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Scenario 2

Europe’s future cash cows: will they stay or go?

Technology and cash cow businesses
It’s 2030, and the European economy continues to grow steadily but unremarkably, aided by the continuing and successful transformation of Europe’s largest companies, all of which are now digital at their core.

Technology has enabled the top 100 companies to diversify into new business areas, create new service delivery models and generate more profit. However, these companies have effectively relinquished control over their technology roadmap: all their core technologies are now developed by tech giants headquartered in North America, Asia and Latin America over which they have little leverage.

Europe in 2030 has a flourishing mid-sized and start-up tech community, as was the case in 2020. The region has excelled at launching tech companies, an impressive number of which have become unicorns. But none has flourished to the point where they have become world-leading whilst remaining based in Europe. There still have not been any European decacorns – start-ups valued at over $10 billion. 

An example of the European paradox is in the fine foods industry. Europe’s five major premium foods companies have applied technology to thrive. Technology has enabled them to open up an ever-widening array of channels to market spanning instant-delivery, dark kitchens, meal kits and weekend markets. Europe’s food majors offer retailers of all sizes a full-service solution, from start-up finance to logistics and sales technology, and from white labelled apps to social media promotions as well as, of course, the food itself. The produce is made in Europe, sold by Europeans to Europeans, but the underlying platform technology, ecosystem APIs and data are all provided by Asian and American tech giants. 

Over the course of the 2020s, numerous European tech start-ups were founded to serve this market. Each thrived for a while in a few European markets; a few attempted to sell outside of the region, but none scaled to the point of dominance, and ultimately all ended up being acquired and consolidated by larger global platform companies and investors. 

Indeed most of promising European tech companies ended up either being bought, relocating outside the region or succumbing to the competition prior to reaching maturity. Perfect Vacation, a company founded in 2021 in Italy, is one salutary example. This company used technology to manage the administrative hassle of complying with Covid-19 protocols. It sold its services to holiday-making families and generated commissions from travel companies that were eager for a flow of low-risk, high-income holiday makers each of whom had been assessed for their likelihood of being infectious.

By the end of summer 2022, stories were trending on social media of how Perfect Vacation members were being prioritised at airline check-ins because of their lower risk profiles. On restaurant booking apps, a filter was introduced that showed places that preferred Perfect Vacationers. Restaurants, who were already struggling for staff and whose nightmare was an incautious customers who might infect a staff member, causing the closure of the restaurant in peak season, offered discounts to Perfect Vacation members.

In 2023, Perfect Vacation added a Perfect Pay option for hotel, restaurant and taxi transactions. The company used its increasingly accurate risk assessment capability to identify individuals who were low financial risks. In this year, Perfect Pay moved its headquarters to London, partly due to incentives offered, but also due to access to talent, a move that caused some disquiet. 

A year later, the rebranded Perfect Group expanded into North America where Covid status information remained fragmented across multiple suppliers. Perfect offered the US tourism industry an instant, reliable way of determining who was permitted to enter tourist attractions. The majority of theme parks offered specific queues for the low-risk families travelling with Perfect. 

In 2025, as Perfect neared the one billionth member milestone, attitudes towards the company started to sour. There was resentment from consumers denied access to Perfect, among whom were a growing number of politicians, journalists and mature musicians. There was also disquiet from EU regulators about data flows following Perfect’s expansion into North America. Perfect made some changes to their business model following lengthy negotiations with European regulators. Perfect made these changes hoping to conclude discussions; the regulators responded by requesting further concessions.

Anticipating further regulatory constraints decided to move its headquarters to the West Coast. This was costly, especially given the cost of relocating families from Europe to California, but access to greater funding from the US capital markets helped with the transition. 

Perfect continued to remain a large player in Europe and remained a favoured supplier to the European tourism sector, but its priority was the North American and Asian markets.

The drivers and enablers of the cowardly cash cow scenario.

Frontier technologies

European tech companies remain excellent at developing many significant, individual technologies, but are less good at the aggregation of these technologies into solutions that deliver the greatest value add. US and Asian tech giants continue to forage among European companies to fill gaps in their IP portfolios. 


Europe remains popular with tech entrepreneurs, especially those starting-up companies. They are attracted by the generous funding offered by national governments. They are also aware that if they can attain scale in a few European countries, this could make them acquisition targets for tech players based in the Americas and Asia.

