Scholars' Association News
Issue 34
May 2015

01/05


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Scale Up: The next step for a startup
By Leda Bouzali and Despina Kontopoulou

26 distinguished speakers, more than 650 visitors, 11 entrepreneurial workshop instructors, 15 workshops attended by more than 450 people, 15 volunteers and more than 6,000 hits on the official website (www.aoen.gr) within 2 weeks from going live is an impressive record for the first ‘Alexander Onassis Entrepreneurship Day’. It was organised by the Onassis Scholars’ Association on 31 March 2015 at the Central Stage of the Onassis Cultural Centre. The title was ‘Scale up – What is the next step of a startup company?’ and the subject was the sustainable development of newly established businesses, in order to create value for themselves, but also for the local community.

The successful event was the result of teamwork among 10 scholars headed up by the chairman of the Scholars’ Association Board, Theo Anagnostopoulos. The other team members were the economist Thekla Agriti; Tina Archontiki who has studied business administration; Evangelos Athanasopoulos with a PhD in educational technology and multimedia; Evangelia Griba with studies in Marketing and Communication; chemical engineer Maria Theohari; Despina Kontopoulou, experienced in communication strategies and event organisation; Periklis Lytras, Prof. of Tourism Sociology, Tourism Psychology and Labour Relations at the Athens Technological Educational Institute; civil engineer Apostolos Makrygiannis; lawyer Vanessa Tzoanou; and Maria Halari, doctoral candidate in the sociology of education.

The event was attended by the Chairman of the Onassis Foundation, Anthony Papadimitriou, the Vice Chairman Ioannis Ioannidis, the Secretary of the Board Marianna Moschou, the Honorary Vice Chairman, Pavlos Ioannidis, and board member Paraskevas Ioannidis, the ambassadors of Holland and Israel, the former minister Petros Efthymiou, academics, representatives of the business world as well as a large number of people (especially young people) who inundated the OCC’s Central Stage.

Welcoming the participants, the Association’s chairman, Theo Anagnostopoulos, said: “Scale Up’s subject matter has already been debated abroad for quite some time now. In Greece no similar debate has taken place, perhaps because we don’t have the same deep degree of culture in this field. Entrepreneurship is becoming a widespread need and choice for the general public because of the economic crisis in recent years. We need this type of businesses normally found in the most vibrant of economies, which transform and change the business landscape by developing and creating new jobs. We need businesses to take the next step, in other words to engage in scaling up”.

In his address the Chairman of the Onassis Foundation, Anthony Papadimitriou pointed out that despite the 5-year crisis there were still opportunities for entrepreneurship and the government was duty-bound to support entrepreneurship so that the country could advance. “We should never forget that bad times don’t last forever; the same holds true for the good times”, he said. “Thanks to our very nature and position, we, at the Onassis Foundation, are entitled to talk about entrepreneurship since, 40 years after the death of Aristotle Onassis, the Foundation does not merely survive but expands its activities. Today all of Onassis’ ships have been replaced with the latest high-technology vessels, while the real estate (which was not bequeathed to us but acquired with the Foundation’s own funds), and other major assets bear no relation to the Founder’s bequest. In line with Onassis’ last will and testament, 40% of the Foundation’s profits must be used to finance works for the public’s benefit”. He went on to add that, “A good idea is not enough on its own, nor is natural intelligence. One needs hard work, studies in one field and to grasp the importance of logistics. A businessman needs education, ethos (it’s not all about looking the part), persistence and perseverance, the ability to smartly handle situations, daring and culture”.

The workshop’s proceedings kicked off with a speech by the coordinator of topic 1 (Inspiring Entrepreneurialism), Nikos Hatzinikolaou, journalist, publisher of the newspapers Real News and Agora, and chairman of the radio station Real FM. The renowned journalist said, “According to the report by the Global Community for Advancing Studies on Entrepreneurship (GCASE) Greeks are number one worldwide in terms of business ideas. So we have the ideas and good intentions, but there are barriers in the way: that bane of our lives –bureaucracy-, the constantly changing regulatory environment (with an excessive number of reforms and changes from 1975 to the present day), the tax regime and the fact that the state does not offer businesses a stable framework, plus the lack of a link between research and entrepreneurship”.

