Chasing the American Dream

New York

Navigating the path to success for European expansion into the US


By Sara Rona, Managing Director, Head of Europe, MENA & ANZ, Global Gateway

& Jake Ledbetter, Senior Researcher, Market Insights


Key takeaways

  • Many European companies grapple with US expansion and often must navigate a variety of issues, including a competitive landscape, talent acquisition, regulatory considerations, brand awareness and cultural nuances.
  • While investment is down from the peak days of 2021, US venture capital (VC) investment into European companies continues to outpace 2019 levels.
  • Partnering with the right VC is important as they provide more than just capital; they provide advice and networking, too.
  • Having a strong banking partner is another important part of a founder’s network when expanding into the US market.


In 1921, Georges Doriot made the journey from France to the US. Now heralded as the Father of Venture Capital, this French general, researcher and investor introduced a new way of financing innovative companies.1 This long tradition of cross-Atlantic exchange continues today, with European startups expanding into the US market and US VCs investing in promising European companies.

Still, cross-Atlantic investment and expansion can be difficult, even between two regions with similar business environments and a long history of economic ties. Many European companies grapple with US expansion and often feel like a tiny fish in a vast ocean that is the US market. They must navigate a variety of issues, including a highly competitive landscape, talent acquisition, regulatory considerations, sales and brand awareness and cultural nuances with employees, customers and investors. Making matters even more difficult, the US is not a one-size-fits-all market, with diverse regions, demographics and business landscapes. As exhilarating as an expansion can be, it is no small feat.

In this article, you will learn from VCs and startup leaders from across Europe who share their experiences and advice. You will also learn about survey data that describes how US VCs are advising their portfolio companies. Lastly, you will discover how European startups are expanding internationally today and why Europe remains a fertile ground for innovation.


The state of cross-Atlantic investment and expansion

The European innovation ecosystem is undergoing a dynamic transformation.

That’s the message given by both VCs and founders when discussing the trajectory of European innovation ecosystems. The surge in European innovation is seen in rapidly developing innovation hubs, both large and small, across the continent. These hubs are home to cutting-edge technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI), biotech and others. The growth of these tech hubs is being further catalyzed by robust government support via grants, tax incentives and favorable regulatory frameworks. In this section, we hone in on three themes in European and cross-Atlantic investment and expansion today:

  1. Increasing interest in European startups from foreign VCs
  2. Sustained US expansion by European companies
  3. Rapidly developing European innovation hubs

Increasing interest in European startups from foreign VCs

While investment is down from the peak days of 2021, US VC investment into European companies continues to outpace 2019 levels, a helpful pre-COVID benchmark.2 This is important for European founders, as investment by US VCs can catalyze an expansion into the US market. Per Marc-Alexander Vetter, Head of US Expansion at Berlin-based people enablement platform Leapsome, “When we fundraised, we made a short list and deliberately focused on well-known US investors. This was for branding and market expertise reasons since we had the ambition to expand into the US.” Leapsome ultimately raised its $60MM Series A from Insight Partners (US), Creandum (Sweden) and Visionaries Club (Germany) to fund the company’s international growth.3

Figure 1

Figure 1. SVB analysis of PitchBook data.

Increased interest from US VCs represents a structural change, with US firms investing more resources in their European investment practice areas. Firms like LightspeedLeft Lane and Sequoia provide good examples of US VCs that are increasingly setting their sights across the pond. As Paul Strachman, Venture Partner at French VC ISAI, notes, “Just a couple years ago, European founders needed to travel to the US to meet a VC, and founders generally needed to show an established business market in the US. Today, many US firms have teams dedicated to investing in European companies, sometimes with established outposts in Europe. This has increased the funding from US VCs into Europe.”


“Today, many US firms have teams dedicated to investing in European companies, sometimes with established outposts in Europe. This has increased the funding from US VCs into Europe.”

