Entrepreneurship: Be The Change
Should I stay or should I go? Will I find a job? Is there a future for me in Greece? There is a crisis, but what can I do? These, and many similar questions, jolt young people every day in Greece. But for many young people, their answer is found in one w
Αναρτήθηκε από: Δημήτρης Μεθενίτης
Business Partners is pleased to present six young entrepreneurs who share their stories on how and why they decided to take their fate into their own hands and build a future that offers yes, challenges, frustrations, and difficulties, but one that is self determined and, more than anything else, offers the greatest reward of all: satisfaction!
Greece as the New Start-Up Hub?
YIANNIS ZAFIROPOULOS, FOUNDER OF WWW.AZSHOP.GR
Until approximately 2.5 years ago I was very actively searching for a job in Greece. Every day, for more than 12 months, I was reviewing job posts and sending my resume to apply for positions that best suited my professional and academic profile. I had just finished my MBA at Greece’s top business school (ALBA) and I was full of energy, full of modern business knowledge and full of innovative ideas. More than 200 Greek companies received my resume; however only three invited me for an interview (two of them by mistake!) and none of them offered me a job.
At first, I thought “why me?”, but after a lot of thinking and talking to people who knew me well, I decided to reverse my fundamental existential question to “why NOT me?” After all, I was not the only person in this country who felt underestimated. Around this time I also read an interesting article. It was about young Greeks who become entrepreneurs not because they choose to, but because no one is willing to hire them.
So, I decided to invest all the money I had (just €500) in a new kid’s fashion e-shop (AZshop.gr), which is now a successful, fast growing business. During these 2.5 years I’ve been happy to see that many other young Greeks have taken the entrepreneurship path and are thriving in an environment that discourages new investments.
So, why is this happening now? In my opinion, there are four factors that contribute to what is known as the “start-up revolution” in Greece:
- The crisis creates opportunities. This expression has become a cliché, but it’s one of the most successful and inspiring clichés of all times! As consumers’ disposable income is reduced, new ways have to be found to satisfy existing needs. Start-ups like cookisto.com approach an important need (I need to buy food) from a new perspective (I buy food from a neighbor, online, at a significantly lower price).
- Technology and tech knowledge is accessible to anyone. Nowadays, products like computers, smartphones, cable and 3G internet connections are affordable for most Greeks. And services like taxibeat.com solve specific problems (I cannot find a taxi) in the most effective and efficient way (I call a taxi with just a tap on my smartphone’s screen).
- Low investment = low risk = potential for high return! I have started my business with just €500 and I thought that was a very small investment, until I realized I could have done it with even less money! Because of the existence of and accessibility to technology, the risk factor of starting a new business is lower than ever. Entrepreneurs now even have the luxury of testing various ideas before proceeding with the one that has the most potential.
- Greece is a vast pool of talent. Just like me 2,5 years ago, millions of young and educated people are unemployed in our country. Many of them are shifting their mentality from risk averse to risk loving and new, magnificent ideas are becoming businesses!
The traditional view of entrepreneurship is changing in Greece and a seed of hope has been planted. The soil (state, infrastructure) might be dry, but as more water (talent) is coming, the start-up plant will grow. And, yes, Greece has the potential to become the new start-up hub in Europe!
Unemployment Creates Entrepreneurship
PANOS VERGOS, STARTUP ENTREPRENEUR, FOUNDER & CEO, WWW.STUDENTHOUSE.GR
Living in Greece in our thirties, admittedly the most productive period of our life, is a tough task itself. We have to survive, not only in a declining—almost dead—business environment, but also to resist all negative signals of the market, let alone the bad psychology, the lack of capital and the total absence of future propsects.
However, the end of the story is not written yet. Having your back against the wall always gives you two options. You either fall or you move on. And the latter is the case in Greece of 2012. We have nothing to lose. We are probably among the best educated in the world. We are young, we have faith and we have the vision to create a better future than the one we have inherited.
