Editor’s note: A lot of factors go into picking the right city to launch your media start-up. Availability of local talent, funding opportunities, size of domestic market, travel connections… Below is an entirely subjective list of places we would be excited to launch a new media venture in.
While starting a new business, finding the right location matters. A lot of factors go into creating the right environment for entrepreneurship, and Europe has a lot of promising places. Here is our list of the top 10 cities for media startups.
Home to one of the world’s top clusters of media tech innovation and research, the city of Bergen is a good place for those considering launching a media start-up – especially if new technologies are a big component of your concept.
Media City Bergen is regularly frequented by large Scandinavian publishers, such as Schibsted or NRK, as well as serves as a hub around which globally competitive media tech firms have been launched. For example Vizrt, a global visualisation solutions provider, is headquartered in the former Norwegian capital and trade capital, as is AI-powered video production tool Mjoll or streaming service provider Vimond. All this is powered by a cooperative of strong Nordic universities’ media programs.
Norway’s exceptional safety, press freedom (the top spot in many rankings) and quality of life add to the appeal. So does the country’s record level of willingness to pay for news (the global leader at 41%). The main downside are high labour and operating costs, so you better find some wealthy start-up backers (but luckily Bergen has quite a few incubators/ accelerators to help out).
Called “Europe’s Startup Capital” by some, Berlin is a magnet to big and small media enterprises. It is home to some of Europe’s biggest publishers, including Axel Springer (i.e. Die Welt and Bild), German broadsheets like Der Tagesspiegel, and is a hub for the public broadcaster DW. It is also a home for media tech initiatives like Steady, a membership platform, the cross-border collaboration organisation Hostwriter and many more.
Among Berlin’s key strengths is a strong local talent base, a well-developed creative scene, and many cool events (Media Convention, Berlinale, etc.) where you will get a lot of opportunities to network and find funding (although German grants are notoriously time-consuming to administer).
However, German bureaucracy can be a pain for opening both nonprofit and for-profit entities, and Berlin’s once famous affordability is increasingly a thing of the past. This will make staying on the podium difficult in years to come.
The crackdown on free press in Russia following the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has turned Riga into the unofficial Russian-language media capital. As a result, such long-term media in exile like Meduza have been joined by a broad crop of new arrivals, such as online magazine Holod or Novaya Gazeta Europe.
The local talent pool has further been strengthened by international media moving their Russia operations to the Latvian capital, including Radio Free Europe (and their Russian-language Current Time project), BBC or DW.
This has been made possible thanks to the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga’s Media Centre, the main media education centre for the former Soviet Union, and the associated Media In-Exile hub. Nonetheless, the local market is small and Riga performs much better as an international Russian-language media hub than it does in English.
Amsterdam, like other cities on this list, is great for start-ups. But Amsterdam is especially attractive for the media industry and foreign startups. With a variety of accelerators and incubators based in the city, media ventures are almost destined to succeed.
The Dutch capital is home to European headquarters of global entertainment giants like Netflix and Discovery making it one of the largest exporters of TV formats around the world. Think about reality competitions/shows like The Voice, Deal or No Deal, Fear Factor or Big Brother – all of these formats originated in Amsterdam and were tested on Dutch audiences before being sold to multiple countries.
It is also a base for new, innovative players like OSINT investigator Bellingcat, donors like Veronica Vereniging or Free Press Unlimited – attracted by the nonprofit regulatory environment (for profits also benefit from favourable terms) and strong freedom of speech protections. The downsides are high costs of living and taxes for local staff.
Europe’s capital Brussels may seem an unlikely basis for media start-ups, being mostly associated with politics and bureaucracy. But it has a vibrant media scene, home to such internationally focused publications like Politico Europe, EUObserver or Euractiv, as well as being a major hub for international correspondents.
Of course, European institutions are one of the main reasons why media startups who dip their toes in politics are in luck. With European institutions right there, you have quick access to many politicians, officials and main events in the EU’s capital. The city is also home to a wide range of donor organisations.
