The startup culture battling the Greek brain drain

How Greece’s start-up sector provided a strong ray of hope over the last five years

Just being  practical: The technology hub Found.ation says it takes a pragmatic approach to building new ventures

Just being practical: The technology hub Found.ation says it takes a pragmatic approach to building new ventures

 

Impact Journalism Day (June 24th, 2017) focuses on solutions-based journalism. Fifty leading media organisations, including The Irish Times, are sharing stories of innovative solutions to social issues around the world, in an initiative developed by Sparknews. Read our articles here: irishtimes.com/news/impact-journalism-day and follow the conversation on Twitter through #ImpactJournalism and #StoryOfChange.

Greece has been in crisis now for a decade. Since sliding into recession in 2008, it has seen its annual output collapse by about a quarter. Its unemployment rate has been above 20 per cent for more than five years. Close to a half a million Greeks, mostly those with the best education and career prospects, have left the country to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

There have been few rays of hope to cling to in this dark period. One of them has been the steady emergence of the Greek start-up ecosystem. In the years since four EU-backed venture capital funds started operating in early 2013, there have been notable successes, including multimillion dollar investment rounds and buyouts by major global companies.

One active player in the Greek start-up scene has been Stavros Messinis, founder of CoLab, a co-working space in Athens, in 2009 and, in 2013, another space known as the Cube.

“We’re currently hosting around 20 companies. They are mainly software tech companies but we have one or two hardware companies, a software agency and even a company that makes trendy handbags,” Messinis says.

“We offer them facilities to work from, mentoring and other services such as legal and accounting. The fact that they’re together in a shared office means they help each other out.”

Pragmatic approach

Technology hub Found.ation, co-founded by Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou, takes “a very pragmatic approach” in building new ventures. The team is comprised of business developers, operators, senior technologists, marketing and fundraising experts, he says.

Kalavros-Gousiou (29) has been involved in the Greek start-up scene for much of the last decade. “Our main priority is to choose people over ideas, and teams over individuals,” he says. “We sit down with teams, and we try to examine their culture, thesis and ethics.” Over the past five years the Greek start-up sector “has matured dramatically”.

Messinis says the euphoria that comes after a successful investment in a local tech company is often followed by a “real slump”. In such times, Messinis explains, a “major challenge is the significant brain drain. Most developers worth their salt will emigrate during a funding slump when entrepreneurs aren’t being funded and hence can’t hire them. While the universities produce very good talent, there’s a limited supply of techies with project experience.”

Educational charity

One organisation that has focused on reversing the brain drain is Reload Greece, founded as an educational charity in London in 2012.

“Developing close ties with the ecosystem in Greece is key towards fulfilling our mission of bridging Greece with the rest of the world,” says Effie Kyrtata, the organisation’s chief executive.

Implementing these lessons back home can pose unpredictable challenges, such as those faced in Exarcheia – a hotbed of anarchist activism and criminality – by the denizens of the Cube.

“We chose to do something in a rather run-down part of the city because rent was low and we felt we could do something to uplift things,” Messinis says. “For now, we’ve succeeded. We had a significant problem with drug dealing in the area but since about six months ago, we’ve had a significant improvement by collaborating with the authorities while also holding them publicly accountable. Given the right encouragement, they act positively.”

Beyond that, what can the government do to help the 350-450 companies that make up the start-up sector? “We need to create incentives on tax, employability, ease to set up/operate and close a company,” says Kalavros-Gousiou. “And we need to do more to foster an entrepreneurial culture, that will mobilise private Greek money and even international start-ups and investors to start looking to Greece for opportunities.”

https://thecube.gr. Yannis Palaiologos’s article was written for the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.