What if the rate of unemployment is at historical high levels? Unemployment creates entrepreneurship. This is the good impact of the Greek crisis. Greeks have started to mobilize the rotten gears inside them. You can feel this creativity that was hidden for several decades, blooming in all business sectors. We young Greeks have put the words “entrepreneurship,” “value creation,” “meritocracy,” “innovation,” and “business opportunity” in our daily parlance. Technology offers the fertile ground to create value in any field that one can imagine. Reboot is the keyword.
So this is not a lost game. New businesses, based on innovative ideas, start up every day. Teams of talented and ambitious individuals are formed. Ideas are put on the table and seed capital becomes the paramount objective. Initiatives for networking, incubators, co-working hubs and technology parks interconnect the new business ecosystem of modern “bankrupt” Greece. Information is power and people are ready, more than ever, to exploit it. The affliction of finding a permanent job in the public sector is now regarded as toxic. Young Greeks become public sector averse and invest time and effort on personal development and private initiative.
Such is our venture, www.studenthouse.gr, that was born in the middle of the crisis. It came to serve a very fragile part of our society, university students who are looking for a cheap house to rent. The collapse of the real estate market gave us the chance to create a whole new business around low-cost rentals, by matchmaking individual house owners with potential tenants (not only students), without any brokerage commission. The global tendency for free services has been the vehicle for our success. The large majority of our customers has embraced and established our service among the important players in the Greek e-market of real estate, in only 20 months.
Impossible is nothing. Opportunities are endless and the question whether to stay and create value or abandon the Greek ship is a pseudo-dilemma. We are experiencing a long period of redistribution of wealth. Those who are participating in this “pole position” race will eventually manage to put Greece back on track. This is the time for all of us.
The Challenge of Getting Back to Our Roots
KONSTANTINA ZOEHRER, COFOUNDER LOFT2WORK SOCIAL ENTERPRISE, REPOWER GREECE AMBASSADOR
“Some people want it to happen
Some wish it would happen
Others make it happen.”
This quote is written on the wooden picture frame in my office. It is a present from one of our co-founders, more experienced than me, making me realize that there are people who seem to do larger and more glamorous things, much faster than I do. However, what matters is groundwork in order to stand on solid foundations.
This is one point that Greece seemed to have forgotten through the years, but the recent socioeconomic circumstances are a strong reminder of what Greece stands for: not only democracy, but social and cultural human capital. Philoxenia (hospitality), synagonismos (competition), meraki (love for what we do), and critical thinking describe the core of our society, community, family, the place where ideas and actions flourish. Thinking big while taking small steps towards great actions.
Leaving the country might be the easy way out, but surely it does not change the current situation in the slightest. Waiting for the country to change without becoming actively involved might not be effective, and moving small steps toward its change seems like a challenge. But what does change require? Let’s face it, it is about time to work with what we have and build on it, apply new techniques and richer know-how. Rather than aiming to be the Silicon Valley or Apple of the Mediterranean, why not aim for Greece to be the Mediterranean star of Europe?
The entrepreneurial ecosystem, or what we consider as such, is not only facing the recent socioeconomic circumstances, but is also going through some childhood, sometimes childish, diseases, sometimes getting lost or becoming foolish, sometimes pushing forward like a stubborn teenager and then being afraid to take a step like a child, scared of possible responsibilities.
Greece is not only facing a financial crisis but also social instability, which some years ago was not part of the business world, or at least did not appear to belong there.
Micro-environments of stability that provide solutions to social issues and overcome social, cultural, financial, technological barriers are needed more than ever before. The business community needs to be more like a family, more interconnected, in order to stand united against the cold wind and share the warm sun, at the same time becoming more productive, or even creative, if you prefer the term. It is time for us to remember and return to our roots, our values.
