The Greek Hub of Silicon Valley Takes Shape

Silicon Valley Greek Hub
The Googleplex in Mountain View. Credit: Austin McKinley , CC BY 3.0/Wikipedia Commons

Covid-19 has delayed discussions with representatives from the Silicon Valley Greek Hub (SVGH) and the Greek government to acquire an organized and institutional presence in the San Francisco area.

Scheduled to speak at his alma mater, the University of San Francisco (USF) today, Kostas Fragogiannis, Greece’s Deputy Minister of Development and Investments for Economic Diplomacy, canceled the second leg of his US trip this week.

Fragogiannis was to speak on the topic of “GRexit to GRowth” at the USF campus. The Greek delegation, which originally included Christos Dimas, Deputy Minister of Development and Investments for Research and Innovation, was exposed to COVID-19 while in Boston and has now returned to Greece.

Fragogiannis had stated prior to the US trip, “The choice of destinations is obviously not at all random. On the contrary, it marks the core goal of our visit, which is the connection of critical development of the country resources and points of reference, especially in the fields of research and innovation.”

Greece needs an institutional presence in Silicon Valley

According to Fragogiannis, “It is about time that Greece, like almost all EU countries as well as many developed and developing economies of the world, acquires an organized and institutional presence in the region.”

The Deputy Ministers’ visit was to have included Boston and San Francisco, where a series of meetings and contacts was scheduled with distinguished scientists from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Berkley, and USF, with businessmen and senior executives from the field of high technology, along with representatives of national investment and innovation promotion agencies operating in the US.

Hellenic Greek Start Ups boston
Deputy Ministers for Development Costas Fragogiannis and Christos Dimas in Boston on the first leg of their US trip to promote Greek start-ups. Credit: Twitter/@Christos Dimas

The purpose of the visit was to present the favorable conditions that have now been created in Greece to attract investment, along with the mobilization and utilization of prominent Greek scientists, academics and businessmen operating in the US so as to attract American companies to Greece.

The Deputy Ministers’ agenda also included the establishment of a Greek national support body for Greek start-up companies in Silicon Valley.

Daphne Vitsikounaki, Economic and Commercial Affairs Officer at the Consulate General of Greece in San Francisco, stated “The large and active community of Greek scientists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley appears willing to actively contribute to the development of the Greek innovation ecosystem.”

Digital diplomacy in Silicon Valley

In September, a study about digital diplomacy in Silicon Valley was published on the page of the Consulate General of Greece in San Francisco.

According to the study, Greece, following the example of other countries, would be able to decisively support Greek start-ups and digital transformation in our country by establishing a well-staffed liaison office in Silicon Valley, with adequate infrastructure and funding.

The plan would have three elements. First, technological developments and how they can be utilized in Greece and/or be taken into account in digital policymaking in the country would be monitored.

Secondly, Greek start-ups would be supported with soft landing services, boot camps, immersion programs, market entry workshops, consulting services for practical issues (legal, tax, visa applications, housing, co-working spaces, etc.), mentoring, coaching and networking in Silicon Valley. These might be the way to secure financing from high-risk capital companies here or angel investors as well as the discovery of new clients and partners.

Thirdly, it would promote Greece in the local ecosystem as a country of production of innovative technologies, with a specialized workforce and an ever-improving business environment, attractive to foreign investors.

Greece does not have an official organization or mechanism to support Greek start-ups based in the region, other than the Offices of Economic and Commercial Affairs of the General Directorate of St. Francisco. The first time such a support action was undertaken, it was organized by Enterprise Greece (a Greek state body) in December 2020.  It was initiated with the online training program “Thriving in the storm,” which lasted seven days and in which 12 Greek startups took part.

The continuation and extension of this action would give the opportunity to more companies to receive relevant training. The ecosystem of startups in Greece has now been officially mapped with the establishment of the national register of start-ups called Elevate Greece.

