Human embryonic stem cells have the ability to generate all cell types in the body and can potentially provide an unlimited source of cells for cell replacement therapy to treat degenerative diseases such as diabetes. Current differentiation protocols of human embryonic stem cells towards insulin producing beta cells focus on soluble molecules whereas the impact of cell-matrix interactions has been mainly unattended. In this study almost 500 different extracellular matrix protein combinations were screened to systemically identify extracellular matrix proteins that influence differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to the definitive endoderm lineage. The percentage of definitive endoderm cells after differentiation on collagen I and fibronectin was >85% and 65%, respectively. The cells on collagen I substrates displayed different morphology and gene expression during differentiation as assessed by time lapse studies compared to cells on the other tested substrates. Global gene expression analysis showed that cells differentiated on collagen I were largely similar to cells on fibronectin after completed differentiation. Collectively, the data suggest that collagen I induces a more rapid and consistent differentiation of stem cells to definitive endoderm. The results shed light on the importance of extracellular matrix proteins for differentiation and also points to a cost effective and easy method to improve differentiation.