A follow-up interview with the organizers of STARTup Live Athens, by Jody Sadornas, Reinventing Greece guest contributor reporting from Athens
Tucked away in a quiet tavern at the end of an Athens neighborhood cul-de-sac, Konstantina Zoehrer, Petroula Karagianni, Christos Kyliakoudis, Irini Nissiriou and Lefteris Kontaxis are having an evening coffee. The lights are dim, but from the flicker of the candle’s fire, their smiles are unmasked. Their cups overflow with excitement as they discuss next steps to follow-up their inaugural STARTup Live Athens workshop that took place November 4-6.
Despite the economic and political turmoil that grips the country, the mood here is positive. The organizers of STARTup Live Athens are optimistic that the weekend-long simulation of developing business plans with mentors and pitching to potential investors has planted the types of seeds that will sprout future entrepreneurs. In our interview, we ask the organizers to share their impressions of the event, their plans for follow-up activities and how the Greek diaspora can help Greeks working to revitalize the country’s economy.
Set under a view of the Acropolis, at the Hellenic American Union in Athens, 150 aspiring entrepreneurs, professionals and students developed 14 final ideas in 54 hours, with the help of 23 mentors and fellow participants from Greece and abroad.
The event began with a pitch training session Friday morning where business experts gave insider tips on how to sell a winning pitch. Later that evening, participants took to the stage to put into practice what they had learned. This allowed participants to get feel of what it’s like to pitch a business plan to potential investors. Following the pitches, participants were given the opportunity to mingle amongst themselves and form teams to build a startup.
Saturday was ground-breaking day. In teams, participants began work on their startups. After a several hours of intensive idea sharing and business developing, mentors were assigned to each team to help guide and critique business plans.
Sunday was focused on the pitches. And at 6pm, pencils were down, presentations were saved, and the pitching began.
Reinventing Greece: What were your overall impressions of the event?
Christos: Imagine that you are in a hydro-collider, but instead of electrons, it’s full of energy for innovation and change. It felt like that… It was like accelerating innovation and change. I felt that these people were going to build the new Greece.
Irini: It was a surprise to see the change in the mood of the participants- to compare their first day to their last- despite the fact that it was a very difficult weekend in Greece. It was exciting to see people trying to get better. It showed strong hope for Greece.
Lefteris: It gave people a chance to step out of their boundaries. Everyone worked hard and had a vision. And I believed that we succeeded.
Kostantina: We were a team that didn’t meet at all before, or some of us knew each other a little bit before the event and we worked a lot while not being at the same table. But I think the way we came together and formed something…. that culture [was reflected] in the people that attended…. We were open to give and to receive and to learn from each other.
Petroula: It was good to see the value of community. I grew up outside of Greece and came ten years ago, [and didn’t know] that the Greek community is very bonded. And what we saw from STARTup Live was that they are bonded together. They were not competitive with each other. They were sharing the weight and sharing the goal even as they were in a competition… They wanted each other to succeed ….. and that’s something we wanted to bring out and I’m really happy that I saw that. They say it’s so difficult for Greeks to collaborate. No, it’s not. You just have to create the right team… even when the political situation is lost, the fight is not lost. We’ll find a way out of the crisis.
RG: Given the political and economic situation in Greece, what do you think are some of the challenges for the participants in actually realizing their goals?
Christos: Our disadvantages can actually be our advantages. We can turn them around and make them advantages. For example, we are a small market. We should not [provide] products and services [only] for Greece; we should [provide] products and services for people around the world… I think the main challenge we face is how we can collaborate and change our mentalities. We see in Greece that there is not a lot of positive energy or people trying to do something new. The biggest challenge is to believe we can do it-we can do it — and go out and do it. I think this is a mental process — it’s not about the challenges of the environment.
Kostantina: The biggest challenge is taking the collaboration that happened [during] the event and continuing it outside the event. We created a framework inside the event, but it’s an ideal framework that should also function outside. The challenge is to overcome a focus on one’s self, to see that it’s not my startup, my product, but something I have to share because if I share it, it [will] get bigger and develop into something better.
RG: Do you plan on doing a follow-up event? What are the next steps for STARTup Live Athens?
Kostantina: We will be gathering the alumni and we are discussing if it will be in month or a year. There is a desire to have it in the summer. It’s not a one-off thing. It’s something that should be ongoing to [re-energize] the community. The next event will be more focused on mentor sessions on specific topics. The event will be developing with community input.
Petroula: One of our main goals of the event was to build the existing network and create a new network and that’s not something that they finished on Sunday, but something they started on Sunday.
Kostantina: Next time we will have at least one investor on board as a mentor.
RG: Were there any unexpected outcomes, negative or positive?
Petroula: I didn’t expect the people to be so inspired and so emotional.
Kostantina: The rewarding thing was that two of the winning teams weren’t ready to pitch on Friday, but won an award on Sunday. They took a lot of steps forward, they really got outside their comfort zones.
Christos: The community was very vibrant. I see that many ideas were of good quality, and very diverse, which surprised me.
Irini: A surprise for me was the team’s spirit. Most of [them] didn’t know each other, but the way they were trying to form teams was amazing. And the way they wanted to continuously network with each other was a nice surprise.
RG: What are some ways Greeks living in diaspora communities can get involved with this initiative?
Petroula: I don’t think distance is a good excuse. Technology is helping us do things. It’s not about money. We need more brains to help. It’s not that there isn’t enough intelligence in Greece, but we need to open it up.
Kostantina: Being a Greek in a diaspora, [I think its] bringing what I have back, my network. It’s giving your knowledge and your network… people abroad can give you a different view on how you can do something… a different approach to doing something.
Christos: They can bring their knowledge of something new.
Irini: It would be nice to see Greeks from abroad come home… invest in their country, create businesses, and teach Greeks how to think, collaborate and network with other people.
Winners of the STARTup Live challenge
All winning teams were also offered space at the two co-working spaces in Athens, Loft2Work and Colab Workspace. The idea Historious was offered a special award of online marketing and promotion by 1st Click.