#TheEuropas 2011 (European Tech Startup Awards) winners announced – but how credible and authoritative are the awards?

Matt Slight reports on the successful, high energy evening event that is The Europas, but raises concerns of 'autonomy of the voting process and the relationship of the sponsors, entrants and the host' - in which case, can the event be regarded as an independent barometer for success in the thriving European tech scene?

The Europas 2011

[update Nov 19th - the article has been tidied up from it's original form with clarification provided by Mike Butcher; his formal comments are viewable at the bottom of the post]

For those not in the know The Europas is the tech and startup community’s equivalent of The Oscars. The annual event took place yesterday evening and hails the success stories from across Europe’s vibrant technology sector. Awards are handed to mature companies, emerging startup companies, investors and founders across the technical and “web” industry. The awards range from “Best service provider for startups” to the grand prize “The Europas Grand Prix Award”. Over 40,000 public votes have been cast over the past month which have been combined with input from a panel of 22 judges drawn from a wide range of highly respected European investors, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

Last night’s event in the West End of London marked the formal awards party bringing together winners, runners up and special guests.

The event took place at Carbon bar in the West End of London – the venue being transformed from it’s usual guise as the night club attached to The Cumberland Hotel. The opening spectacle of the evening was host Mike Butcher arriving on his a Harley Davidson clad in leather jacket. The format of the evening was fairly straight forward with the nominees being announced, followed by the winners of each category. This process wasn’t dragged out and quite nicely set the scene for the evening and served as a functional prelude to the informal networking by attendees. There were some issues with the sound system in the venue which were unfortunate – this meant that the formal awards process couldn’t always be heard. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to praise the concept behind The Europas but Ben Rooney draws parallel conclusions around the process and format of the evening.

Mike Butcher Harley Davidson Europas 2011

The event is put on each year by Mike Butcher who is the incumbent editor of TechCrunch Europe the technical blog for the european community. All credit to Mike Butcher for organising the yearly awards, the turnout of people was great and the evening had a buzzing yet relaxed atmosphere. There were 400 attendees at the event and the awards process contained over 100 nominations across 22 categories.

The first question attendees were asking each other is why was the night not held in the East End of London? Most of the companies nominated for the awards shortlist A lot of London tech companies are based around the Silicon Roundabout area of East London. There is a fantastic night life around Shoreditch and Old Street. The evening would have been better located in the East End of the UK capital, in the heart of TechCity. I hope that for next year’s event Mike Butcher takes this criticism into consideration. Is a West End night club the most suitable venue for an awards ceremony, especially considering the PA system was clearly not up to scratch? Was Carbon Bar chosen as a venue simply to bolster the style of the evening? Style over substance seemed a common theme for the event in general. If the venue was chosen simply to masquerade as a networking event then why hold the event at all? There are certainly plenty of existing networking events for the technology industry.

The event was largely a PR stunt, and to that end it was a success, there is no doubt that the awards are getting attention in the press. Admittedly a lot of this press is from Mike Butcher’s TechCrunch Europe.

Other major concerns were highlighted with the awards last night including the autonomy of the voting process and the relationship of the sponsors, entrants and the host.

There were calls from the tech community that the winners had been preselected in advance. Indeed a leaked list of winners appeared on the net before the formal announcements were made. Whilst there is no conclusive evidence of votes being mishandled, this sort of bad press is the type that Mike Butcher will want to distance himself and The Europas from.

The voting process is also far from clear. Here is the link to Mike Butcher’s own post at TechCrunch article which states of the voting process:

“after 22 expert judges picked their favourites from 400 entries, and those results where combined with approximately 40,000 public votes from the tech startup industry, clear trends started to emerge from those marked out as Winners and those Highly Commended in the awards”.

The immediate questions arising being, how are the votes complied and how are the judges selected? For the awards to have real weight amongst the wider tech community and not just from Mike Butcher’s close friends the process needs to be transparent.