Rania Antonopoulou, Deputy Minister of Labour (responsible for combating unemployment) said that youth entrepreneurship can and must be the basis for increasing productivity. “There is much room for growth, and our human resources are highly qualified,” she said. “Instead of being forced to abandon the country, they could stay here and become a driving force for the growth of innovation in Greece. For that to happen, we need to make structural reforms such as further cutting back bureaucracy and simplifying new business set-up procedures. At the same time there needs to be a modern, simple statutory framework on how innovation centres operate, and networks of partnerships between innovation centres, institutes, universities and individual businesses need to be set up. It is of vital importance to cultivate a positive environment in universities to encourage innovative ideas and business initiatives among young people,” concluded Rania Antonopoulou.

She was followed by Gwen Nguyen, Director of the web platform Indiegogo, who presented the potential this crowd funding platform has to offer startups. She said it was a platform for incubating business ideas, which allows young entrepreneurs to test the market’s interest in their ideas, to build up the market while minimising the associated risks, to attract investment capital and stay independent.

Spyros Theodoropoulos, CEO of Chipita, stressed that in Greece we have not earned the ‘right to failure’ and that puts many people off even trying. Failure, though, is a great teacher. Many people fail because they believe they have reached the top and then rest of their laurels. Continuous effort is required. During the crisis we are still shackled by problems stemming from structures put in place during past times of abundance. Old businesses have difficulty changing, but the period of crisis is an opportunity for new businesses. Spyros Theodoropoulos ended his speech by predicting that the crisis will kill whatever is unable to adapt.

Nava Swersky Sofer, President of International Commercialisation Alliance, brought a message of optimism from Israel, which is an example of a successful economy that developed based on technological innovation. She pointed out that hardships, tribulations and deprivation are the secret of success because they feed innovation. As founder of NanoIsrael, a leading international nanotechnology conference and expo, and advisor to the Israeli government on innovation and international partnerships in the field of R&D, she explained how Israel managed to scale up within a very short time period. She argued that by improving infrastructure in Greece, changing outlooks and above all embracing failure, we could move forward.

Pavlos Evmordifis, founder of COCO-MAT, renowned for his lively presentations and direct style, came onto the stage on the company’s eco-bike. He emphasised the importance of partnership and encouraged young people to turn to primary production and exploit Greece’s natural resources.

Lene Sjorslev Schulze, Director of the firm 42 Associates based in Silicon Valley spoke about that leading ‘entrepreneurship ecosystem’ and presented an equation for success: idea x product x implementation x team x luck factor.

John Stockdale, who is half Greek half British, educator, coach and public speaker, mentioned the importance of failure as a critical lesson; he also said businessmen should be able to revise the path they are taking. He reiterated the well-known phrase from the US writer Alvin Toffler that the illiterate of the 21st century won’t be those who don’t know how to read and write, but those who can’t learn, unlearn and re-learn things from scratch.

The second part of the event entitled ‘Supporting Entrepreneurialism’ was coordinated by the journalist Katia Makri. The Deputy Minister of Research and Innovation, Kostas Fotakis, had the following to say: “Research is central to education and culture. Under certain conditions, thanks to innovation generated by research activity, it can also be a driving force in economic growth; ‘smart’ growth, in the sense that it is based on knowledge that is generated at the same time, growth based on the mobilisation of society, and for the benefit of society. The challenge is how to implement that objective, i.e. how to utilise the research results generated, particularly in times of economic and social crisis”.

Stavros Ioannou, Senior General Manager and member of the Strategic Planning Committee and Management Board of Eurobank spoke about the “egg” programme (enter – grow – go) which supports innovative and young Greek entrepreneurs and change in the country’s development model. By extension the programme also seeks to reduce unemployment, and curtail the brain drain abroad of an important section of the working population.

