Startups sum up of 2020 and are forecasting the trends for 2021

How 2020's reality has impacted the startup scene? We asked six founders and chief officers about the challenges they had to face, their conclusions, and their predictions for the fresh new year.

18.01.2021, added by Infoshare

Running a startup has never been easy. The past year turned out to be particularly difficult for all entrepreneurs. The brands such as Quibi or Periscope, have disappeared from the startup map. Many companies had to rethink their strategies and pivot, adjusting their business model to changes.

According to The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020, 71% of startups have reduced their expenses, for an average cost-cutting off 22%. It was one of the downstream effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. Four out of every 10 startups today are in the red zone. However, there is also a group of startups whose pandemic has not significantly affected their functioning, and their revenues have even soared.

We decided to reach the source and ask selected European startups from various industries, how 2020 reality has impacted their growth and which technologies or trends will dominate on the startup scene in the new year.

2020 / 2021 summary and predictions by experts from six startups 


Marek Alliksoo, CEO of SKYCORP, a startup creating hydrogen drones forming a green aerial mobility ecosystem

1. How would you sum up 2020 in running your startup?
For one thing, I’ve never been in one country for this long in the past 17 years! While I went around the world a few times last year then this year I think it’s just about 40% of the way through one round trip. At the same time, virtually I’ve been to even more places, being able to adapt is a key strength for any company. So that’s what we’ve done, a lot of virtual events, speaking roles, consortium building, association activities, and so on. All in all, I would say 2020 was the busiest year and it will produce an even busier 2021.

2. The most difficult decision you had to make in 2020?
Cancel/postpone some projects when COVID-19 hit, we were willing to still take travel risks and come back to quarantine to the last minute even and I was willing to risk my own safety. But in the end, you have to clear your mind and think rationally – the projects and activities don’t go anywhere and there’s always more to do, health is more important.  

3. What were the biggest challenges for startups in 2020?
Adapting to virtual. I think we were all used to going places, pitching live, meeting face-to-face, networking, and having luxurious parties on yachts. Maybe not the last part, but even start-ups with virtual products must have missed these things. A million different online environments to learn (and technical challenges to overcome), how to demonstrate a physical product when the potential client can’t see and touch it in person, or more importantly if it had to be smelled, tasted, or felt. And of course, seeing how investors perhaps were not as quick or ready to adapt.

4. What trends and technologies in your opinion will shape the startup scene in 2021?
I think two major changes happened.

  • The world in general, but especially continents that thought they were the 1st world found out that they are not as prepared and advanced as they thought and actually had been resting on their past achievements for too long.
  • It became apparent that regulations and legislation are withholding technological progress and innovation. This was especially apparent in regards to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Something that was already autonomous and could have been used very fast for completely touchless logistics, aid, or support activities. Many „New World“ countries were much quicker to adapt and take up these resources and deploy them in scale, whereas others struggled to even take up a quarter of what they could be used for, up to saving lives. This will definitely give a kick to faster adoption, expanded use-cases, and hopefully lead to regulatory clearance. Even standard Aviation finally realize that maybe it’s time to digitize and update their procedures and regulations. 

In a way, COVID-19 gave a technological boost to many areas, I hope that it also showed that we are not only living in a world that can be solved with a new app or a webpage, we need more technology startups. Energy & Climate is a huge challenge, we need to become carbon neutral by 2050. We need more startups to tackle this – new materials, energy-saving buildings, green mobility, and logistics, taking advantage of hydrogen as an ideal energy carrier, recycling waste, conserving the planet, renewable technologies, and so on.

We need to find a better balance between digital and physical technologies to tackle it all, in short, we need more people to start engineering startups and as a hint from our side – Hydrogen technology and Green Aviation are big trends. In conclusion, I’d see the concentration on „comfort“ or „nice to have“ will go down as proven by the pandemic, and life/planet-saving and essential will go up.


