This interview is one of many seen in our Greek Tech Revolution report. Check out our report and stay tuned with our channels as we publish more interviews featured in the 2020 issue.
Speaking of the shift in the investment interest towards “deep tech” companies,” in other words of the acceleration in the growth of “deep technology” companies worldwide, Marco Veremis considers it encouraging for high-tech Greek companies which were founded some years ago that they have already established an international presence providing world-class technologies worldwide and having an impressive constellation of clients and investors. They move fast, they benefit from the know-how and the skilled human resources developed by the scale-ups, and they shorten the time between their founding and their growth.
In this category, there are companies, such as Netdata, which develops software that monitors the performance of computing systems, or TileDB, which aspires to develop a “universal data engine” for scientists. These also entail companies such as Epignosis, whose software allows its customers to provide remote training to their employees, or startups operating in the field of artificial intelligence, such as Omilia, which has created, among other things, a conversational Al self-service solution, as well as Intelligencia.ai, which combines biology with Al in research, in discovering new medicines and in monitoring clinical trials. Or rather, platforms, such as Orfium, which identifies online copyright violations for its customers, or Balena, which enables programmers to create applications for the Internet of Things.
As investment interest internationally moves away from the marketplaces that have reached their peak and approach companies with solid intellectual property, which summarize decade-long research and scientific knowledge, the Greek companies have already responded successfully to this rising trend, which might prove to be exceptionally favourable for the country. The disadvantage of the small Greek market (which played a major role in the case of marketplaces) is no longer a limiting factor, while the scientific advancement constitutes a huge comparative advantage, as the combination “business and science” comes into the foreground.
“Greece is one of those countries, which for a number of historical reasons insisted to such an extent on having its young people educated at universities that it used to be counter-productive! In the past, there was a large number of computer engineers in Greece, but there was a lack of companies that could employ them. In the past 10 years, this has changed in Greece,” Nikos Moraitakis points out. Furthermore, this trend does not merely apply to computer engineers, but to a wide range of highly-skilled scientists as well.
“Some years ago, it was beyond our imagination that technology would have such an influence on the economy. At that time, technology was just for universities and research centers. In the present day and age, new technologies emerge every day. It is impressive,” Marios Stavropoulos, cofounder of Softomotive, which was acquired by Microsoft, says. “To what extent does this trend suits the Greek ecosystem? We should not see things this way, because we cannot afford to ignore global trends. In other words, the question is not what suits or does not suit Greece. If a trend suits the global market, then it suits us as well, with some exceptions.”
“Another change that I have noticed in the last few years is that Greeks no longer try to reproduce a successful story from abroad, but they rather believe that they have enough talent and ideas to create their own tech products with an eye to the global market,” Stefanos Loukakos, cofounder and CEO at social media agency Connect and former Facebook executive, points out making a special reference to B2B companies, cloud services and products for developers. “This is the most significant change in the local innovation ecosystem. It has already brought about positive results and it will help Greece turn into a tech hub,” he adds.
This belief is shared by Kostas Mallios as well, corporate Vice-President and General Manager at Applied Materials, a prominent member of the Greek Diaspora who has played a significant role in the Greek innovation system in recent years. “The ‘digital cost of goods’ is a blessing for Greece. If Greece manages to enter the world of digital companies, one can have a Microsoft or a Tesla in 10 years. One can create large-scale businesses, provided that one convinces the Greek entrepreneurs that the world is bigger than Greece and that they should go after this opportunity.”
“Over the last decade, tech companies have been launched from every part of the world, based on the concept that if one creates a digital product and sells it globally, it is of no importance where you build it; the most important thing is that becomes popular,” Nikos Moraitakis underlines. Next to America, there are a lot of companies in Europe, and in Israel, that follow this model. “For a company to be successful and to be able to compete the respective American company with a long know-how on the same field, its product should be available in the global market.”
To be more outward-looking since the onset of their operation is Panos Papadopoulos’ advice to the companies of the startup ecosystem. “We do not see eye to eye with the companies that want their first customers to be Greeks. According to my experience, such a thing does not work, at least with software companies,” he says. Kostas Mallios seems to share his view: “A startup that will ask for my investment should have a business plan outside Greece. Greece can be a pilot market, but essentially, it is just that.”
“It is useful that there are companies with an outward-looking culture, which sell products abroad that were manufactured in Greece. The more such examples advocate our country, the better it is for the ecosystem,” Apostolos Apostolakis says. He made a special reference to the successful model of efood, which did not expand abroad as there were a lot of other players there, but it promptly created value within Greece. “As a venture capital, we tried to support the entrepreneur’s decision. A very large investment fund is obviously willing to support those who are ambitious enough to go for something big. This does not necessarily mean that an entrepreneur should start this way. Taking a shorter first step that boosts the entrepreneur’s confidence is also possible. Entrepreneurship is a matter of culture.”
From his point of view, Nondas Viridakis, Professional Services Director at ActionIQ in New York and particularly active at networking the Diaspora Greeks who operate in the American innovation system, see value in building foreign markets that are close to Greece. “In order to establish a presence in the global markets, Greece should firstly build the neighbouring markets,” he claims as an intermediate stage of extroversion.
Accordingly, talking at an episode of the “Outliers,” Endeavor’s Greece podcast series, Alexis Pantazis, founder and Executive Director at the digital insurance company Hellas Direct, finds out that although the ecosystem has changed considerably in the recent years, it remains to be seen which direction it will follow, as this will ultimately be defined by the entrepreneurs’ targets. “Are you in Greece so as to build the so-called regional play? Or, by any chance, do you believe that you have a comparative advantage over Tel Avi or California? If you are in favour of the latter, then you have a long way to go.”