Greek start-up cul­ture bat­tles the coun­try’s brain drain

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - IMPACTJOURNALISM DAY -

Greece has now been in cri­sis 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.”

New ven­tures

Tech­nol­ogy hub Found.ation, co-founded by Dim­itris Kalavros-Gousiou, takes “a very prag­matic ap­proach” in build­ing new ven­tures. The team com­prises 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”.

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 the eu­pho­ria that comes af­ter a suc­cess­ful in­vest­ment in a lo­cal tech com­pany is of­ten fol­lowed by a “real slump”.

One such slump was the in­tro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal con­trols in the sum­mer of 2015, af­ter the fail­ure of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Tsipras govern­ment and the coun­try’s of­fi­cial cred­i­tors. 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.”

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

Close ties

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