Athens’ Future Is All About Startups

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You want your startup to be at the crossroads of the three continents Europe, Asia and Africa? Then discover Athens, Greece's most developed startup hub. 

Athens is the centre and main point of reference for the Greek startup ecosystem, which has been very dynamic in the last few years, but it’s still nascent. The biggest Greek-origin startups are coming from and based in Athens. The roots for what was erased as the entrepreneurial scene of Greece could be traced back to 2009-2010, but the Greek startup ecosystem really took off in late 2012 when the JEREMIE (a program of the European Commission, which under European Investment Fund contributes 70% of committed funds in a venture capital firm) VC funds were established.

Entrepreneurs and companies active in previous years suddenly had available funds to finance their ventures. Moreover, innovative companies that could offer new production models to crisis-stricken Greece were getting attention from politicians, media and organisations, which helped a support ecosystem develop around the startups themselves.

Under The Acropolis

Athens is the capital of Greece, and the wider Attica area (Athens city centre and Athens’ suburbs) is home to around 4-5 million people (almost half of Greece’s population). Greece is located at the crossroads of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s the southernmost point of the Balkan Peninsula and the southeasternmost point of Europe.

The geographical position of Athens has helped develop a civilisation of commerce and entrepreneurship since ancient times that was passed to modern Greece. Indeed, owning and running a business is nothing new to Greek economy, as more than 99% percent of all companies in the country are small or medium-sized.

Advantages Of Starting A Startup In Athens:

  • Athens is the capital of Greece and the centre of its economic activity. If you’re thinking of doing business in Greece, Athens is the place-to-go.
  • If you’re coming from a non-EU country, setting up a business in Athens will give you access to the European Union single market of 500 million consumers.
  • Athens is within 2-4-hour flights from all the major business and startup centres of the region (Tel Aviv, Berlin, London, Dubai, Doha).
  • Athens is home to the biggest public universities in Greece (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, National Technical University of Athens, Athens University of Economics and Business, Technological Educational Institute of Athens) and the most important private undergraduate and graduate schools. The majority of the technical, business, marketing and sales talent of Greece is gathered in Athens.
  • Athens nests the most-developed startup ecosystem in Greece. If you want to connect with the country’s startup leaders and stakeholders, Athens will do the trick.
  • Due to the economic crisis, doing business in Athens has been made much more affordable than it used to be. Office rent prices and wages have gone down, while food and everyday life expenses are not any more expensive (even much cheaper) than the rest of Europe.
  • Athens centre and suburbs are very well-connected by transportation. You can reach downtown from a quiet neighbourhood north of Athens in somewhere between 15 to 40 minutes by subway or bus.
  • Life in Athens is supposedly much more attractive than the rest of Europe. Lots of bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, and art and culture spaces remain open until late. Weather is sunny and warm most months of the year, while a blue, sandy beach is within a 45-minute drive from every point of the Attica area.
  • The crisis could turn Athens to a testing point for new things that simplify life for individuals and businesses affected. For example, the recently imposed capital controls generated a very big interest in solutions around alternative currencies and alternative banking.
  • Athens, as other cities in Greece, has a high-level of research & development in the high-technology sector. Greek scientists and researchers are part of a lot EU- or state-funded projects and generate patented products. There is an opportunity for helping them bring these products to the market.
  • As 99,9% of enterprises in Greece (Athens is following that trend too) are small and medium-sized there is a big market for B2B solutions that target SME’s, individual entrepreneurs, store owners and freelancers.

What Startup Founders Have To Consider:

  • Setting up a company in Athens – and generally in Greece – can be tricky, and running it less affordable than in other countries in Europe. Although some steps in facilitating small and new businesses have been taken in the past, owning and operating a company in Greece still involves a lot of bureaucracy, high social security contributions and business taxes, and limited incentives and tax deductions.
  • Although Athens is home to the majority of the tech pool of Greece, as in many cities tech talent is scarce here too. The biggest Greek IT companies (a lot of them doing business in the wider region or even the US) are based here and they’re employing a lot of engineers. Others are working for the biggest startups of Athens or they just prefer to work as freelancers taking up projects outside of Greece with US or UK wages. If you’re not really well-funded enough to offer competitive salaries, you may find it difficult to attract the best talent.
  • Although the Athens ecosystem has grown exponentially in the last three years with big exits and funding rounds, the absolute number of successful companies is still low. It is hard to find executives with repeated successes abroad that can lead international business development for startups based in Athens.
  • Using Athens as a test market could either make you or break you. Although the majority of the population are smartphone owners and social media users, we’re still not that used to a digital culture, like online paying or transacting. If you want to build a social app or platform there isn’t a very big pool of early adopters that could boom your app and make it viral or help you make it viral outside of Greece.
  • Life in Athens could sound idyllic if you want to relax for a couple of weeks, but it might turn out to be anything like that if you’re used to a structured, organized way of living and transacting with the public and private sector.