Young entrepreneurs, less experienced professionally, often think that an idea makes a business opportunity. The truth is that its implementation and who is executing it makes the business a reality. Most ideas have existed long before you thought of it and have even been implemented before, but within a different framework, at a different point in time. The entrepreneurial path has not changed that much through time. It still takes courage, it still requires the ability to learn and recognize, it still needs people and it’s still not just about making money—but about creating value, equally for shareholders and society, preferably through the materialization of dreams.
Crisis and Entrepreneurship
VASILEIOS DIMTSAS, BY NATURE
Nowadays we are experiencing the 5th continuous year of GDP reduction in Greece. The crisis is well established. Everyone is talking about it, many people are suffering from it. A lot of people are looking for a way out of it. Apart from the word crisis, another word that is the “talk of the town” is entrepreneurship. How can these two combine or, conflict?
The old model of the economy is changing. We our facing many changes in economic wealth, consumer habits, trends and ideas. Some, in fact, are not that new; they are old but we tend to forget them. Recycling, environmentally friendly products, less consuming and spending, are creating this new, fluid economic environment.
Taking all these changes into consideration, it is hard for an entrepreneur to implement his or her business plan. In these difficult times one has to be innovative. Innovation does not necessarily mean creating something new from the scratch. It may also mean implementing an existing idea, product or service and improving it, adding extra value.
When I started my business idea, By Nature, in 2008 the economic environment was totally different. I saw the idea, met the challenge, and implemented it. A lot of people may have nice ideas, but implementation is a major obstacle for most of them. In those cases you just have to “seize the day” and move on. There are many obstacles, the most important thing is to have the will to cope with them.
The economic crisis affected the cosmetics business, like many other businesses in Greece and Europe. People often say that a major way out of the crisis is to turn your interest to other markets, especially those affected less from the crisis. So I decided to expand By Nature mainly to Arabic and Mediterranean countries, via Single and Master Franchise agreements. In order to do that properly I joined forces with a person that is exclusively responsible for this expansion, Christos Loukas, Franchise and Export Manager of By Nature.
Following trends, we also upgraded and translated our company web page, which is now available in English and other languages. Since smartphones and applications are the future, we also developed the By Nature app for iPhone. You can find us at http://www.bynature.gr
Every person is familiar with the crisis. Almost everyone is talking about how to get out of the crisis and many interesting ideas arise. I always thought that in these cases we have to lessen talking and to implement more, search for opportunities and act. This is what I’m trying to do, it is my own response to what we are facing.
The Crisis Paves the Way for Responsible Entrepreneurship
ALEXANDRA CHOLI, METAVALLON FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The current socioeconomic crisis, which Greece is facing, is not simply a sign that something is not working, that something needs to change, but that change is imminent.
The mere observation that we live in turbulent times, a turning point in history, is insufficient. The truth is that we are the ones shaping our future—our ideas, choices and undertakings are shaping today the world in which we shall all live tomorrow. It is indeed a huge responsibility, largely brought on by the previous generations, their acts and omissions. We, however, could either bend under the weight of our responsibility or choose to look at it another way: that, though unwittingly, those who came before us offered us a unique opportunity—to create the world we want to live in.
In this rapidly transforming global landscape, where the public sector appears dysfunctional and its action toward change weak and slow, private initiative becomes even more critical—it is our core tool and the only true way toward the results we wish to see in our lives and in society.
What is more, business and entrepreneurship are also changing. The “old” economy, aimed solely at maximizing profit regardless of the means, is crumbling to give way to a more integrated and mature structure, which places people and society at the heart of business and where profit is necessary for sustainability as well as a clear indication of business success, but not an end in itself.
We are moving, therefore, and aiming at substantive results: responsible entrepreneurship. Irrespective of the legal entity—nonprofit, social enterprise, company or corporation – business and entrepreneurship are now extending their impact and contribution beyond economic value: to employees, customers, local communities and the environment. By focusing on all these areas, and balancing them equally, both the organization and the ecosystem in which it operates benefit and flourish.
What are some simple steps to create a business of both economic and social value?
- Invest in employees and partners.
