NEW YORK – It takes one to know one. An entrepreneur, that is. Marina Hatsopoulos is an investor and high tech entrepreneur, and when there are challenges and opportunities in either context, she revs up into high gear. She is also a Hellene, and what she has recently learned about young Greek entrepreneurs has her very excited.
Her family, which has a home in Paros, which she loves visiting each summer, has roots in Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Central Greece. But although her parents, renowned scientist and entrepreneur George and Daphne Hatsopoulos, have been involved in efforts to help Greece, Marina was not active until recently.
She followed in her father’s footsteps. Hatsopoulos, who wanted to run her own business since childhood, was the CEO of Z Corporation, a pioneering 3D printing company which she co-founded in 1994, and sold in 2005.
A recent article about her in MIT News – she earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1993 – is titled “Recovering Greece – How do you cure a distressed economy? One startup at a time,” but for a long time her main impression of the Greek crisis was “emotional despair” gripping Greek citizens.
She got a different perspective during an October, 2014 visit. The MIT Enterprise Forum Greece (MITEF Greece), in existence for only two years, invited her to make a presentation.
Hatsopoulos was surprised to see “a great interest in entrepreneurship…a radical shift in aspiration” for a country whose best and brightest were steered into the public-sector for decades.
“I had just visited Israel, and seen how they created a start-up economy in 50 years, with rockets firing at them…A light bulb went off: If Israel could do it in such a difficult environment, why not Greece,” she said.
MANY CAN DO THIS
She told TNH “it struck me when I was there that I was uniquely positioned to help in a way that was not heavy lifting but that could make a difference…I’m well connected within the Boston entrepreneurial/technology community,” and she can help people connect – a model that fits the busy lives and passions for Greece of many successful Greek-Americans.
She noted that Greece can benefit from better connections to the rest of the world. “They are very isolated, so having access to funding, mentors, partners, investors, customers,” as well as employees for offices set up in the United States, is extremely valuable, she said.
“The idea is to be the bridge and help make those connections.”
Hatsopoulos found excited partners in Greece and America and after getting help from the MITEF global office they began to strategize about helping Greek entrepreneurs.
Hatsopoulos is a catalyst at the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, from which she learned that an international technology startup boot camp at MIT had been planned for this past June.
MITEF Greece chairman Vassilis Papakonstantinos, who was running a startup competition in Athens in 2015, directed some of the best candidates to Hatsopoulos for the Cambridge boot camp, and with financing from The Hellenic Initiative (THI),for which she expressed appreciation, eight MITEF semifinalists and two other Greek entrepreneurs arrived for the June boot camp, which was led by Luis Perez-Breva, MIT research scientist and co-director of MIT Innovation Teams.
Just before the boot camp, Hatsopoulos “threw a networking party at her Boston condo. Over sushi and cocktails, 10 young Greek technology entrepreneurs pitched business ideas to 50 Boston-based Greek and Greek-American investors and business leaders,” MIT News reported.
We didn’t know each other at all…but one thing about the Greeks — we can become best friends overnight,” she said.
“This event began a week-long series of business-building opportunities, engineered by Hatsopoulos…If everything clicked the way Hatsopoulos hoped, the entrepreneurs would leave with their business dreams much closer to reality, MIT News continued.
She said, “They were so excited and couldn’t wait to tell you about their ideas,” MIT News noted that “mentoring by Hatsopoulos, and her Boston-based entrepreneurial network during the boot camp, and in subsequent months, has already begun to pay off for the visiting Greek entrepreneurs. Three participants of the boot camp won top honors at the MITEF Greece startup competition in July, and other groups have found potential investors and collaborators.”
“For these startups, the costs are so low, and they have access to really good and affordable talent, which is a huge advantage…I want to continue to work with MITEF Greece to help them out, and the next step is to make the U.S. network more cohesive and provide these entrepreneurs access to funding,” she said.
Hatsopoulos is now optimistic about Greece’s future. Regarding the emerging entrepreneurs, she said “They are so totally different in spirit from the country overall…They have this amazing excitement and energy. They see only upside.”
Her degree from MIT is in mechanical engineering, “but no one has ever paid me to be an engineer so I am reluctant to walk on a bridge that I designed,” she said with modesty and humor, but the links she is helping to forge between Greeks and the rest of the world will be the foundations for the new Greece.
“The community in Boston is so rich and vibrant and well-connected and the idea is to make the entrepreneurs in Greece feel like they are part of the community,” she said.
Hatsopoulos will be following up on her Greek efforts. “There is still a lot to be done, learning how to build a community by connecting people virtually as well as physically and establish concrete connections between Greece and the diaspora.
Modern communications technology makes it much easier as transatlantic relationships can be maintained through devices such as Skype conferences she told TNH.
One of her biggest areas of interest – which is vitally important for Greece’s economic development – is technology commercialization.
“Greek Universities have a lot of research going on,” Hatsopoulos told TNH, “but there isn’t a culture yet of commercializing the technology. Figuring out how to make that happen is an important next step,” and she wants to help make it happen.
She likes projects like THI’s Fellowship of a New Economy that sends early and mid-career professionals to year-long placements in leading US companies, and she would love to see Greek-American business, science and high tech students and recent grads be embedded in Greek companies to share cutting edge knowledge and practices.
“That kind of cross-breeding of cultures can be extremely helpful,” Hatsopoulos said.