Source: bponline.amcham.gr, by Stavros Messinis
Aspiring entrepreneurs want to live and work in exciting places that offer a supportive culture, quality of life and ease of doing business. The challenge is tough and it doesn’t happen overnight. It needs participation from all spheres of society—entrepreneurs themselves, State institutions or large corporations.
Led by Entrepreneurs, Helped by Institutions
This is a bottom-up structure, it cannot be done by implementing policy change alone. This must be led by entrepreneurs, who have the most direct interest and can have the biggest direct impact. Having the most direct interest makes entrepreneurs take a long-term view.
Top down initiatives—governments, universities, banks or investment funds—cannot lead this. They have decision and action cycles—3-7 years—that are too short. Investment funds probably have the fastest decision/activity cycle but it is nowhere near the agility and speed offered by individual entrepreneurs.
Startup Ecosystems Need to be Inclusive and Engaging
Everyone who wants to offer something should be allowed to and should be supported. Whether it be organizing an event or offering resources to the ecosystem, the combined energy has an amplifying effect supporting new entrepreneurial activity. Yes, there are some bad apples that might try to enter the system and, often, they will. This system, however, is a vibrant living organism and if healthy overall, will either change the bad apples into forces of good or reject them outright. One or the other will happen and as the ecosystem matures, it will happen sooner. We’re seeing signs of this in Athens now and it’s very encouraging.
Geographic Locality and Density
Things become much more powerful when activities of startups are concentrated in a specific zone within a city, making it recognizable as “the place to go” to meet and learn from other entrepreneurs. Inevitably, the overall cost of starting up, acquiring talent, knowledge and capital becomes significantly lower as startup density increases. People work better in flocks and there’s safety in numbers. The catalytic factor here is attracting a large startup to a zone. In San Francisco, Twitter moving to the SoMa district was instrumental in attracting other startups to SoMa, making it a fashionable place to set up. Policy is driven by demand and numbers. We’re seeing good startup density in what I could refer to as the Syntagma, Monastiraki, Gazi triangle with more established or growth phase and later-stage corporate activity migrating further north to to Maroussi or Chalandri.
Fostering a strong entrepreneurial community requires hard work. Entrepreneurs should offer up to 15% of time to community initiatives. Some, like event curators or co-working space owners will offer more—it’s their job after all. Athens has a very dense activity calendar, from meetups to hackathons and networking events. Regularity, in terms of periodicity and location are important in the success of an entrepreneurial event. Initiatives acting as catalysts are Opencoffee, StartupWeekend, Eimai Kano Thelo, and MeetIn5. There are more and they’re all adding their bit of value.
Take the Leap
It is important that now that we have the first cells of a healthy and vibrant ecosystem that we now move from inspirational or informative events and activities to measurable actions that deliver. We need more people to take the leap and startup, creating jobs, solving the world’s problems through their products. In the past few months, four new venture capital funds have emerged, ready to fund new initiatives. There is no better time to startup.