- Cultivate relationships with customers (responsiveness, continuous improvement in service).
- Pay attention to resources and processes (savings, legality, transparency).
- Support your community.
- Explore environmentally friendly options.
In short, are you profitable? Are you creating something great? Do you care for your people? Are you giving substantial attention to your customers? Are you contributing to your extended community? Then you should take pride in belonging to the new generation of responsible entrepreneurs.
It is true that, for a time, we might have strayed from what really matters. But the new generation, armed with the ideas, the skills, and the will, now has the power to pursue its ventures with vision and determination.
Metavallon is young organization aiming to establish a supportive structure for early stage entrepreneurship. The first and only of its kind in Greece, Metavallon is working with leading companies worldwide, and is officially one of the proud grantees of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation since April 2012.
The Startup Series, Metavallon’s proprietary catalytic program for aspiring entrepreneurs, fully covers their needs in their path from idea to business launch, securing funds, and first venturing footsteps. It comprises three stages (Gymnasium: startup idea development; Academy: acceleration; Institute: incubation), after the completion of which its select participants will have gained valuable entrepreneurial skills and will have transformed their ideas into dynamic new ventures. The program relies on practical learning, visits to international startup centers like New York and Silicon Valley, and the guidance of an international network of mentors and experts.
For more information: www.metavallon.org
Incubator in Greece? You’ve Got to be Kidding, Right?
TOLIS AIVALIS, BUSINESS STRATEGY MENTOR
Entrepreneurship in Greece was always a joke.
Start-ups were always struggling to climb up the hill, chasing ideas and dreams. The truth is that this is not a recession issue. It is a mentality issue.
I have been helping startups for the last ten years. For the last five, I have been a mentor, helping them launch, grow, scale, and raise funds. I moved back and forth between Greece and Silicon Valley and at some point I decided to relocate there so I can really breath. “Breathing” for me means a nice business ecosystem. And when it comes to startups this is vital. Right? “Nice” is the value proposition word here.
Such a spark will not come from government. Causes trying to ignite government support and involvement are wrong. It is not just that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; it is that your dog is dying while biting the hand that feeds him. People alone will bring change and work against corruption and negativity.
To cut to the chase, my latest pet project is an incubator – another romantic initiative. While I am raising funds for my latest business in California I decided to launch this in Greece. Why? Because it is all about an incubator when it comes to startups in a hostile business environment. It is not about the money, it is not about government. It is about the place you start, the people you interact with, the inspiration and the know-how you get and, most important, the threats you avoid!
I worked in many incubators in the Valley and I know what makes such a “wishful thinking project” a real business and what makes such a business viable. It has to be big (up to 5.000 sm, so it makes enough money to support its operational expenses from tenants) while offering great value to the tenants and visitors (know how, acceleration, access to talents, networking) and it has to attract funds (up to $5 million for the first five years to support the first crème de la crème startups and to make some money). Incubators make money from funding and not from leases!
My incubator dream is not similar to the ones you probably know in Athens like Colab, 123P or Loft to Work. Those guys are doing a great job, but I am aiming for another component, size, which will attract growth and added value beyond a rental space.
The problem I am trying to solve is: startups in need of a place to work while interacting with a) knowledge b) acceleration and training c) networking, d) events f) talent scouting with access to universities and finally g) funding! Try to project that nice picture in a nice climate offering fun! Yeah that’s right: fun. Startups move to Chile instead of being in rainy London, suicidal Luxemburg, the bubble of Dubai or boring California after work. So why not? Greece is perfect for this. Great climate, a great dating scene, and fantastic landscape, activities, and entertainment. And crisis has brought Greeks to a state of facing entrepreneurship as a must do. While this is emerging, recession brought salaries and wages down so now you can also find well-priced talent. So the next big thing is an incubator! My current stage is construction of a great accessible venue. While this is under development, I posted my incubator summary as a note on my personal page facebook.com/TolisAivalis. Feel free to contribute!
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