Management philosophy

The focus among the predominantly small and medium sized companies is to scale fast so as to be acquired: ‘exit early’ is the mantra for technology entrepreneurs in Europe. There is little desire to strive to be a major global player due to the allure of a rapid exit; there are few seasoned tech executives with the experience and ability to scale. Europe remains very successful at nurturing companies in traditional sectors that the region has been strong in for decades: that is, not tech. In 2030 European automotive brands have come to dominate the electric vehicle market, but their bestselling models use core technologies including batteries and advanced driving assist technologies sourced from Asia. 

Availability of capital

Ample capital is available to invest in small and mid-sized companies, but there are few mega-rounds. Investors know that profitable exits are likely – most commonly to a US-based tech giants. There is little appetite for higher stake investments predicated on global growth from the get-go.

Economic environment

The European economy continues to hum along nicely, but not spectacularly. Growth rates trail those in other markets with more successful tech companies. But living standards continue to rise, moderately but predictably. While Europe may have no major global tech companies, it does have the leading players in other less profitable, slower growing industries.

Political environment

Europe’s 44 countries compete with each other to attract major tech companies to locate in their countries. This innate competition makes it harder for Europe to act as a single bloc. So, whilst even the EU as a whole has, in aggregate, significant investment funding, each investment is allocated to an individual country, with most benefits flowing to that country.

Global influences

North America and Asian countries with the largest tech companies are content with Europe’s role in nurturing technologies and tech companies that are subsequently acquired by overseas companies and investment funds.

This scenario is one of four fictionalised views of the future, each of which features made-up companies but with each narrative extrapolated from real trends, events and technologies.

Meet our European technology sector specialists

Core team

Daan Witteveen

NSE Technology Sector Leader, Deloitte Netherlands

Ed Shedd

NSE TMT Industry Leader, Deloitte UK

Paul Lee

Global Head of Research - TMT, Deloitte UK

Selina Newstead

UK TMT Marketing Lead, Deloitte UK

Sophie Beerlage

Manager - Human Capital, Deloitte Netherlands

European team

Dr. Andreas Gentner

TMT Industry Lead – Germany

Daryl Hanberry

TMT Industry Leader – Ireland

David Halstead

TMT Industry Leader - UK

Francesca Tagliapietra

TMT Leader – Deloitte Central Mediterranean

Jan Corstens

Technology Sector Leader - Belgium

Jeffry Keulaerds

Technology Sector Leader – The Netherlands

Pedro Tavares

MT Industry Leader – Portugal, Head of Telecom Engineering Centre of Excellence


Our in-depth research has identified the key developments and trends shaping the future of the European tech sector.

Tens of thousands of news articles and blogs about the future of the European tech sector were analyzed by Deep View, our AI tool. These include deep dives into the US-CN relationship, ecosystem and funding, and cross-industry applications.

Interviews were conducted with subject-matter experts from Deloitte, technology businesses, investors and industry bodies, covering the most crucial economic, political, socio-technological and environmental developments surrounding the European Tech Sector.

We combined two critical uncertainties - “Attractiveness of Europe for tech companies” and “Europe's technological primacy”. This resulted in four distinct futures, which were further developed considering the driving forces with low uncertainty and high impact, so called trends.


Underpinning each scenario are seven core drivers and enablers:

  1. Frontier technologies. The extent to which core technology, which has the greatest commercial value add, is developed in Europe.
  2. Talent. The availability of talent wishing to, and able to work in, the European tech sector, or a subset of it.
  3. Management philosophy. The approach to managing businesses, including willingness to take risk and the appetite for audacity.
  4. Availability of capital. The maturity of various classes of investors: funds available, risk appetite, the understanding of tech business models.
  5. Economic environment. Wealth levels, economic inequality within countries, wealth contribution by sector; wealth gaps between countries in Europe.
  6. Political environment. Attitudes towards the technological sector, including sobriety of regulation and support for wealth creation.
  7. Global economy. Attitudes to Europe and its tech sector from countries outside of Europe.

Each scenario is a fictionalised view of the future, featuring made-up companies, but with each narrative extrapolated from real trends, events and technologies. Whilst each outcome is possible, with some more likely than others, Deloitte has created these scenarios to foment discussion on which outcome is desirable, and what needs to happen to get there.

Future of the Tech Sector in Europe

The scenarios