Michalis Stangos, ID-GC: “It is a golden period for Greek startups” [interview]

Greek startups have been at the epicenter of the economy during the last few years, as one of Greece’s chances to boost entrepreneurship, through innovative ideas. Industry Disruptors-Game Changers (ID-GC) is a non-profit/non-governmental organisation that was founded to promote entrepreneurship in Greece, Southeastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean. Its strategy is focused on industry sectors that offer a competitive advantage and aims at supporting statups and young entrepreneurs. Co-founder Michalis Stangos spoke to EmbassyNews.net about the current opportunities and challenges Greek startups are confronted with and the “Start Tel Aviv 2016” competition, which is currently underway with the support of the Embassy of Israel in Athens.

Interview to Eleftheria Pantziou

EN: Please, provide us with some information on ID-GC’s main objectives.

Michalis Stangos: Industry Disruptors-Game Changers (ID-GC) is an organization created three years ago by a group of young entrepreneurs, whose business survived the crisis. We decided to take action in order to help young entrepeneurs and people with innovative ideas, stay in Greece and pursue their dreams. The whole idea is to change the mindset, as there are many talents in Greece, but we see many people migrating to pursue a career abroad, whether in academia or in business. We tried to change the mindset and create an organization that would help the youth become more extroversive, gain opportunities and become the next generation of entrepreneurs.

During these three years we managed to raise around 2.5 million euros that we distributed through grant programs and scholarships addressed to startups. We do not work on commission as ID-GC is a non-profit organization.

We also organize “Investor Days” and boot camps to match entrepreneurs and investors with startups. This has also generated a lot of deals and funding opportunities for startups in Greece and abroad.

EN: What are some of the initiatives undertaken by ID-GC on business and education?

Michalis Stangos: Our initiatives include international competitions and our structure is sectoral, as we focus on a) healthcare, b) cleantech and energy, c) agro and agrotechnology, d) creative industry – from gaming to architecture and art, e) Information & Communications Technology (ICT) and f) tourism.

We collaborate with big institutions and organizations in Greece and abroad, as well as sectoral associations such as SFEE – the Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies and SEV – the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises. Also with Greece’s major universities. Along with the Athens University of Economics and Business we created a national MBA, that focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship.

In private-public partnership with the University, an NGO and a major multinational company from the pharmaceutical sector, we’ve managed to provide 22 scholarships. As a result a student is able to conclude an MBA and at the same time develop his/her idea into a business.

Also with the University of Thessaly and the National Hellenic Research Foundation we have developed the first Master’s program in Bioentepreneurship. With the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens we are working on an incubation program and we are also launching a new incubator program with the National Technical University of Athens.

The City of Athens has made some efforts to promote entrepreneurship and Greek start-ups, through Innovathens and other initiatives.

EN: You also provide Greek businesses and startups with the opportunity to participate at international competitions, thus seek funding opportunities and approach potential investors, correct?

Michalis Stangos: There are several competitions that offer significant opportunities.
“Future Agro-Challenge” is a program that we initiated and is now running in 65 countries. It is a field of interaction for agro innovators and investors that addresses the future of healthy food from the farmer to the consumer, and furthers the agricultural revolution that is underway. This year the finals were held in Colombia, during the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.

“Creative Business Cup” is a global competition for entrepreneurs from the creative industries all around the world.

“Get in the Ring” is one of the biggest startup competitions worldwide connecting startups to fans – investors, customers, talent, corporates, and more.

“Cleantech Open Global Ideas” competition is a search for breakthrough cleantech ideas in one of six industry categories; air, water & waste, energy efficiency, renewable energy, green building, smart power and transportation.

“Disrupt Cyprus Cup” aims at discovering the most innovative startups with the utmost potential by giving them a podium to pitch their idea in front of experienced judges, entrepreneurs, investors and a live audience.

We are currently running the “Start Tel Aviv 2016 ” competition in collaboration with the Embassy of Israel in Athens. The competition addresses technological startups in early seed funding stage that have developed a model product. The winner, together with 30 winners from across the globe, will participate in DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival 2016, the largest international high-tech gathering, featuring global thinkers, leading multinationals, VCs, angel investors and hundreds of startups, that will take place on September 25th – 29th, 2016 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Following an evaluation period, top applicants will be called to pitch their ideas live in front of a panel of judges and a live audience, during Start Tel Aviv 2016 competition which will be held on June 15th, 2016 . You can submit your application until May 20th 2016. Last year we had around 40 very good proposals. This year we expect the number of applications to exceed this number.

EN: Which business sectors better promote Greek entrepreneurship at the moment?

Michalis Stangos: The crisis has urged young people be creative and take action. There are funding opportunities in Greece at the moment for startups.

The ICT sector has flourished due to the initiative undertaken in 2012 by the Special Secretariat for Digital Planning in collaboration with the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund that resulted in the creation of the JEREMIE program. Within the framework of the program, around 70 million euros were allocated to Greek startups. Four JEREMIE funds were then created by Piraeus Bank, Eurobank, the Open Fund and Elikonos.

The agro sector is also growing due to the new trends in the Mediterranean diet, healthy nutrition and superfoods.

There is a lot of potential in healthcare. Greece has many researchers that until now have not managed to transform their research product into a market product. Things are developing through competitions, as well as the motivation and mobilization of industry associations such as SEV and SFEE.

Creative industries have a lot of potential. There is a significant effort by the British Council to support creative industries and also by “Romantso”, which is the first dedicated incubator for creative industries.

EN: How could Greece attract more investments and thus create a competitive business environment?

Michalis Stangos: I’m afraid I have to say the obvious: We need a stable environment, a solid taxation system that doesn’ t change every 12 months, so an entrepreneur will be able to plan ahead. The state should also provide entrepreneurs with incentives, as well as potential investors from abroad. We also have to fight bureaucracy.

EN: Despite the difficult business environment, Greek startups seem to be doing quite well. Why do you think that is?

Michalis Stangos: Greece has many talented, bright minds, especially in the sector of electronic engineering and engineering in general. Also very good developers. The level of education is very good. I think that there is a new “wave” of creativity at the moment. It is a golden period for Greece.

Entrepreneurs that started 10 years ago did not have today’s opportunities. I created my company 10 years ago, without any help, at a time when access to capital was difficult. It’s a myth that people in their 20s start a company. The average age of a startup owner is 36 to 40 years old. This is the EU average. Today there are many organizations active in the startup field, there are a lot of co-working places that provide technical support, initiatives from Embassies, foreign institutions, municipalities. There are also many successful entrepreneurs willing to provide their know-how and their time to guide the younger generation for free.

And I have to stress that even if a startup fails, the process is very educational. If you manage to develop the entrepreneurial mindset, then one way or the other, it doesn’t matter how many times you will fail, at the end of the day you will succeed!

There are also initiatives by the private sector, for example the “IQbility”, the incubator created by the Quest Group of Companies. Interamerican has also made an attempt to create an incubator with the Athens University of Economics and Business in the field of insurances.

EN: What are the main features of a “successful” startup?

Michalis Stangos: The team is the most important element in a start-up. Definately at the end of the day everything is about the team. Also the idea. And it needs a lot of work, hard work and “thrassos” (nerve) as we say in Greek!