When startups and businesses assess which markets are key to a European expansion, they typically arrive at the UK, Germany or France. While all 3 of these are powerhouse economies and key to any European expansion plan, there’s a few markets that I think don’t get anywhere near the attention they should.
After emerging from the dark ages of WW2 and Soviet-style communism, Poland has developed a powerhouse economy - the 6th largest in the EU. Fuelled by a strong STEM education system, proximity to Germany, and an independent currency, the Polish economy has achieved the second highest growth rate in the EU, growing by over 40% in just 8 years. With the second-highest rate of college enrollment in the OECD, a population of 38 million, and a huge expat community worldwide, it is no surprise that the Polish economy is rapidly converting from a German manufacturing subsidiary to a high-end knowledge economy - with an associated rise in wages and disposable income. All these factors combine to make Poland a key market for any company looking to expand into Europe.
The Nordic countries have long featured on International Ranking lists for their quality education systems and high GDP/Capita values - driven primarily by oil money. Their native languages are (mostly) mutually intelligible, and English adoption rates are extremely high. With a significant combined population of over 25 million and high broadband penetration rates, it is clear the Nordic countries are in a strong macro position. But their real attraction lies in their well-deserved reputation as early adopters and innovators, with companies such as Skype, Spotify, Supercell, King and Rovio all coming from Nordic countries.
Spain routinely makes the headlines for its shockingly high youth unemployment rate and shaky economy brought on by the Euro Crisis - which will of course make this last choice very contentious. But I would argue that Spain is still a key EU economy to conquer for one key reason - it is a great test-bed for a later expansion into Latin America. With the native Spanish-speaking population of LATAM exceeding 360 million people, and including key emerging markets such as Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile, launching in Spain provides a great place to test how your product or business is received in the Hispanic market - without requiring the substantial amount of investment in time and resources required for dealing with the myriad of currency and regulatory issues that normally accompany an expansion into LATAM.