In addition, initiatives of non-governmental organizations, such as “Innovative Greeks” — the result of cooperation between the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and Endeavor Greece — have the potential to play an important role in connecting the Greek community worldwide with Greece.

The large and active community of Greek scientists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley appears willing to actively contribute to the development of the Greek innovation ecosystem. The establishment of the Silicon Valley Greek Hub, promoted by the Consulate General of Greece in San Francisco — equivalent to the Hellenic Innovation Network operating in Boston — can decisively contribute to this effort.

A recent report from Endeavor, a Greek non-profit that supports the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, cites that 81% of Greek university students have a positive view of entrepreneurship. Thirty percent intend to start their own business in the immediate future.

Even in the face of near-economic collapse, Greece was one of 10 countries that made the greatest gains in the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute index, which estimated that Greece’s entrepreneurship activities rose 10% in the past year.

Startup nation is the one-stop portal for innovators, startuppers and entrepreneurs of any stage or type, including all organizations targeting Greek startups.

The SVGS Funding Group is a loosely-coupled network of Greeks in Silicon Valley with broad and strong levels of technical, managerial, and investment expertise spanning the entire spectrum from CEOs (both active and retired) to influential engineers, scientists, and researchers. The SVGS Funding Group is a powerful talent pool working together to create wealth and to help young Greek entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams.

For the projects SVG selects for funding, they provide not only seed funds, but also valuable guidance to young entrepreneurs who have not created a start up company before. Funding can come from Greek Angel Investors who are members of the SVGS Funding Group (the Core members) or from other investors outside of the group who may be solicited by a core or an affiliate member.

In all cases, a core member or an affiliate member must elect to take interest and sponsor the submitted proposal by leading the efforts to perform the evaluation and due diligence, and to line up the necessary seed funding.

Silicon Valley Greek Hub Can Access Government Platform

According to Fragogiannis, “Greece has now a modern official platform serving as a gateway that presents the domestic innovation ecosystem and through which specialized incentives are provided to start-ups, such as tax relief for angel investors, stock options, and even funding opportunities using NSRF actions to enhance their liquidity.”

Elevate Greece is an initiative launched by the Greek Government, intended to identify promising startups and support their growth nurturing a robust innovation ecosystem along the way. The initiative provides a digital gate through which Greek startups can apply, requesting to be officially accredited by the Ministry of Development and Investments for Research and Innovation.

Fragogiannis stated “Elevate Greece is also actively supported by a significant network of private sector companies, providing start-ups with cash prizes, specialized banking products, cloud services, access to global innovation networks, mentoring services, etc. Let us stress, at this point, that the first step in this direction was taken in December 2020, when Greece, through ‘Enterprise Greece’ organized for the first time an action in support of Greek innovative companies.”

Both “Elevate Greece” and “Enterprise Greece” will lay the foundations for a more systematic and substantial institutional presence of Greece in the cradle of technology and its ecosystem.

Fragogiannis stated, “It is a fortunate coincidence and a favorable momentum, that after two years of hard and targeted work by the government, Greece has restored its reputation as a reliable, dynamic economy and as an attractive investment destination, especially in research and development investments.

“We have laid the foundations that make our country a regional hub of research and development with new significant tax incentives for research and development expenditures, with a new institutional framework for the operation of spin-offs, with the development of an Innovation District in CHROPEI and the creation of the Thessaloniki Innovation Technology Center and with promoting important actions such as Collaborative Innovation Clusters and Competence Centers.”

According to Fragogiannis the trip to the US began “with enthusiasm and vision and we hope to return with innovative ideas and having built bridges to promote and implement them. Our call for investment and synergies between Greece and the US is no longer based on emotional arguments, but on mutually beneficial real opportunities.”

Fragogiannis added that “targeted work being carried out at government level, is the establishment of the Embassy’s Science Attaché in the new Organizational statute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is another aspect of modern diplomacy, which, in order to be exercised effectively, should follow developments with regard to innovation.”

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