Henri de Jong, Head of Business Development at Quantoz, a startup building blockchain technology-based SaaS

1. How would you sum up 2020 in running your startup?
2020 was a bit like a roller coaster ride. Many projects were suddenly put on hold in March, but fortunately, business recovered after the summer holidays

2. The most difficult decision you had to make in 2020?
Luckily, we have not been in a situation this year where we needed to make a difficult decision like dismissing employees.

3. What were the biggest challenges for the startups in 2020?
Not only for Startups but for all companies with B2B business models, doing new business and growing your network was no longer possible through physically visiting events.

4. Forecasts: what trends and technologies in your opinion will shape the startup scene in 2021?
Every day, I am amazed about new developments going on in all kinds of industries, varying from AI, healthcare, quantum computing, mobility, and so on. Mankind will be able to create a better world.


Agata Szczepaniak, Head of Operations, Therapify, a SaaS-enabled marketplace for mental health

1. How would you sum up 2020 in running your startup?
Being a company founded only in 2019, just a few weeks ago - in November 2020 - Therapify received €550k in the SEED round funding from - among others - Kogito VC, RKK VC, Corvus Ventures, Robert Ditrych (Angel Investor / NxtGen Ventures), Maciej Noga (Founder of Grupa Pracuj) and Wiktor Schmidt (Founder of Netguru), for further expansion of the services in Poland.
Covid-19 helped us spread and increase interest in mental health. It’s made its way into the mainstream, thus our activities also have been noticed.

Thanks to successes achieved, s.a winning the World TechStars Startup Weekend, we are now being recognized among Polish startups. We are held under the patronage of the Polish Association of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy, which has strengthened confidence in our brand among mental health specialists. Finally, we have been chosen to participate in Sebastian Kulczyk's Incredibles mentoring program that influenced our media exposure and helped us to reach new clients.

2. The most difficult decision you had to make in 2020?
The most difficult decision we had to make was to change our action plan and implement a pivot that changed our initial product completely and turn it into a psychotherapy booking platform. The decision had to be made quickly in order to respond to the covid-19 circumstances and our users’ needs at the time. The change required huge effort and an enormous amount of work by the team - all that in a very short time.

3. What were the biggest challenges for the startups in 2020?
The coronavirus pandemic turned out to be the biggest challenge of the year for almost every company world-wide. What was a challenge for big players, was even more challenging for startups at an early stage. 2020 required from us the ability to adapt even more efficiently and quickly to constantly changing conditions. Startups’ unique selling proposition had to be a grand slam if they expected to gain investors’ trust and attention.

4. What trends and technologies in your opinion will shape the startup scene in 2021?
There is no doubt that covid-19 changed the startup scene and its tech side. The upcoming trends and technologies in 2021 will be dominated by telemedicine, online education, and online forms of business communication.

Alina Usyk, COO of myREST, a startup delivering the reservation management system for restaurants

1. How would you sum up 2020 in running your startup?
It wouldn’t be a surprise for anyone, that 2020 was challenging. But I’d say that it was also developmental for our team. myREST functioning in the restaurant market, so we had a lot of situations where we needed to think not only how to save or expand our business but also how to help our clients. At the same time, we’ve planned some expansion in our roadmap, and after the first lockdown in April-May, we managed to do even more than was in the plan. So I’d say 2020 showed us new opportunities and taught us how to use them.

2. The most difficult decision you had to make in 2020?
There were actually 2 difficult things. The first one, when we decided to shorten our revenues but save some customer relationships for future perspective. The second one was the decision to add a new part of the product. It’s even the additional fully functional product - myREST online ordering system. We did that. And we are proud about that, as now we cover each channel, where the restaurant can communicate with clients. We offer our clients the full ecosystem that can help them to increase their revenue and build relationship with each customer via any channel.

3. What were the biggest challenges for the startups in 2020?
From our perspective, we had a few challenges. The transition to online work. It included a few parts. Startups needed to re-build some processes and also the whole communication with the team. But another one - communication with clients. Some clients have a very classic approach to the business, so it also was a challenge to teach them how to communicate more effectively online. And we needed to prove that we can help clients even in such a challenging time. 
Another challenge - cost optimization. As some of us needed to re-think the whole strategy. But once this was done, we proved for ourselves, that we could adjust to anything in the future. 

