Start-Up Stars

They are the ones with ideas, the energy, the knowhow, and the keys to the future. Greece’s start-up scene is booming and so Greece Investor Guide gathered five of the top players around a table to talk about problems, how to solve them, opportunities, and what it means to do business in Greece.

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Five questions to five stars. Greece Investor Guide talks to some of the top performers in the country’s start-up scene about the challenges and opportunities they face. In an ecosystem that has come a long way in the last few years, Greek start-ups are seeking to connect with global investors and customers while handling local problems. The balance between creativity and hard work is important, they add, but so is the timing of a venture.


Fighting the good war

Project Agora helps publishers in emerging markets take maximum value out of visitors, says Odysseas Ntotsikas, Managing Director of ThinkDigital Group.

GIG: What problem does your business solve?

Odysseas Ntotsikas Managing Director of ThinkDigital Group

Ntotsikas: Local publishers are struggling to survive amidst a shrinking digital advertising pie that is being monopolised by two global players who jointly have a growing 70% market share.

Project Agora fights the good war, powering local publishers in emerging markets to take the maximum value out of their visitors so that they can fuel their investment back into content and services for their local communities.

We do this by providing a software as a service (SaaS) platform that publishers use to understand and engage with their visitors, and maximise their revenues while minimising technological complexity.

GIG: How would you assess the start-up ecosystem in Greece?

Odysseas Ntotsikas Managing Director of ThinkDigital Group

Ntotsikas: The Greek start-up ecosystem has made a huge jump in the last five to seven years, creating new jobs, poster-child companies, and value for investors. The most positive contribution of this early phase has been an overall mentality change that has made people believe in entrepreneurship as a force of good – for themselves and the economy as a whole.

GIG: What role could international capital play in your start-up?

Odysseas Ntotsikas Managing Director of ThinkDigital Group

Ntotsikas: Four years after its launch, Project Agora is working with 700 websites in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, it employs 60 professionals, and it has an annual turnover in excess of €10 million. International capital would help accelerate this scale-up phase, further deepen our product offering, and help us enter two newly identified geo-areas.

GIG: What makes Greek entrepreneurs unique?

Odysseas Ntotsikas Managing Director of ThinkDigital Group

Ntotsikas: Learning to succeed against the odds and bureaucracy, or other state-imposed obstacles, businesses face in Greece. Other than that, I don’t believe in cultural stereotypes, as far as entrepreneurship is concerned.

GIG: Creativity or hard work, what comes first?

Odysseas Ntotsikas Managing Director of ThinkDigital Group

Ntotsikas: I will paraphrase one of my favourite quotes: it’s creativity that generates value and hard work that helps you grasp it. You can’t have one without the other. On top of those two, I would add good timing into the equation, which is always a key success ingredient.  


Boosting performance 20 times

InAccel helps companies run faster software applications and handle huge amounts of data, says CEO and Co-Founder Chris Kachris.

GIG: What problem does your business solve?

Chris Kachris CEO and Co-Founder of InAccel

Kachris: InAccel helps companies run faster-than-ever their mission-critical software applications by leveraging the power of state-of-the-art accelerators in the cloud or on-premise. At the same time, InAccel helps companies to reduce the operating expenses of IT operations, which has been increasing rapidly in the last few years.

Currently, many companies need to process huge amounts of data and extract useful information out of these data that will help them make better decisions. Companies working on emerging applications, like machine learning, artificial intelligence, Internet of things (IoT), 5G, business intelligence, and blockchain need to process large amounts of data in a limited time. Typical processors consume huge amounts of energy, offer limited performance, and incur high operating expenses.

InAccel, a world leader in application accelerators, designs tailored-made, optimised computing systems that can achieve 20x better performance and 5x lower operating expenses. InAccel operates in the data centre accelerator market, which is expected to reach $21.2 billion by 2023, and in the machine learning as a service (MLaaS) market, which is expected to reach $8.3 billion by 2023.

GIG: How would you assess the start-up ecosystem in Greece?

Chris Kachris CEO and Co-Founder of InAccel

Kachris: The start-up ecosystem has been rising fast in the last few years, and several companies have managed to grow in highly competitive markets worldwide. Initiatives, like EquiFund, a program supported by the EIF, that leverage the power of VCs in Greece to help start-ups are a major milestone in the right direction.

Although the VC ecosystem in Greece is new, most of the VCs (such as Marathon) have been founded by people with significant experience in the domain of start-ups worldwide. Also, initiatives like InventICT (NTUA) help to commercialise innovative research results that take place in Greek universities.

GIG: What role could international capital play in your start-up? 