[Update 19th Nov] Mike has clarified this in his comment below which is repeated here for clarity:

a) they are compiled on PollDaddy. This is public knowledge. b) Judges are invited by me as Chair of the Europas. They are not my “close friends” they are prominent VCs, investors and entrepreneurs.

Having a clearer voting process is only part of the issue here. The awards also need to be independent. Currently Mike Butcher has an involvement in a variety of companies and organisations spanning the tech industry. Mike Butcher is the editor of TechCrunch Europe, he is co-founder of the shared work space Tech Hub where a lot of the nominated companies are based, he is also an advisor to the government. One of the event sponsors was in fact TechHub along with the government back organisations TechCity UK and UKTI. It should also be noted that Orrick who won ‘best service provider for startups’ is a law firm associated with TechHub. Whilst it is understandable that related companies should want to come together to sponsor (and in Mike’s case host) an awards night for an industry in which they are leading players, I believe that greater transparency would be of benefit to all. It would have been fairly straight forward for Mike Butcher to disclose his related interests and unless I was in the toilet when this was announced I have never heard Mike Butcher explicitly disclose his interests, [Nov 19th] although they are listed on his blog. Having interviewed a number of people informally last night, there were mixed opinions on this point and for me that means ensuring that next year the awards are more rigorous.

The Europas 2011 Sponsors

The twitter community also picked up on the issue of transparency. A tweet from @andrewmcdonough sums up the bias of the ‘grand prix‘ award going to a company previously resident within Mike Butcher’s TechHub. Other comments on twitter echoed similar opinions @martinweigert questioning the value of PeerIndex. What conclusions can be drawn of the validity of the awards when most of the companies involved have an affiliation to the party handing out the awards? Does this simply lead to an echo chamber for Mike Butcher’s personal interests?

The process of nominee selection seems unclear at best. Could greater eminence be drawn if the nomination process was opened up so that a wider range of companies were included on the list?

With these points in mind can The Europas be regarded as an independent barometer for success in the thriving European tech scene?

For me, 3 out of 5 stars. All credit to Mike Butcher for pulling all the strings to make this occur and the evening was a great place to rub shoulders with the entrepreneurs of the East End. If The Europas want to become the industy standard for technology awards what can they do next year to better their chances?

The winners of the 2011 awards are below. What do you make of these results, and do they carry much weight?

Best Service Provider to Startups

Best Business or Enterprise Startup

Best Advertising or Marketing Tech Startup

Best European Startup Accelerator

Best Startup Tool For Startups

Best Mobile or Apps Startup

Best Entertainment, Audio, Video, Music Startup

Best Gaming or Social Games Startup

Best Social Platform or Networking Startup
Peer Index

Best Education, Recruitment, Media Startup

Best Commerce, Finance or Payments Startup

Best Sport, Leisure or Health Startup

Best Culture (Fashion, Art etc) Startup

Best Transport, Travel or Environmental Startup

Best VC of the Year 2011
Accel Partners

Best Exit 2011

Best Angel or Seed Investor of the Year
Christophe Maire, Angel

Best Startup Advisor/Mentor of the Year 2011
David Noel, Soundcloud

Best VC Partner of the Year
Nic Brisbourne, DFJ Espirt

Best Startup Founder / Co-Founders
Alexander Ljung, Eric Wahlforss, SoundCloud

The Europas Hero Award – Kicking Ass Globally From Europe
Rovio for Angry Birds

The Europas Grand Prix Award
Peer Index

Matthew Slight PostDesk Europas

Matthew Slight is on Twitter at @mattslight, he runs Incite ICT, and blogs at MatthewSlight.com. Photography by Charlie Newhouse.

What do you make of the Europas (European Tech Startup Awards)? What do you make of the list of winners, and do they carry much weight? Are the events credible and authoritative? Can The Europas be regarded as an independent barometer for success in the thriving European tech scene?