4. What trends and technologies in your opinion will shape the startup scene in 2021?
It’s actually a very interesting question. I think it will be the communication technology (especially video conferencing), MedTech, MarTech, EdTech, delivery, and also the big expansion will be noted in technologies that help to digitize markets, that are still functioning with a classic approach (such as the HoReCa market, beauty market). And the main trend will be full digitalization and automation. It will be somewhat of a continuation of 2020.

Szymon Arciszewski, co-founder of FitMech, the creators of self-service ready analytics of manufacturing performance

1. How would you sum up 2020 in running your startup?
Although the year was quite chaotic and unpredictable, we managed to make good progress with FitMech. in the first quarter of 2020, we realised that Covid will slow down our business growth, so we have focused more on the FitMech vision and RnD. As a result, we enter 2021 with a much more polished product, equipped with new features that we developed together with our already existing customers.

2. The most difficult decision you had to make in 2020?
Every decision we made during last year, was preceded by a careful analysis of the possible consequences. Particularly difficult were a few situations where we decided not to follow interesting business projects because they would move us away from the core of our development direction and vision. It was crucial for us to follow our development plan. We also decided to not grow our team in 2020, and prepare the investment round for 2021 well.

3. What were the biggest challenges for the startups in 2020?
Taking our market into consideration (industrial B2B), I guess the great challenge for startups was maintaining the business growth on a planned level. Covid caused operational chaos in many companies (potential clients), and a temporary freeze of planned projects and investments. Also, investors become more careful. Instead of big visions, they tend to look for safe options with stable market traction. That causes difficulties in raising capital for pre-seed and seed phase startups. 

4. What trends and technologies in your opinion will shape the startup scene in 2021?
Despite the pandemic disturbing the economy, 2020 proved to be healthy for enterprise software and platforms development. I believe 2021 will continue to create opportunities for enterprise products that can be deployed remotely, not require big investments at the beginning, and are easy and safe to use. Covid has accelerated rapid changes in work and operational models, causing a bigger demand for collaboration and data analytics platforms, cloud-based technologies, and cybersecurity. Aware companies are transforming into hyper-efficient ones, thanks to understanding the value of their data. Moreover, they also see the data as an important strategic asset. Data is not only becoming more and more valuable but with so much automation it is becoming easier for people to use and move.

Matylda Szyrle, founder of Listny Cud, the producents of fresh superfood microgreens and urban vertical farms

1. How would you sum up 2020 in running your startup?
For Listny Cud 2020 was a real deal-breaker - after building our first vertical farm plus 2 smaller farms dedicated for stores (first of their kind in Poland) in August-September, we've started a business pilot in October. The second wave of pandemic made us pivoting our business model - we've set up an online store and built a 3rd instore farm within 2 weeks. So it felt (and still feels) like starting an engine and gaining a lot of speed very quickly (zero-to-60 in 5 seconds ;) ).

2. The most difficult decision you had to make in 2020?
Standing up from the table after several weeks of negotiations with investors. However because we quite lately discovered that there are some important differences in our optics, it was important to face them before signing up investment papers :) Plus this gave us more clarity about what are our priorities and later quite quickly we have signed an investment with different angels.

3. What were the biggest challenges for the startups in 2020?
Deciding which of the trends emerging due to Covid are temporary and which will stay good and we should adjust to them and pivot our businesses.

4. What trends and technologies in your opinion will shape the startup scene in 2021?
A new set of funds and regulations focused on altering the climate crisis (for example in the food production sector in the EU will be a higher demand on producing food locally). This might create bigger market demands for sustainable solutions, making them a "new-normal". Plus personally, I hope for some breakthroughs in the energy sector - i.e. in hydrogen or in perovskites, giving realistic promises for cheaper, sustainable energy in the foreseeable future. This in turn could build solid grounds for startups from several sectors to develop new solutions.


P.S. Hungry more founder's stories? Listen to our Grow with Tech podcast about startups, innovations, and technology.






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