Guidance is pivotal, since most Greek entrepreneurs are scientists and technology geeks that lack strong business management experience. “It is a weakness in the market,” stressed Ion Tsakonas, CEO of PJ Tech Catalyst, a €15 million seed-stage venture capital fund that invests in information and communication technology companies (ICTs) and is backed by Piraeus Bank. “Teams are not experienced enough in business building,” Tsakonas said. “We are seeing an organized effort now in Greece to educate and train entrepreneurs. The question now is how quickly all of this will trickle down.”
Philipp Brinkmann, the Greek founder of Travelplanet24.com, the largest e-commerce company in Greece, sees a dramatic improvement in the entrepreneurial talent base over the last three years. “When I first launched my online travel booking company in 2004, it was hard to find people with experience in online marketing and data science,” he said. “Now there is quite a lot of talent in Greece. And we’re seeing more start-ups take off.”
“What the country needs is more access to capital, and a larger venture capital industry base,” Brinkmann said, noting he had to bootstrap his company and plow profits back into the business in order to grow, since no other funding options were available. “If I had access to capital, there is no telling how much faster I could have grown my venture.”
Today, Travelplanet24 employs 270 people and has annual revenues of €520 million. After acquiring its biggest competitor, Airtickets.com, earlier this year, it now serves 40 markets worldwide and garners 67 percent of its revenue from Europe.