Chris Kachris CEO and Co-Founder of InAccel

Kachris: Like any start-up, the support of an international fund is critical in the growth of the company in order to maximise its value and profits. Financial support from an international VC, when it is accompanied by experienced investors, helps companies establish their presence in markets like the U.S., Germany, the UK, and China and promote the added value offered by the start-up. Therefore, international investors that offer ‘smart’ money can leverage the value of a company and can expect significant profits on their investment.

GIG: What makes Greek entrepreneurs unique?

Chris Kachris CEO and Co-Founder of InAccel

Kachris: The brain drain of highly educated scientists and engineers in recent years shows that there is a strong culture in Greece to make the most out of their potential and their hard work, even if that means leaving their country. Bright, focused, and dedicated engineers and scientists want to solve challenging problems and contribute to society.

In several cases, entrepreneurs in Greece have shown that they combine the most important elements for a successful start-up: passion, persistence, hard work, and creativity; these are elements essential for any start-up in the world.

GIG: Creativity or hard work, what comes first?

Chris Kachris CEO and Co-Founder of InAccel

Kachris: At InAccel we work with state-of-the-art technology to offer to our clients the most powerful and cost-efficient computing systems. To make this happen, there is a strong mixture of passion, persistence, creativity, knowledge, and results-driven hard work. Creativity is essential to keep our company innovative, but it is combined with hard work in order to make our products on time and satisfy customers.


Getting the right doctor

Doctoranytime helps patients get the best medical services, says Eleftheria Zourou, Founder & CEO.

GIG: What problem does your business solve?

Eleftheria Zourou Founder & CEO of Doctoranytime

Zourou: Doctoranytime is revolutionising healthcare by helping patients identify the best and most suitable doctor for their health condition. On top of that, it takes care of all the details of organising an appointment in order for patients to have easy access to doctors. The fact is that at least once a year we need to visit a doctor. When this time comes, we are full of feelings that vary from boredom to concern at spending endless time in the waiting room of a private practice.

Before the Doctoranytime era, a patient would look for a doctor on the internet – 72% of the population does that. As a patient you need a doctor who is specialised in your medical needs, is affordable, is situated close to you, and last but not least, you want a doctor whom you can trust.

How does Doctoranytime work? Doctoranytime has nailed the whole process from the beginning, when the health issue arises, to the end, which for us is a reminder of the next appointment.

When looking for a specific doctor, speciality, or a doctor specialised in a specific medical case, the patient writes in the search box what he/she wants and the system brings up the most suitable options, as per his/her request. The patient can then review the list and evaluate each doctor’s resume, experience and expertise, medical services his/her private practice supports, followed by the cost, and the top patient reviews of the doctor.

Concerning medical information, our team of experts, with the help of our doctors, write the most informative yet trustworthy content.

GIG: How would you assess the start-up ecosystem?

Eleftheria Zourou Founder & CEO of Doctoranytime

Zourou: The start-up ecosystem has given some very good examples, but it’s still small. I believe the reasons are the lack of support and the right business environment. Further reasons are high taxes that don’t allow small companies to hope for growth, bad mentality on the founder’s side, and a lack of people able and willing to work in the demanding and competitive start-up environment.

GIG: What role could international capital play in your start-up?

Eleftheria Zourou Founder & CEO of Doctoranytime

Zourou: International capital could give a Greek start-up an international perspective to be able to expand into other countries and prove its model outside of Greece, which currently is out of the international game.

GIG: What makes Greek entrepreneurs unique?

Eleftheria Zourou Founder & CEO of Doctoranytime

Zourou: Are they unique?

GIG: Creativity or hard work-what comes first?

Eleftheria Zourou Founder & CEO of Doctoranytime

Zourou: There is not a certain sequence. The one thing I am sure of is that you do need both to succeed.


Repurposing for rare diseases

Purposeful uses existing drugs to cure overlooked diseases, says CTO Charalampos Chomenidis.

GIG: What problem does your business solve?

Charalampos Chomenidis CTO of Purposeful

Chomenidis: Rare diseases are defined as those affecting 1 in 2,000 people or less. There are 7,000 rare diseases, 95% of which do not have a known cure. Purposeful is a biotech company focusing on computational drug repurposing for rare diseases.

Put simply, we strive to find existing drugs that can cure or alleviate symptoms of these traditionally overlooked diseases, thus minimising both the drug development costs and the go-to-market timeline.

GIG: How would you assess the start-up ecosystem in Greece?

Charalampos Chomenidis CTO of Purposeful

Chomenidis: The start-up ecosystem in Greece comprises a rapidly evolving scene with several highly successful companies and exits. The scales between the forces of bureaucracy and high taxation versus immense talent and cheap labour are finally tipping towards the right direction.

Greece can also boast a recently created pool of incubators and VCs, which can provide the mentoring and financial tools necessary for growth. We strongly believe that now is the time to be a part of the Greek start-up ecosystem, both for entrepreneurs and investors.