– Paul Strachman, Venture Partner at French VC ISAI


COVID-19 has been a key driver of this increasing cross-Atlantic investment, as remote work and Zoom calls have transformed how business is done. In fact, as shown in the chart below, more investments in European startups were made by US investors in Q2 2023 than investors from any other country, besides the UK.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Sifted. “Q2 2023 Briefing.” July 13, 2023. Q2 2023 (


Sustained US expansion by European companies

Despite the wider downturn in the VC market over the past several quarters, there is evidence that European companies expanding into the US continue to outpace companies from other regions. Shown below, the performance of companies that have expanded into the US can be analyzed by considering VC investment in companies with an office in the US but headquartered in another country.

Figure 3

Figure 3. SVB analysis of PitchBook data. Rolling 4-quarter investment data, indexed to 100 in Q1 ’19.

Among this group of companies, those headquartered in Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe (excluding the UK) have been less affected by the downturn in investment than companies headquartered outside of Europe. This suggests that European companies with a US office have largely remained resilient in VC investment relative to non-European companies with a US office.


“Historically, going to the US meant going to San Francisco for the talent, investors or even customers despite the East Coast advantage of being closer to Europe. COVID-19 really changed that.”

– Martin Mignot, Partner at Index Ventures


This sustained expansion into the US is changing geographically, another possible effect of COVID-19. Martin Mignot, Partner at Index Ventures, explains: “Historically, going to the US meant going to San Francisco for the talent, investors or even customers despite the East Coast advantage of being closer to Europe. COVID-19 really changed that. San Francisco lost its physical network effect, so lots of West Coasters moved East. Now, most European founders are setting up shop in New York, regardless of industry.”


Rapidly developing European innovation hubs

Figure 4

Figure 4.Sifted. “France in 2023: Liberty, Equality, Growth Equity.” August 17, 2023. France in 2023 (

Today, active founders and investors are located not only in traditional finance hubs like London and Paris but across the continent. The deep bench of investor talent and the amount of capital coming into the VC scene have allowed European founders to dream bigger about the potential for their companies.

The deepening VC pool has contributed to Europe’s tech hubs now ranking among the most elite in the world. A 2023 study by Startup Genome identified the top tech hubs globally, 20% of which can be found in Europe. Among these are London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris, which rank 2nd, 13th, 14th and 18th, respectively.4 But it is not only hubs that attract investor attention. Index Ventures’ Mignot sees opportunity across the continent: “Starting from a small, more remote place can be advantageous. It forces companies to build a global product from Day 1. This is why Nordics have punched above their weight while companies from France, Germany or the UK more often get trapped by building for the domestic market that ends up being too small.”

Figure 5

Figure 5. Includes top 40 hubs globally. Sourced from: Startup Genome. “The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2023.” June 15, 2023. Startup Genome


Policy makers are taking note, and leaders across Europe are seeking to catalyze innovation through government schemes and ecosystem development organizations. One popular method is encouraging high-skilled immigration through visa programs. France, for instance, offers tech visas that allow startup founders and employees to live and work in the country.5 Several other countries have taken a different approach by offering digital nomad visas. Portugal’s program allows remote workers to stay in the country for up to a year before reapplying — a long-term bet by the country that collocating talented individuals can catalyze an innovation hotspot.6 Over the past decade, programs such as these have helped contribute to an increasing number of Americans residing not only in Portugal, but across Europe.7

More intensive programs are appearing as well. In the UK, for example, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak created the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) and the Department of Science, Innovation & Technology, the latter of which developed the Science and Technology Framework, a comprehensive policy for solidifying the UK’s tech leadership this decade.8 Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has set his sights on making Paris the global AI capital and has established explicit targets on the number of unicorns, IPOs and business angels in the coming years.9 Emblematic of this initiative is Paris’ Station F, the world’s largest startup campus, home to more than 1,000 startups that benefit from partner programs with tech giants like Microsoft and Meta.

