ATHENS – Dynamic and talented young Hellenes in an array of fields were given a chance to show off their startups at the Athens Hilton Hotel on July 5 during the Fourth annual Venture Fair, one of the major efforts by The Hellenic Initiative (THI) – the global, nonprofit institution that works “to mobilize the Greek Diaspora and Philhellenes around the globe to invest in the future of Greece.”
The phrase “your turn at bat” resonates more with the American members of THI – cricketeers among its numerous Australian and UK members would also understand- but the phrase reflects the excitement of Greece’s top young entrepreneurs at their chance to hit home runs in front of potential investors from all over the world – and to get vital “batting practice” and “hitting tips” to prepare them for future presentations.
All 10 young companies made big hits, and three garnered not only applause - but seed money as prizes.
Vetted companies were prepared by THI consultants for the “American-style” pitch event that also created time and space for networking and company demo tables.
The 10 firms included B2B Wave, which pioneers “an innovative B2B ecommerce ordering and catalog solution for wholesale distributors and manufacturers;” Kalepso, which created “the first end-to-end Encrypted Cloud Database System;” Natech, which “develops and supports integrated IT solutions in the international financial institution market;” Olyra, which uses traditional Greek crops in its all-natural on-the-go breakfast snacks; PD Neurotechnology, which aims to dramatically improve the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients with its optimal timing and dosage devices; Pobuca, a producer of digital assistants which facilitate the company contacts process; Quantimetrica, specializing in voice recognition software and hardware; Feel, whose wristband emotional monitoring device aims to transform how mental health is monitored; Think Silicon, which is focused on more efficient graphics technology; and Viral Loops – a marketing platform that incentivizes clients to promote the firms they work with.
In the first round each firm made a formal presentation, then six winners – up from the planned five because the judges were so impressed – fielded tough questions from the judges – “What is your competition doing… why are confident you will maintain your edge?” “Your revenue stream is weak so far – why?”
First place – and $10,000 from THI Australia – went to Viral Loops. PD Neurotechnology received the $6000 second place prize, and $4000 was awarded to Think Silicon.
The exciting day closed with remarks from THI Chair, Attorney George Stamas, and THI Chairman Andrew Liveris. After a powerful sermon on the importance of risk for individual and collective success, he said “We are here to reward the risk appetite of Greece’s innovators.”
Board Member Jeremy Downward declared “the future of Greece very much lies in the hands of the talented and dedicated young entrepreneurs” and was thrilled to lead the applause for them.
THI Executive Director and Venture Fair MC Mark Arey thanked the sponsors and organizers, including Director of Development Peter Poulos, and Project Manager Michael Printzos and his team in Athens.
Arey also thanked Alexis Komselis of Venture Garden, and Kurt Helar of the John Papajohn Entrepreneurial Center of University of Iowa “who has given his heart and soul to the project.” Angelo Angelou was thanked for helping 70 entrepreneurs attend the annual South by Southwest mega-conference in Austin.
It was THI Board member Drake Behrakis’s first Fair. He told The National Herald, “It’s important to see these presentations,” and to attend the next day’s summit of representatives of Hellenic Diaspora organizations, which he said “was a long time coming…participants will receive updates from experts on what is going on in Greece and how the diaspora can come together to help.”
Behrakis offered advice based on personal experience. While bureaucratic red tape is still an obstacle, he said, “There are definitely opportunities in Greece.” He advises investors to begin with the “paths of least resistance - sectors long open to foreign investment like tourism and food service, adding “Look at smaller firms and find the right people to guide you.”
Venture Fair was also notable for the Youth of its attendees.
Anthony Liveris, recently elected Chair of THI’s New Leaders young professionals group, emphasized the importance of “getting in touch with economic development at the ground level” and noted that Greece’s young entrepreneurs appreciate their counterparts’ interest.
John Catsimatidis Jr. said, “It’s important for us as Greek Americans to come and look at potential ways to invest because Greece has given so much to us, we need to give back to Greece. There are many tremendous companies making progress.”
Among the ideas being discussed are various kinds of mentoring programs.
The National Hellenic Student Association (NHSA) sent a delegation including past president Constantine Ouranitsas and Vassiliki Mitrakos. Current president Alexander Thomopoulos said, “We are here to build bridges and to see what the young entrepreneurs are doing and how we can help.”
A previous participant, Roxane Koutsolouca, opened a window on the entrepreneurial process with the story of how she founded Join Cargo. “I was stuck in traffic and noticed a lot of trunks and wondered how many were filled up?” Research proved very few were, and now her company “a kind of Uber for trucks,” profits from making firms more efficient.
The following day and after the meeting of diaspora leaders, THI board members gathered to discuss the organization’s plans for helping Greece not only during the crisis – THI also has substantial philanthropic endeavors in conjunction with other NGOs and organization there – but for promoting economic development far into the future.