We know it. Greek startups know it. You just can’t keep Athens down. Yes, the concrete jungle many of us call home has its fair share of problems. And let’s not go into the quality of public services.

Athens and its Greek startups are leading the innovation game

But the news this week that the Greek capital has been awarded the EU’s prestigious European Capital of Innovation 2018 title, with a prize of €1 million, is certainly another sign of how the city appears continuously to be winning its battle against the odds.

The prize money will be used to promote further innovation activity in Athens and foster collaboration with other cities. The runner up cities – Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Leuven (Belgium), Toulouse (France), and Umeå (Sweden) – each received €100,000.

The award comes as another clear sign that right now, Athens is a magnet for innovation – a feat which has come in spite of the ongoing economic crisis.

Kudos to Athens and its Greek startups

Among 26 candidate cities, Athens came out on top. Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said:

“Athens stands out as an example that a city facing many challenges can achieve great things. Through innovation, Athens has found new purpose to turn around the economic and social crisis. It is proof that it’s not the difficulties but how you raise yourself above them that matters.”

The top innovations from Athens which contributed to its winning of the award include the following:

  • POLIS2 – a project which provides small grants to residents, small businesses and creative communities to revitalise abandoned buildings;
  • Curing the Limbo – an initiative connecting refugees and migrants with local residents to help them learn the language and integrate into the city;
  • The Digital Council – a city-sponsored scheme to promote digital solutions, both by boosting digital skills training and developing sustainable, tech-enabled smart city initiatives; and
  • The renovation of the 90-year-old Kypseli Public Market, creating a “social entrepreneurship” market space to host exhibitions, workshops and other creative projects.

All of the above, however, are simply the tip of the iceberg, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned.

Athens as a European innovation hub

Ask a typical Athenian and they will probably tell you a plethora of things they hate about their fair city. Or as I like to call it, this lovely, ugly town (borrowing the poet Dylan Thomas’ description of his native Swansea). But ask them if they would change it for anywhere else and the answer will be a resounding no.

The reasons. That’s the thing. Each and every Athenian – or expat for that matter – will have their own individual reasons, aside from the climate, food, and general way of life. And that says a lot about Athens in itself. The New York Times’ recent piece about Athens sums things up quite nicely.

But Athens’ status as a great place to live is just part of the city’s appeal. It is now being recognized by many as a great place to work. It is arguably right now the most attractive startup hub in the East Mediterranean. We at Starttech truly believe in it, that’s why our Venture Building Program is set-up here and the reason we are launching a new fund based here.

Greek startups are becoming popular abroad and we often hear phrases like Athens is the new Berlin. It is, in many respects, particularly in the field of innovation, startups and entrepreneurship. But this label comparing with Germany’s capital city does not really do Athens justice.

Out of the darkness of the economic crisis, Athens has reinvented itself. Athens is in fact, the new…Athens, and Greek startups continue to flourish.

The evidence

Indeed, Athens is experiencing very exciting times. Following a number of high profile startups exits involving millions of euros in the last 18 months, it appears that investors from all over the globe are starting to sniff around Greece’s fair city.

This blog of course bangs the drum continuously about the fact that Greece remains a dark horse for startup investment opportunities. The evidence is everywhere. Look no further than the recent report form research company Found.ation. In 2017, the two largest exits in the history of Greek startups, that of Taxibeat by Intelligent Apps of the German Daimler Group for 40.48 million EUR, and Innoetics by Samsung for an estimated 30-40 million EUR, took place.

And 2018 to date has seen considerable activity. The European Investment Fund’s (EIF) Equifund Athens initiative launched earlier this year, which really put Athens back on the investment map. For us, our US-based investors will quite rightly look to the Equifund and it’s 260m euros worth of capital as a marker. It’s a huge opportunity. They will know now that they are not taking any huge risks here, because they are following a sizable private institutional investor such as the EIF.

And finally…

There’s also the matter of how all of this venture capital feeding the local entrepreneurship ecosystem is bringing Greeks back to their beloved country and city. At last, the great Greek brain drain may finally be over. And that can only be a wonderful thing for a city with innovation on its agenda for the foreseeable future.


Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.