Furthering this mission are industry groups that are working to encourage both domestic entrepreneurship and international expansion. Some examples from top European markets include Business FranceFrench FoundersLa French TechFrench-American Chamber of CommerceGerman AcceleratorGerman American Business Association (GABA)British American Business Network (BABN)London & Partners and EuroCham to name a few. Further, many other European consulates have programs to help drive cross-border links into the US, so it is important for founders to investigate their countries’ resources.

This encouragement from governments and industry groups should continue to boost domestic innovation and attract additional attention from international investors into the future.

Fortune favors the bold: Companies scale stateside

To understand how companies think about expanding from Europe into the US, we sat down with leaders at two Europe-based companies:

Mews, a Prague-based provider of hospitality software, recently raised a $185MM series C round led by Kinnevik and Goldman Sachs Asset Management.10

Leapsome, a Berlin-based people enablement platform, raised its $60MM series A round in March 2022 from Insight Partners and others to accelerate the company’s US expansion.11

Leaders from these organizations shared insights from their expansions into the US and provided advice on what founders considering a similar move should think about, including:

  1. Developing a detailed expansion plan
  2. Transferring company culture
  3. Ensuring product market fit

Developing a detailed expansion plan

First, international expansion should not be taken lightly. Per Leapsome’s Vetter, “It is important to take your time and create a holistic plan. For one year, we dedicated a team that drove all aspects of the expansion. This included a Gantt chart with more than 400 subitems. It would be a huge risk to attempt an expansion plan as a side gig.”

Richard Valtr, founder of Mews, agreed that planning is important but believes that flexibility is needed as well. “There can be a tendency to over plan. We had a detailed, fixed strategy but had to pivot within six months. You want to make plans perfect, but it’s better to be adaptable and change strategies as needed.”

This echoes the experiences of many of SVB’s international clients. While a comprehensive plan can certainly help in anticipating potential challenges, there will always be unforeseen setbacks. Being quick to pivot will help build a tailored foundation in the US and instill confidence among investors, partners and employees.

Transferring company culture

Even with the best plan, one of the most difficult (but important) aspects of the expansion is getting the culture right. This often means moving senior leaders to the US to lead office openings. Leapsome has a unique approach to transferring the culture from Berlin to the US, as explained by Senior Manager of Strategic Projects, Simon Wöllner. “From the beginning, our ambition was to build a global company and become number one in our category, so it was clear we needed to move into the US. With that in mind, we have two co-CEOs, one in Berlin and one in New York. Having a US business entity and growth ambition, it was a crucial way for us to reach our goals.”

For Mews, it was about having a person in the US who could tell the company’s story to clients, prospects and new team members. As Mews’ Valtr described, “To transfer the commercial culture, you need a sales leader. It needs to be someone who is willing to go back to startup mode. You need to focus on people who can show off the culture in the best way.”

A common challenge when expanding abroad is hiring the first one or two sales team members in the US, without having someone from the headquarters on the ground to guide them. This small, geographically distant group can sometimes feel isolated from the head office and disconnected from the company culture, ultimately leading to poor outcomes for the company. Because of this, investors and experienced founders often advocate for a founder-led expansion whenever possible.


“Learn from the one mistake that founders make when coming to the US: Don’t underestimate it.”

– Richard Valtr, Founder of Mews

Ensuring product market fit

Finally, before expanding abroad, it is important to have product-market fit. In some cases, this means understanding the American buyer’s mentality and making sure that the product addresses US demand. For others, however, landing US customers before the expansion is proof enough. Per Wöllner, this was one of the most important milestones for Leapsome: “We had quite a few customers in the US. These were big customers that we won by selling remotely from Berlin. It helped having a base of US clients and knowing that we could win deals in the US.”

Product type can also influence the decision of where and when to expand. Index Ventures’ Mignot gave the VC viewpoint: “For physical goods or e-commerce, it is easier to expand within the European Union. Software is different, however; the US is the better market for European companies with non-physical goods.”

