StartupJuncture visited Greece this week to learn from Greek entrepreneurs about their current situation. We came to a surprisingly simple conclusion: Greece’s main problem is not debt but unemployment, especially youth unemployment. Stimulating Greek entrepreneurship is therefore the action Europe should take to help solve the crisis.
Greece as a country is at a crossroads. One of it’s main problem, perhaps even the fundamental problem in the crisis, is massive unemployment. There are are no new jobs for people who graduate or loose their old job. Greece has to either create now jobs quickly or suffer from mass emigration. This is true for Greece as a whole but is even more apparent outside the capital. Cities like Patras have a good university but have even fewer jobs to offer. Graduates are forced to leave, leading to an unwanted brain drain.
Based on our interviews with Greek graduates, professors and entrepreneurs and visiting Athens and Patras, we would like to make a bold statement: Most politicians, especially the ones arguing over debt and financial issues are doing the wrong thing. They focus on debt, financial issues and austerity. These measures hurt rather than help Greece. The political discussion should be focused on solving the unemployment problem. To clarify this point a simple analogy is useful. Suppose a house is on fire. The fire is the real problem. It is life threatening and deserves everyone’s full and immediate attention. It does not matter how the fire started, whether the building passed its last inspection and who stored the gasoline in the basement. The Greek unemployment is as bad as a house being on fire: people cannot live without jobs. Until the unemployment problem is fixed, it does not matter whether EU, IMF or the Greek government caused the problem. A huge amount of jobs in both the public and private sector have disappeared and new jobs are needed.
Like Neelie Kroes said in a previous interview, jobs are not created by politicians, but by entrepreneurs. Greece needs a new generation of business minded graduates that know how to create their own jobs and build businesses that employ others. The only useful thing politicians can do is to enable and encourage entrepreneurship. A small group of entrepreneurs can make a big impact, even if they do not start the next Facebook. If 100 Greek new business bring in new revenue into the country, employ 10 people or more after two years and after two years each founder becomes mentor of another startup, more than 50.000 jobs would be created in the next 8 years and the crisis would be over soon after that. (for the econometrists, the numbers are based on a Fibonacci sequence).
Unfortunately, entrepreneurship does not seem to be embedded in Greek culture. The universities are not training people for entrepreneurship, the startup ecosystems of Greece are underdeveloped and there are not yet enough visible role models yet to act as mentors. A change is however happening in Greece. The university of Patras is trying to change the culture by educating people about entrepreneurship, through an International Summer Seminar on entrepreneurship. Three speakers (including the author) and around 200 students and university professors came together in the Patras Science and Technology Museum. Topic of the seminar was changing Greek society to encourage entrepreneurship. Three speakers were invited to start the discussion:
Can one seminar on entrepreneurship save Greece? Probably not. Greek entrepreneurs however can, if they are supported by a local ecosystem. All Greek entrepreneurs and graduates interviewed are extremely motivated to get to work. They deserve an ecosystem like The Netherlands has to help them get started. European politicians but also journalists would do well to look beyond the financial debt discussions and focus on entrepreneurship.
One Dutch institute that is making progress is The Dutch embassy, led by Dutch ambassador Jan Versteeg. The embassy started Orange Grove, an incubator that hosts a community of new Greek entrepreneurs. Other success stories can also be found: There are Greek startups that is doing well despite their challenging circumstances.Transifex has just received € 2.5 million in funding. Another example of a successful but relatively unknown Greek startup is the high tech sound processing expert group Accusonus: this company makes software that is used to for getting the percussion to sound just right for many US artists.
Challenges of course remain. Some of the challenges are of course relate to the current crisis and the way it is handled by EU, IMF and the Greek government
Other challenges are more fundamental, but are worth repeating. A burning house needs a lot of water and Greece can only overcome the crisis with a real focus on making entrepreneurship happen. The following steps are needed:
We hope this article inspires everyone to take the right actions. With StartupJuncture we are trying to do our part by making Greek startups internationally visible. Let’s hope this will lead to more entrepreneurial activity and eventually to more jobs in Greece.
Sharing this article via linkedin, Facebook and twitter is appreciated. Republishing of this article is also appreciated and permitted. If you have additional comments or suggestions, let us know via comments. Finally, we would like to thank the University of Patras for organizing the international seminar, Yiannis Kanellopoulos for helping us connect with local entrepreneurs and all participants of the seminar and the entrepreneurs interviewed for their contributions.
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André Beukes is an EU Management Consultant to international companies doing business in Europe. He provides clients with practical business support that makes a real difference doing business in the EU. “Put simply, I am here to help you meet your challenges. I believe in the importance of doing things correctly, meaning risks are reduced and problems are avoided.”