The Startup Community In Athens

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These last three years the startup ecosystem of Athens has grown from low-attendance ‘geeks’ meetups to a holistic community providing new and young entrepreneurs with events and opportunities to connect with local startup leaders and members of international startup ecosystems. In the lists below you can find useful information on the biggest regular events, conferences, meetups taking place in Athens and the resources where you can find information about upcoming events and competitions.

Regular Events & Meetups:

  • Open Coffee Athens: It’s the largest gathering of the Greek startup community. It takes place on the last Friday of every month. While it started with a handful of attendees in late 2006, these days hundreds of people are attending each month to network over a cup of coffee and listen to lectures by the most successful Greek startups.
  • Startup Weekend Athens: The iconic regular event of the city has been taking place every year since 2008. The Athens event follows the standard Startup Weekend moniker structure; 54 hours for on-the-spot-formed teams to develop and work on a business idea. Along with Open Coffee, SWAthens is considered to be a crucial event for developing the Greek community.
  • I am – I do – I want (Είμαι – Κάνω – Θέλω): Organised by the Hellenic Startups Association it doesn’t have a regular schedule. It gathers people that are looking for others to network and collaborate on new projects.
  • Agile Greece: The Greek community of Agile is gathering dozens of people at its monthly meetup to discuss new ways to organise one’s projects and companies.
  • Meeten and Drinken: The Greek chapter of Appsterdam – an organisation started in Amsterdam for app developers – is organizing a monthly meetup at a local bar for people looking for developers to connect with. It is always held on a Wednesday.
  • CruiseINN: Set up in 2014, it’s the first startup hackathon to take place in a cruise ship! Developers, designers and business guys are forming teams to work on startup ideas while sailing the sunny and blue Aegean Sea.
  • Startup Grind Athens: The Google-for-Entrepreneurs-backed global format was launched in Athens in 2014. Once a month it features a successful startup founder who engages in a more intimate discussion with the audience.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • Entrepreneurship and Career Panorama (Πανόραμα Επιχειρηματικότητας και Σταδιοδρομίας): Organised by Iordanis Ladopoulos, former Athens University of Economics and Business professor, it’s Greek’s largest annual gathering of academia, corporates, entrepreneurs and students. It features discussion panels, presentations, workshops and open-agenda discussions between guest speakers and attendees.
  • Disrupt Startup Scaleup: Established in 2013, it’s Greece’s biggest annual conference on technology, entrepreneurship and startups. Organised by Industry Disruptors-Game Changers and connected with Global Entrepreneurship Week, it features a lot of international speakers and side-events such as workshops and pitching competitions.
  • Startup Safary Athens: The Berlin-based format was organised in Athens for the first time in 2014. It takes place over a weekend, during which companies, incubators, co-working spaces and other stakeholder open up their offices and host various events, lectures and workshops for ticket-holders.
  • StartSmart: MIT Enterprise Forum maintains since 2013 a greek chapter as part of its global, not-for-profit network. Among a range of activities, MITEF Greece organizes an annual 1-day conference that brings together Greek and international tech entrepreneurs, investors and mentors to connect and inspire them.
  • Private Equity & Venture Capital Forum: It’s the only annual event focused on PE and VC and features all the major Venture Capitalists and investors from Greece.
  • Infocom: The biggest annual conference on telecommunications and technology. One part of it is dedicated to startups.

Find Info About Upcoming Events, Meetups & Other Occasions:

  •  Open Coffee Group: Built around the Open Coffee moniker, it’s the largest online community for startups in Greece. Events, competitions and other organisers will make sure to post their initiative there, so everyone can find out about it.
  • Hellenic Startups Association: The official group of HSA gets a lot of posts promoting events, competitions and meetups.
  • Startup Jobs in Greece: If you want to work for a Greek startup, take a look. It was started by the founder of Workable, an Athens/London/Boston-based HR software-as-a-service.
  • Greece Startup Jobs: Platform to post and search for jobs in Greek startups.
  • Starting Up: Another Facebook group about startup communities in Athens and beyond that gets a lot of posts about upcoming events.
  • StartupNation.gr: Complete ‪‎directory‬ for ‪‎entrepreneurship‬ and ‎startups‬ in/for/from Greece.
  • Greek Startup Map: Directory for startups, interviews, tools, events and jobs.
  • GreekStartups.com: An open not-for-profit website tracking startups in Greece.
  • #GRstartupscene: The main hashtag me and other Greek startup community members are using on Facebook and Twitter to inform about news and events regarding Greek startups.

