June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Tue Jan 8 20:59:24 PST 2013

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Witnessing The Rebirth Of The Greek Startup Ecosystem
MIKE BUTCHERposted 16 hours ago19 Comments

Thousands of years ago Greeks plied the waters of the Mediterranean as
traders and merchants. They were, perhaps, amongst the first ever
entrepreneurs. But somewhere along the line between then and now that
history faded.

Admittedly, inklings of that spirit remained in the world famous Greek
shipping industry – but a reliance on government jobs and European
Union subsidies did its best to quell the age-old spirit of

Four years ago, TechCrunch held its first ever meetup in Greece,
appropriately enough by an Athens beach. Four years ago the startup
scene there had only a tiny community of technologists to draw upon.
But last Friday it packed a hall of just over 500 people and proved
that at last the Greek entrepreneurial mindset was well and back home
where it belongs. The event was standing room only.

Packed in the Benaki Museum (350 seated and about another 150 standing
in the aisles) the event broke every record turnout for other Greek
tech events. The audience heard from startup founders, community
organisers and investors about how their community was beginning to
emerge and take its place on the international stage (the video
recording of the event is here). To think that 5 years ago Open Coffee
Athens started with just 10 people. The event has created a plenty of
media coverage in Greece since.

Organised by Silicon Valley’s Niko Bonatsos, co-founder of SV Greeks &
Greekamericans and VC at General Catalyst Partners, and Alexia Tsotsis
co-Editor of Techcrunch (and with some panel chairing by Mike Butcher,
TechCrunch’s European Editor) the event was able to showcase how the
Greek startup community is gradually breaking out of “The Crisis” and
showing that even more growth can come, even in the midst of

In many ways Greece faces the quintessential problems of many European
countries: plenty of talent, but a dearth of sources of funding for
startups; limited markets at home and the difficulty of reaching out
to large international markets like the US. Time and again panelists
pointed out some of the obstacles that need to be overcome, such as a
mismatch in university computer science courses with modern tech
startups, and a moribund academic world. That said, it also acted as a
showcase for success stories emerging from Greece that hope to show
that there is plenty of talent just waiting to be unleashed.

Panels covered Greek Founders, Ecosystem and Investors and the event
itself was sponsored by OpenCoffee, Microsoft Greece and Amazon.

The first panel of Founders was moderated by Alexia Tsotsis, and
featured Panos Papadopoulos (BugSense), Alexis Pantazis & Emilios
Markou (Hellas Direct), Nikos Drandakis (Taxibeat) and Ioannis Doxaras
(Warp.ly). They talked generally about the Greek market and the
obstacles and opportunities for success.

While some bemoaned the fact that at times the Athens startup scene
seemed to have more events than actual tech companies, Panayiotis
Papadopoulos of BugSense hit a reality check note, saying there was
not no secret about the recipe for success. Simply that is was “Work,
travel and network! There is no panacea!”

The second panel was chaired by Mike Butcher and took in those who are
building the community of developers and engineers on the ground. This
included Stavros Messinis (CoLab), Yorgos Koutsoyannopoulos (the Union
of Greek Industries Semiconductor (HSIA) and semiconductor maker
Helic), Dio Synodinos (Greece JS & InfoQ), Fotis Draganidis,
(Microsoft Innovation Center) and Bill Vatikiotis (Ruby Euruko). It
also added Christina Plakopita from Netrobe, a woman entrepreneur who
bases her startup between Athens and the international hub of London.

The panel covered how Greek universities are not addressing the needs
of startups right now with the kind of engineering skills startups
need. It was concluded that initiatives like CoLab are planning to get
into the kind of skills-based offered by General Assembly might offer.
Another topic touched on was the low percentage of women who create or
work in startups – but then again this is an issue the world over, as
we all know.

Another issue raised was physically being near other startups. The
CoLab initiative is one of 5 coworking spaces in Athens, but not many
are near each other. The point was made that things happen faster when
startups cluster in one area, as they did in Silicon Valley or the
SOMA area of San Francisco.

A brief fireside chat between Niko Bonatsos and CEO of Upstream, Mark
Veremi, went into how he started the highly successful Upstream. He
outlined how in the past most Greek engineers simply wanted to work in
big tech companies, but that they were now coming around to the idea
of working in startups.

The third and final Greek Investors’ Panel panel was chaired by Niko
Bonatsos and featured George Kasselakis (Openfund), Vassilis
Theoharakis (PJ Tech Catalyst), Spyros Trachanis (Odyssey) and
Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou (HackFwd). This covered how Greek investors
are hoping to attract foreign investors to co-invest with Greek
startups and even the prospect that there was now more money chasing
only a limited number of startups in Greece, indicating the that lack
of funding was gradually being solved. For instance the OpenFund
announced – straight from the stage – its second fund and a €100,000
investment in Incrediblue and €600,000 in Workable HR.

Some wondered, as founder Taxibeat founder Drandakis did out loud, if
the Greek and foreign media had lately made entrepreneurship look too
easy and ‘glamourous’. Then again others said they’d rather see that
than the old days of discouraging people from starting up. Indeed,
Koutsogiannopoulos marveled at the growth of the scene and the
plethora of new faces.

Marcos observed that what the scene need was a more exits and success
stories: “We need our own PayPal.” Papadopoulos wanted to see more
Greek startups focusing on international markets such as Asia, India
and China.

Doxaras echoed this, saying, that the Greek ecosystem had powered
ahead in the last wo years and proved it would work together. Pantazis
noted that while the scene was still at an early stage, “Due to the
financial crisis, people find it acceptable to start a startup”.

Of course, “The Crisis” reared its head many times during the evening,
but most agreed that it presented an opportunity for startups
addressing the concerns of real consumers, such as working out how to
get better and cheaper goods and services – a real opportunity.

Niko Drandaki of Taxibeat noted that with “no money from the state or
family” startups had to work out how to be innovative. Doxaras added
that plenty of talent was coming out of large corporations and
government into new companies. Taxibeat, for instance, had solved a
problem that wouldn’t have occurred in more developed markets, turning
the taxi app into a marketplace where you could actually pick your
driver based on previous ratings.

Was this event truly the “rebirth of the Greek tech startup
ecosystem,” as one panelist put it? It’s hard to say. We’ll have to
find out in a few months and years time.

But at least one person pointed out that the Greeks had fought their
way out of a tight corner before: “Look at the 300 Spartans!”

June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com

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