One other vital component of product-market fit is customer service. US customers often have different expectations, which are important for founders to understand as they expand. Founders often have just one chance to get customer service right, and missteps can tarnish reputations and potentially throw off expansion efforts.

As for final words of advice, Mews’ Valtr said it well: “Learn from the one mistake that founders (including us) make when coming to the US: Don’t underestimate it.”

Mews and Leapsome are great examples of companies that have been successful in their expansion from Europe into the US. Using proprietary survey data, we dig further into one of the most important aspects of a successful expansion: Networks.

Banking on the US: The importance of networks

It’s no secret that this year has been difficult for founders, especially those with dreams of expanding into the US. The rapidly changing environment has made guidance from investors even more critical in helping to navigate uncharted waters.

Figure 6

Figure 6. SVB survey data.

Partnering with the right VC is important as they provide more than just capital. Rather than enforcing rules, VCs act as advisors, providing critical access to networks, expert guidance and best practices. This was echoed in an SVB survey from earlier this year, which found that US VCs prefer to advise on best practices rather than enforce stringent expectations. We have noticed that US VCs tend to be more plugged in than European VCs and play a more advisory role. These dynamics can be seen especially among US VCs that have international portfolio companies.

Having a strong banking partner is another important part of a founder’s network when expanding into the US market. Founders new to the US need more than just banks providing accounts. They need banks that provide other value-add services such as access to a larger international network and advice on engaging domestic partners. Navigating this area became somewhat more complicated this year, as the US faced a regional banking crisis.

This raises the question: What factors are most important for European founders to consider when choosing US banking partners? As seen in the chart below, guidance from US VCs can be split into two categories: the non-negotiables and the differentiators. Differentiators, such as relationships and networks, are perhaps even more important for European founders as they navigate a new ecosystem.

A strong network is critical to finding the right VC, bank and other partners. ISAI’s Paul Strachman echoes many of the sentiments expressed by US VCs: “The most important thing for founders thinking of expanding to the US is to speak to people who have already done it. They have stories on what to do, what not to do, what mistakes were made and what strategies were successful.”

Figure 7

Figure 7. SVB survey data.

As the chart above illustrates, building relationships and networks help newly arrived founders get these critical insights and identify resources that can help them succeed.

Expanding to the US is a pivotal move in any startup or scale-up’s journey. Overcoming expansion obstacles requires balance between adaptability to a new market and commitment to your vision and values.

There are countless stories of founders who plan, pivot and persevere on their US expansion efforts that can serve as inspiration to future founders. At SVB, we are incredibly optimistic and excited to be working with European founders as part of their networks on their US journey.


Thank you to Martin Mignot of Index Ventures, Paul Strachman of ISAI, Richard Valtr of Mews and Marc-Alexander Vetter and Simon Wöllner of Leapsome for sharing their expertise and providing helpful background for this article.

SVB Global Gateway is a dedicated international business development team that provides the right mix of products, services and strategic advice to venture capital (VC) firms, VC-backed startups and growth stage companies expanding into the US. The team focuses on international markets, including innovation centers around the world, such as Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand — locations where SVB may not have a physical office. The Global Gateway team has worked with international clients for more than a decade across all stages and has years of experience helping clients navigate the challenges and complexities that arise in their expansions to the US. The team’s mission is to empower visionary companies like yours by providing comprehensive banking solutions tailored to your unique needs, while ensuring a seamless banking experience.

For more information on how SVB can be a financial partner to your startup, contact Sara Rona, Managing Director, Head of Europe, Middle East, North Africa and Australia/New Zealand for SVB Global Gateway. By way of background, Sara is a French immigrant to the US and brings years of experience in startup banking. She is incredibly excited to be working with European startups.

As part of the SVB UK/SVB US split, a significant portfolio of European companies with a US nexus have transitioned into SVB’s US team.  This move aligns with SVB’s long-time commitment to provide dedicated support for companies and their cross-border banking needs.