GIG: What role could international capital play in your start-up?

Charalampos Chomenidis CTO of Purposeful

Chomenidis: It could be key to whether we make it or break it. Low- or high-cost is a relative term, highly dependent on each company’s area of business.

Purposeful is low-cost for the pharmaceutical industry, but capital-intensive nonetheless. What we need is informed investors who can back our drug discovery process through their funding, international connections, and market awareness.

GIG: What makes Greek entrepreneurs unique?

Charalampos Chomenidis CTO of Purposeful

Chomenidis: The T-factor! This is the term we have given to their troubleshooting ability. Throughout the years Greek entrepreneurs have encountered significant obstacles in their pursuit of success. However, they have often managed to thrive, primarily due to this innate resilience.

GIG: Creativity or hard work, what comes first?

Charalampos Chomenidis CTO of Purposeful

Chomenidis: On a personal level, we would probably have to say hard work. You need to learn how to hold a paintbrush before you put colour on a canvas, let alone create your own artistic style. Your later evolution requires a combination of both.

With regards to creating an industry-disrupting start-up, we reckon creativity must come first, but it is hard work that transforms ideas into reality. ‘Let’s go to the moon’ was a great idea, but probably required more than the creative aspect to be carried out.


Hassle-free renting

Blueground compiles a 2,000 apartment portfolio and eyes a target of 50,000 by 2023, says Partner and COO, Thanos Geramanis.

GIG: What problem does your business solve?

Thanos Geramanis Partner and COO of Blueground

Geramanis: Nearly every aspect of our lives – from the way we eat to the way we commute – has been affected by technology. Improving one aspect, however, has remained elusive: renting an apartment. Renting an apartment for the mid- to long-term is still inflexible and tedious.

With Blueground, apartment renting becomes seamless and hassle-free. We first lease carefully selected, ideally located properties and upgrade them to fully furnished and thoughtfully equipped apartments that can be booked for a month, a year, or even longer.

Renters then can view apartments, check availabilities in real-time, sign the lease, pay rent, and file maintenance requests – all via our website and app.

Up to now, we have compiled an impressive portfolio of more than 2,000 apartments in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dubai, Istanbul, and Athens, while our goal is to reach a milestone of 50,000 apartments in 50 cities by 2023.

GIG: How would assess the start-up ecosystem in Greece?

Thanos Geramanis Partner and COO of Blueground

Geramanis: The Greek start-up ecosystem – despite the challenges that the country faced over the last decade – is vibrant with many examples of companies expanding across the globe, attracting significant funding, or making successful exits. Companies like Blueground, Beat, MarineTraffic, Blendo, Softomotive, Hellas Direct, and Transifex are transforming their respective industries globally, hiring hundreds of employees in their offices worldwide and raising a significant amount of funding.

Furthermore, in the last few years, important developments have taken place that demonstrate the progress of the local start-up scene.

Specifically, a new fund-of-funds program, EquiFund, was launched. Through EquiFund, over €400 million will be invested in the Greek market, giving ideas the chance to flourish and businesses to scale up. Also, Athens was named the European Capital of Innovation 2018. So, although, we are only at the beginning, these success stories and recent developments reflect our start-up ecosystem’s significant growth potential.

GIG: What role could international capital play in your start-up?

Thanos Geramanis Partner and COO of Blueground

Geramanis: Funding is vital for any fast-growing business to grow and reach its targets. Furthermore, the right international investors will give a company access to international know-how, as well as local insights and a business network. At Blueground, to date, we have raised a total of $28 million from prominent U.S. angel investors including Kevin Ryan and well-established venture capital funds such as the European fund Venture Friends, the American fund
Endeavor Catalyst, and Jabbar Internet Group, based in the Middle East.

GIG: What makes Greek entrepreneurs unique?

Thanos Geramanis Partner and COO of Blueground

Geramanis: Doing business in Greece is very challenging. The unstable macroeconomic environment, the limited investment in R&D, the lack of collaboration between the universities and businesses, in combination with Greece’s recent financial crisis, have deeply affected the local market as well as the start-up ecosystem.

Greek entrepreneurs have learned the hard way how to be agile and manage the unexpected. These factors have formed Greek entrepreneurs, known to be more street-smart, resilient, problem-solvers, and not afraid to take risks and chase their dreams.

GIG: Creativity or hard work, what comes first?

Thanos Geramanis Partner and COO of Blueground

Geramanis: Building a successful company requires a balanced mix of creativity and hard work. Specifically, the first challenge for a start-up is to identify a solution to a large enough problem and then quickly reach a product-market fit. Then the second challenge from there is to scale.

Creativity in both of these processes is certainly essential. However, when it comes to executing, hard work is the key to success.

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