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Greece’s Startups on the Rise
Tech entrepreneurs in Greece’s burgeoning startup scene push back against a bleak narrative.
May 19, 2015
MIT Enterprise Forum
On a rainy Friday afternoon in March, 25 startup teams pitched live to a high-profile panel of judges, mentors, entrepreneurs, and investors. The event filled the
building with conversation and excitement as the early-stage entrepreneurs presented
their new technologies, connecting with other members of Greece’s growing technology
It is hard to imagine this sort of event happened in the very same Greece
covered by international news outlets. But these teams, semifinalists in the MIT
Enterprise Forum Greece’s first-ever startup competition, are eager to provide a more positive picture of Greece’s future.
Six years of recession, the deepest in memory, have resulted in fear, insecurity, and anxiety. According to
Endeavor Greece, an affiliate of the global entrepreneurship organization, entire
sectors of business have vanished, taking with them one million jobs. Thousands of
Greeks, most of them younger than 35 years old and typically highly educated and
skilled, have left the country for lack of work.
The silver lining: “The crisis forced young Greeks to change their mentality and
look for a new model,” says Mareva Grabowski, a former investment banker and founder
of Endeavor Greece, which launched in late
2012. The new mentality is geared toward creating an export-oriented, globally
focused economy driven by technology.
Global trends have made technology entrepreneurship an appealing choice for these
young Greeks. The latest survey by Endeavour Greece has revealed that the number of
new startup companies in the country increased tenfold between 2010 and 2013, while
the capital invested in them shot from €500,000 to €42m. The growing tech industry
has also excited the Greek government, which in 2013 invited Google’s executive
chairman, Eric Schmidt, to discuss how Greece might harness the potential of its
fledgling tech economy. Schmidt expressed his hope that Athens might become a
“high-tech mecca.” This past March, 22 Greek tech startups participated in the 2015
SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin,
Texas, sponsored by the Hellenic
Initiative—the first time so many Greek-founded companies have appeared abroad
Entrepreneurship has finally been recognized as a driver of innovation,
productivity, competitiveness, economic growth, and value. Greek-American
entrepreneur and angel investor Marina Hatsopoulos says,
“An emerging group of young Greeks who understand that innovation is the path to
recovery are setting the country on a new course toward technology
Many others feel the same way. Last fall, of the 150 countries
participating in the Kauffman Foundation’s Global
Entrepreneurship Week, the organizing body chose to kick off the week in Athens,
Greece. Jonathan Ortmans, president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, wrote afterwards that “the ethos of Greek youth is not that of the
mindset of the country that has suffered badly throughout the global financial
crisis but rather the country that can innovate its way out of its economic woes and
onto the global stage.”
Greece on the Up and Up
Enthusiasm is one thing, but there is strong evidence that Greece’s
entrepreneurial ecosystem has actually grown more robust in the past couple of
years. According to Endeavour’s report on entrepreneurship and investment opportunities, 10% of new
ventures are focusing on high-growth areas (such as tourism, energy, and
information and communications technology), up from 7% a few years ago. To establish
sustainable growth, it has become clear Greece needs to focus on specific sectors
where it possesses some structural advantage, such as tourism, agriculture, and
According to the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI), Greece was one
of the ten countries that made the greatest gains in the Global Entrepreneurship
Index score from 2014 to 2015. The GEI score is a measure GEDI employs to determine
the health and activity of a country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
There are also signs the international media might be singing a more
positive tune. Journalists from the Financial Times, the Telegraph, and the New York Times have
written optimistically about entrepreneurship in Greece—citing an increased interest
among top Greek graduates, the growing tech scene in the country, and the increase
in venture capital firms.
MIT Enterprise Forum and the Acceleration of New Startups
The most recent addition to this startup activity is MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Greece, which
recently announced the 25 semifinalists for its
startup competition. “We are very proud of our teams; they are all so different and
talented. Greece’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is still very young, and MITEF is here
to help entrepreneurs grow their ideas to real viable businesses,” says MITEF Greece
executive director Katerina Saridaki.
Selected semifinalists in the competition were connected with mentors and have
participated in workshops on topics as diverse as making the perfect pitch, legal
issues, and marketing. Unsurprisingly, the 25 semifinalists take advantage of the
“high-growth” sectors identified by Endeavor—including traditional Greek industries,
niche sectors that make sense in Greece (such as energy), and opportunities driven
by global trends.
