While classified as a high-income country by the OECD, youth unemployment rates in Greece persist at around 60 percent. Despite gains in economic freedom, major fiscal weaknesses remain. With more people finding it acceptable to start a business, Greek entrepreneurs are taking their economic transformation into their own hands with networks well beyond their borders.
Over the past several years, Greece’s competitiveness has fallen in tandem with its monetary stability and the unemployment crisis still looms large in the minds of most Greeks. The question remains as to whether going forward this will be seen as a challenge or an opportunity. After reading a short piece in Forbes and talking recently to the team at Industry Disruptors-Game Changers (ID-GC), I see the glass as being half full.
Against the backdrop of structural economic dysfunction, Greece’s new generations hold the key to changing, sustaining and expanding to the wider Mediterranean region their economic and social outlook. As long as the new generation has time on their hands to commit, Greece has the assets it needs to succeed. ID-GC for example is capitalizing on this and leveraging the time people have to think about smart ways to disrupt markets in Greece, South Eastern Europe and the East Med region using seasoned regional advisors as well as advisors from Malaysia and the United States.
The Federation of Hellenic Associations of Young Entrepreneurs has also taken the voice for Greek entrepreneurship internationally, mustering support for programs such as the Academy of Entrepreneurship (AKEP), the StartUp Europe Roadshow and Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). GEW is reinventing itself in Greece with its advisors set to launch GEN Greece later this year with a new Board and a new set of tools.
Greeks can also leverage dynamic hubs such as Orange Grove which has now become a top dynamic workspace for young entrepreneurs looking to develop their businesses in Athens, with links to Dutch and Greek companies and universities. Co-working spaces are also gaining traction. CoLab, for example, became in October 2010 the country’s first co-working space, and now features tech-oriented events almost every day, such as the Athens Lean Startup meet-ups. The Cube, the second co-working space to be established in Athens, is the most active one today and hosts Startup Weekends. In Thessaloniki, the THERMI LINK co-working space and incubator is tapping into the nations’ tradition of navigating opportunities and building trust through close networks.
Greece has been viewed as having a somewhat weak academic innovation force to jump start innovation and the labor market (despite promising exceptions like the University of Western Macedonia’s Management of Technology Research Lab, “Materlab”). Despite a mismatch between talent and market needs, innovation is emerging in every aspect of Greek life. For example, Georgios Karamanolis’ startup “CrowdPolicy” offers help leveraging crowdsourcing as a strategy for the development and implementation of procedures for organizations and governmental institutions. Truckbird, an online startup to connect clients and shipping carriers in a way that streamlines the freight process, competed as a finalist last November in the highly-selective GEW Get in the Ring: The Investment Battle. In the medical arena, tech-savvy industry professionals are opening up new conversations around the possibilities for eHealth in Greece.
In fact, it seems there are a great many aspiring entrepreneurs who are making recovery their own business. As the New York Times reported last month, “many Greeks have stopped waiting for those in power to put the country back on its feet.” The number of entrepreneurial startups has increased significantly over the 2010-2013 period, rising from 16 startups founded in 2010 to 144 startups (a ten fold increase) in 2013. Even more importantly, Endeavor Greece estimates that 25% of these new companies have high-growth potential that can lead to job creation and added value for the economy (see Endeavor’s infographic, here).
Of the 144 startups launched in 2013, only 16 of them had access to formal seed financing. StartingUP has come along to reinvent the assessment of innovative startups for seed financing, and to ultimately democratize entrepreneurship using crowdsourcing techniques that tap into networks in Greece and Europe at large.
Vital to supporting this grassroots movement will be whether policymakers hurt or hinder the emergence of a healthy startup ecosystem in Greece. While the process for launching a company is fairly streamlined in Greece, licensing and labor requirements remain burdensome despite the recent reform efforts reported by the World Economic Forum. High non-salary costs to employ a worker and rigid restrictions on work hours, in the view of some, still stagnate the labor market. “Startup Nation”-type initiatives elsewhere now have policymakers as key allies, or even as key drivers or founders. So far, the Greek Government appears to be open to “intervening” in new ways. For example, the recent Redesign Ministry’s support for a bottom-up initiative RedesignGreece has the Ministry supporting the movement through a set of prizes for Greek civil servants with innovative ideas that can improve the administration. Also of note is the Startup Greece information and networking space online, supported by the Ministry for Development and the Greek Government in collaboration with communities of young entrepreneurs. Other positive steps are on the horizon. For example, new legislation is reportedly coming into force later this year to allow a business to be officially set up in a single day.
Despite the odds against their scale up, the surge in new firms or “green shoots” as Forbes called them, promises a more prosperous future – especially for the young, jaded by political propaganda about a “happier past” and impatient to create their own futures.