Co-working Spaces In Athens

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Coworking spaces are offering cheaper alternatives to offices for bootstrapping startups. But while the economic crisis has made renting an office in downtown Athens much more affordable, coworking spaces are offering extra value alongside space and accompanying services: the network of people and connections inside the community.

Co-working Spaces In Athens:

  • The Cube: It’s the biggest coworking space in Athens. Situated in the Exarhia neighbourhood, it’s 5 floors host companies, meetups, hands-on workshops, hackathons, discussions and other events. It’s home to Openfund – one of the 4 JEREMIE funds – and several VC-funded (and not) startups. A lot of international talent is also working from The Cube.
  • Found.ation: As the new incarnation of 123P it’s considered to be the oldest coworking space in town. Situated in the Petralona neighbourhood, it hosts early- and later-stages startups as well as a few established companies. It organises events, meetups, presentations and other events, and also partners with renowned professionals to run a series of educational workshops under the Educ.ation brand.
  • Impact Hub Athens: The Greek chapter of the international Impact Hub network is located in the Psirri neighbourhood. It focuses on startups active in social change, environmental and educational entrepreneurship, as well as pure technology. It’s members have access to space, services and the global Impact Hub network. Impact Hub Athens is the organiser of the Social Impact Award Greece competition.
  • Stone Soup: Set up by the Appsterdam Greece founders, it’s home to engineers and developers working on new projects and trying to turn them into startups.
  • Hackerspace: Another space dedicated to the hackers and makers of this city.

Budget Support In Athens

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Although in Athens there are only a couple of incubators that offer funding to hosting companies (a typical standard in other startup ecosystems), there are a lot of incubation and acceleration programs here. They offer office space, mentors and guidance, services, educational programs and other perks, saving a lot of the resources needed to develop your early-stage startup. Below are listed all types of incubators and accelerators that exist in Athens, as well as classic sources of startup financing such as crowdfunding, angels and VCs.

Incubators:

  • IQbility: It’s a joint venture between Quest (a big group of corporates in technology, retail and energy industries) and PJ Tech Catalyst Fund (one of the 4 Greek JEREMIE funds). It offers an angel round of financing (around €60.000-80.000 in cash and services) in exchange for equity, as well as office spaces and mentorship. It’s dedicated to technology startups operating in various verticals of the economy. It’s based in the Kallithea suburb.
  • egg – enter, grow, go: It’s an incubation program that started from Eurobank (one of Greece’s biggest banks) as a Corporate Responsibility initiative in 2013. Recently the third batch of the program started and the bank will offer to its alumni loans of up to €75.000 under friendly conditions. It offers office space for 1 year, legal and financial services and, along with Corallia Clusters, entrepreneurial education, connection with mentors and networking. It’s not focused on technology; on the contrary, it hosts companies from various sectors of the economy. Hosted companies are contributing an amount each month that at the end of the program is being donated to a good cause. It’s based in the Kallithea suburb.
  • Orange Grove: It’s a startup incubator set up in summer 2013 by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Athens. Sponsored by Dutch multinationals and their Greek subsidiaries, it offers office space, educational bootcamps, network and mentorship. It’s open to young entrepreneurs from different industries and every hosted company pays a small fee. It’s located in downtown Athens, across from Kallimarmaron Stadium.
  • The Athens Incube (Θερμοκοιτίδα Νεοφυών Επιχειρήσεων Αθήνας): Incubator set up by the Municipality of Athens and the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry under the European Commission-funded program ‘Project Athens.’ It offers office space, services and mentorship. It’s located in downtown Athens.
  • EkinisiLab: A second incubator set up under ‘Project Athens,’ this time in collaboration with the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises. It’s mostly targeting scientists that want to turn their research into businesses. It’s located in downtown Athens.
  • Athens Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Another incubator set up under ‘Project Athens,’ in collaboration with the Athens University of Economics and Business. It hosts startups created by students and young graduates, and offers education, office space, mentors and connections to service providers. It’s located in downtown Athens, near AUEB.
  • Epi.noo: The last incubator that has been set up by the Municipality of Athens under the ‘Project Athens.’ This one, in partnership with the National Technical University of Athens, targets engineers and technologists that are trying to develop a startup business. It’s located in downtown Athens, near Omonoia and Monastiraki Squares.
  • Aephoria.Net: A network of incubating programs, services and competitions for startups active in sustainability, environment, social responsibility, sea economy and related industries. It’s located in downtown Athens.