Politics aside, Brussels has a multicultural workforce, which can serve many audiences in Europe and in different European languages. Whether your publication is French, English, Dutch or German, you will likely find your people in Brussels. But this can also be a challenge, making demographic targeting tricky. Brussels is also among the most expensive European capitals.
The ongoing, brutal war waged by Russia against Ukraine has made life difficult in the country’s capital. But it remains one of Europe’s most vibrant and creative hubs, with boundless entrepreneurial energy – including in the media space. Just take Kyiv Independent, which built one of the biggest English-language news outlets in the CEE region, while relying predominantly on reader revenue.
With substantial international support, the Ukrainian capital is set to see a lot of innovative new ventures (many with potential to expand internationally across Eastern Europe). Infopoint, a Lithuanian-Belarusian-Ukraine initiative, is a sales house for the region’s independent media. Abo.media, a local media tech and management solution, is expanding across the country (but has potential further afield).
Although Ukraine has won the battle of Kyiv, and security risks in the city have greatly decreased over the past few months, they are still an important consideration and a disadvantage to operating on the ground. However, apart from its energy and creativity, Kyiv also has some of the cheapest labour costs among Europe’s capitals, as well as a well-developed service economy that has proven surprisingly resilient to the war.
Tallinn might be small in comparison to other cities on the list, but it has a lot of potential. Estonia has a high number of startups per capita, mainly because of the country’s progressive governance. Around 90% of operations to start and run startups can be done online. With the E-residency program, it is easy for internationals to enter Estonia’s and the EU business market.
Estonian publishers argue that there are many opportunities to grow. In Estonia, you will meet one of the most media literate audiences with high media trust and willingness to pay for digital content. As Estonia experienced an investment boom in recent years, it is a good place to start. However, because Estonia is a small country, the media market is quite crowded and the competition is high.
As one of the world’s publishing capitals, it is impossible to omit London from the ranking – although the British capital is suffering from Brexit fallout and an ongoing cost of living crisis.
London has arguably the highest concentration of international publications across the continent, ranging from such giants as the Financial Times or The Economist to thematic or start-up publications like Monocle, Argus Media, Tortoise or the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
But the real strength of London comes from the locally based media community. The city is home to JournalismAI (which unites global experts on use of artificial intelligence in media), has an active Hacks/Hackers community, hosts such events as The Publishing Show and is home to one of the top media podcasts, Media Voices. All this makes for a great environment to launch a start-up, even though the numerous challenges Britain is facing have many concerned.
Even though Sweden is a high-tax country where employees receive ample amounts of social benefits, the country excels in having new business openings. Home to Spotify, Klarna, and Skype, Sweden proved to be a great place for digital and tech startups. Stockholm, as the capital, is at the centre of Sweden’s entrepreneurship spirit, with 22,000 tech companies in the city alone.
The media business has also been booming, as Swedes have been supporting both digital and print media. Swedish consumers are digitally savvy, which makes it the perfect test market for digital startups (96% of the population are online), and Sweden has the highest number of people who read the news online.
Because of its great infrastructure, as well as political and social stability, Stockholm attracts more investments every year and provides a great place for media to develop.
At the same time, high taxes and complex labour laws can make it hard to recruit people outside of Sweden.
Hamburg is another German city with a rich history of media development. It is home to such prominent media conglomerates as Bauer Media Group, leading television news service Tagesschau and leaders in political analysis Der Spiegel and Die Zeit.
Yet Humburg is not only a great place for established publishers but also a fertile ground for startups and digital innovation. For example, digital magazine Substanz, whose founders Denis Dilba and George Dahm left Financial Times Germany, launched one of the biggest crowdfunding campaigns and now is a successful publication.
One of the reasons why a startup might flourish in Hamburg is an established advertising market in the city, with a plethora of marketing, PR and advertising agencies (FCB, Jung v.Matt, and many more) who are looking forward to developing new online formats. However, as in the case of Berlin, the German bureaucracy will test your patience when opening a new organisation.