Innovating Traditional Greek Industries
sectors, like agriculture and tourism, are ripe for innovation,” wrote Reuters’s Helen Coster. Judging from MITEF
Greece’s selected semifinalists, Coster’s prediction is spot on. Two-fifths of the
selected startups are innovating within traditionally Greek industries such as freight and
tourism. Truckbird and JoinCargo for instance, are online
marketplaces that help customers find shipping carriers at the most competitive
price, while Trustporter matches requests to transport goods or people with
people who are already traveling the requested routes.
Offerial and Tourismart both augment the hotel
experience for tourists and hoteliers—the former by helping hotels increase bookings
on their websites and the latter by providing a mobile interface for tourists to
order hotel services such as room service, and a tablet interface for hoteliers to
manage these service requests. “Our company targets the global market and the MITEF
competition is a unique opportunity to get in touch with MITEF’s community all over
the world, expanding our development prospects,” says Magy Kontou, cofounder of
In the events industry, Eventora
Connect helps companies and brands engage with consumers and attendees at trade
shows and events. Sakis Triantafyllakis, CEO and cofounder of Panelsensor, a question and answer
channel for event planners and attendees, said of his mentee experience during the most
recent round of the MITEF competition: “Our expectations were high and we were
proven right, as our mentors’ feedback and guidance helped our team improve our
product and avoid potential mistakes.”
Emerging Activity in Niche Hard-Science Sectors
Beyond traditional Greek industries, there are also opportunities in niche
sectors that involve the hard sciences, such as biotechnology and health care,
energy, and green tech.
Energy and green tech startups include WTI Greece, a clean water system, and Lighthouse Solar Systems, a solar
panel company. Although these startups are in niche sectors, the market for their
technologies is global. Similarly, they are looking not just for investment abroad,
but also commercialization. “Our vision is to commercialize our innovative energy
solution worldwide,” says Christos Drogitis, founder of Lighthouse Solar Systems.
George Michalelis, COO of WTI Greece, shared that “for the first time we had the
chance to talk with an investor based in California, who had many years of
experience investing in technology companies.”
These startups are already receiving global promise and attention. “We have
recently been invited to join Qualcomm’s
robotics accelerator, and we hope that this is just the beginning. Essentially
the MITEF Greece Startup Competition prepared us for the application and interview
for Qualcomm,” says Alexandros Nikolakakis, founder and CEO of Sky Robotics.
Another global sector, information communications technology, includes startups
Hermes-V and Amicapp , both of which use technology
to boost safety for drivers. The first provides real-time alerts about the status of
your car’s parts, as well as tracking of driver behavior, while the second enables
people to record and report a car accident through their smartphone.
Many of the problems these globally focused startups are trying to tackle
are in areas that do not yet have a global industry leader. For instance, Help and Win and Gridmates are both
startups aimed at social responsibility—the latter enables users to donate their
energy to power the homes of people in need. LearnWorlds and e-Learning
Industries Ltd. - MyeTutor.org are both looking to revolutionize online
learning, and they think the global market is big enough for a Greek startup to
make a difference: “By 2020, the private tutoring market will be over $200 billion a
year. We offer a solution that sets us apart from competition and can generate
substantial investor returns while reinventing education,” concludes Athanasios
Ladopoulos, founder and CEO of MyeTutor.org.
These startups are excited about taking their products beyond the borders of
Greece. “Most of our clients are already in the U.S., and we plan on concentrating
our growth efforts in the next few months,” says Dr. Panos Siozos, cofounder and CEO
of Learnworlds. Some have already started collaborating with big players in the
industry: “We have signed worldwide partnerships with Intel and Microsoft,” says
Stamatis Argyros, key account manager for LiateR, a product that
uses advanced gesture control and augmented reality technologies to allow customers
to digitally try on and buy clothing in a variety of contexts and locations.
Vassilis Papakonstantinou, chairman of MITEF Greece, recognizes that the journey
is not going to be an easy one: “The community is still very young, but there is
potential here in Greece that is worth paying attention to—both by tech companies
and by investors. MITEF Greece has two main objectives: we want to bring lessons of
successful tech entrepreneurship to Greece, and we want to showcase successful Greek
startups. We want to be there for Greek entrepreneurs—from start to finish.”
For a full description of the MITEF Greece Startup Competition’s 25
semifinalists, visit the MIT Enterprise Forum Greece website.
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