Accelerators:

  • Metavallon: It runs The Accelerator, a program that offers a pre-seed round of funding (around €25.000), business education, networking and a 1-month trip to Silicon Valley. In the last batch of the program, funding for each participating company will come from angel investors who will take equity in the startup. Metavallon dedicated to technology startups.
  • InnovAthens: A multi-space for innovation set up by the Municipality of Athens and seven tech and entrepreneurship associations under ‘Project Athens.’ Among other activities, it runs its very own acceleration program for new companies. It’s located in downtown Athens, in the Keramikos/Gkazi area.

Crowd Investing Platforms:

  • Open Circle Greece: A crowd-investing platform that connects startup companies looking for financing with private investors that want to invest in startups. Startups are declaring how much money they’re looking for and the equity they’re giving up, and investors have available all the details about the financials of the company and its business plan. It recently started operations and has run a few campaigns so far.
  • WinnersFund: A crowd-funding platform for entrepreneurs and companies that are looking for alternative ways to finance their startup. Companies are setting their funding target and perks for contributing members. As of the time of writing this article, it hasn’t started operations yet.

Angel Investors:

Venture Capital Investors:

  • Openfund II: A JEREMIE VC fund that offers seed rounds of financing (up to €750.000 per company in two or three rounds). It focuses on software and app companies in several B2C and B2B sectors. It’s one of the most vocal funds in Greece and claims only 1% of reviewed companies receive funding.
  • Piraeus Jeremie Tech Catalyst Fund: A JEREMIE fund set up together with Piraeus Bank (currently the largest bank in Greece). It offers seed rounds (up to €750.000 per company in usually two rounds) and focuses more on B2B solutions.
  • Elikonos Jeremie Sicar: A JEREMIE fund active in later funding rounds of a startup life cycle. It has co-invested a couple of times with the rest of JEREMIE funds in million-Euro rounds.
  • Odyssey Venture Partners: The last JEREMIE fund, also active in later rounds (Series A). It takes some high-tech perspective, while it also co-invests with the rest of JEREMIE funds*.
  • Fundbox Capital: A recently launched private Venture Capital firm that invests in seed rounds. So far, it has executed two investments, one of them being in a Greek-origin company.
  • NBG Business Seeds: A three-pillar program by the National Bank of Greece (one of Greece’s 4 biggest banks) for financing startups and high-growth SMEs. One of the pillars provides Venture Capital investments in tech startups and so far has executed one deal.

Grants & Subventions:

Grants for startup companies offer the following competitions and awards (among others):

Other Investment Opportunities:

  • Action Finance Initiative: In partnership with the Pancretan Cooperative Bank it offers micro-loans of up to €10.000 to new and existing companies that cannot secure financing otherwise. In collaboration with other partners and donors it also offers free services, mentorship and business guidance.

Check Additional Advice In Athens

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Anecdotally, Athens has a stronger surrounding ecosystem than actual startups, so you will most probably be able to find a lot of networks and professionals to further assist you in moving or setting up your company in Athens. Government-wise, Startup Greece and Enterprise Greece are the two institutions responsible for facilitating foreigners doing business in Greece. Private organisations that should be able to guide you through your entrepreneurial activity in Athens should be the Network of Entrepreneurship of the Municipality of Athens (Municipality of Athens’ umbrella organisation for the network of incubators and other initiatives that it runs), Centre for Supporting Entrepreneurship of the Municipality of Athens (provides advice and services to companies that are located or want to move in Athens), Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Federation of Enterprises (the body that represents corporates, enterprises and industries), Hellenic Startups Association (Greek member of European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs), Federation of Hellenic Associations of Young Entrepreneurs (Greek partners of Global Entrepreneurship Week), Enterprise Europe Network – Athens Chapter (established by the European Commission, it offers advice and guidance for doing business in European cities), ThinkBiz (an entrepreneurship club set up by students of the Athens University of Economics and Business, it hosts events and workshops on startups), i-for-you (a mentoring network for female entrepreneurs, connecting mentors with mentees), Women on Top (another mentoring network for women entrepreneurs and professionals).

Ready for Athens?

* You should take into account that JEREMIE funds have a mandate to only invest in companies with some presence in Greece, ie. registered here or operating an R&D branch and so on. Also, the investment period of the JEREMIE funds is expected to expire at the end of 2015 and no deadline extension has been officially announced; when their investment period ends they will not be able to add new companies in their portfolio. Not all JEREMIE funds are actively looking for bringing in companies outside of Greece. Why don’t you consider setting up a Greek subsidiary or a Greek R&D branch with the investment you’ve already received or are going to raise from international investors? Foreign Direct Investments is what Greek startups ecosystem and the economy in general need a lot!

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Last updated: July 29th, 2016

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