Dimitris Iakovidis, head of the Development Programmes Planning and Evaluation Unit of the Ministry of Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism, talked about the focus on competitiveness and entrepreneurialism in the NSRF 2014-2020 programmes, about the development plan for Greece and about how the new National Strategic Reference Framework incorporates national priorities into a comprehensive, strategic, development plan.

Konstantinos Botopoulos, chairman of the Hellenic Capital Market Commission and an Onassis Foundation scholar himself, spoke about capital markets as a third way in which businesses can raise financing (after banks and public or private investments) and about the need to change the business mindset.

The head of the University of the Aegean’s Innovation and Entrepreneurialism Unit, Giannis Haralambidis, spoke about AEGEAN Startups, a system designed to assist young entrepreneurs on Samos island and to link young people to mentors such as businessmen, research centres, local government bodies, and so on.

Haris Makyriniotis, CEO of Endeavor Greece, explained how this international non-profit organisation selects up-and-coming businessmen from around the world to support by offering the assistance of top business leaders and investors worldwide. Endeavor seeks out businesses which already have an annual turnover of between € 500,000 and € 15 million. Via offices located in more than 20 countries it identifies the top young businesspeople leading innovative companies with a high rate of growth in various sectors and helps them capitalise on their potential through a network of leading professionals, employing tools such as mentorship, strategic advice and contacts with investors and markets.

Michalis Stangos, CEO of MSCOMM and co-founder of Industry Disruptors-Game Changers (ID-GC) presented how ID-GC promotes innovative entrepreneurship by focusing on startups and companies with an outward-looking approach, using tools such as networking, competitions, training, financing, mentorship, and communication strategies.

The second part of the event was rounded off by Panos T. Xenokostas, founder and head of the ONEX Technologies Group, who shared important lessons from his own personal experience, giving aspiring businessmen inspiration. “The most important moment for a young businessperson,” he said, “is the first agreement reached, which means that he is selling a product or service that people need. What potential investors want from you is persuasive, well-structured responses to their questions. They expect you to present your successful path so far, and above all they expect to hear what exactly you are asking for and how you intend to utilise it, if of course, you can demonstrate that you are capable of making your ideas a reality. The greatest achievements have been made by people who started out with nothing! Don’t give up at the first hurdle, don’t abandon your efforts, your dreams and your vision,” concluded the speaker.

This was followed by the ‘Talking about Entrepreneurialism’ round table, featuring discussion between six young businesspeople coordinated by the journalist Apostolos Mangiriadis. The participants were Armodios Giannidis, Executive Vice President of the paint and insulating materials firm VITEX, Markos Veremis, CEO of the software developer Upstream, Philipp Brinkmann, co-founder and CEO of the online travel agency Travelplanet24/Tripsta, Konstantinos Gerardos, CEO of the technology products stores Plaisio, Maria Vlachou, CEO and co-founder of the snail farm Fereikos, and Konstantinos Sepetas, sales and marketing manager of the Epirus-based bottled water company VIKOS S.A.

The event concluded with a series of parallel optional Workshops for delegates. Leading businesspeople from all sectors offered a series of theoretical and practical presentations: The speakers were Zoe Vasiliou (Ionian Capital), Stergios Vlachopoulos (Extended DISC Hellas), Maria Georgala (Skywalker.gr), Giorgos Dimopoulos (Verallis), Christina Kountourioti (Athens Startup Incubator), Giorgos Krikelas (Mentoring), Konstantinos Lafkas (Microglobals), Antonis Livieratos (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit, NTUA), Maria Nomikou (British Council), Panagiotis Ikonomou (Step) and Stelios Pigadiotis (scout global). The event was sponsored by Eurobank and the Epirus Bottled Water Company VIKOS S.A.

The Onassis Scholars’ Association aspires that this event, the first of a regular series of relevant initiatives, will evolve into an institution in the field of entrepreneurship, generating each year a productive discussion.


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