ecosystems around the globe, as seen by the hefty stimulus packages already announced by some governments. In Europe, the unwavering commitment of the European Commission under President Von der Leyen to both the digital and green agenda has aimed to preserve the flourishing innovation which the 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) praised for growth prior to the pandemic. But there is also hope — no crisis comes without opportunity, and over half of today’s Fortune 500 companies were created during a bear market, with 50 tech unicorns founded between 2007-2009.  

The Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) provides an important barometer of development across 100+ cities globally, which, for the first time, are all facing the common challenge of rebuilding as strict lockdown measures subside. Some of these hubs will see new digital companies coming out on top, with sectors previously in decline, like gaming and online education, resuming unparalleled growth. Others may struggle, and realise they need to take decisive action to avoid being left behind as the whirlwind of change sweeps away antiquated and analog routines.  

As startups are a main driver of job creation and innovation, their survival will be essential to both the social and economic COVID recovery. The World Economic Forum is pleased to support the work of Startup Genome in ensuring that startups continue to create prosperity and employment, contribute to sustainability, and, with their talent for innovation and inspiration, build a more resilient world.


Martina Larkin
Head of Regional Strategies, Europe and Eurasia; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum