By Marco Veremis, Partner, Big Pi Ventures. Originally appeared in Greek in “Kathimerini” on Sunday, November 28, 2021 (Economy Section, p. 64).

After decades of complete absence from the fields of technology development and innovation, Greece is finally carving a place of its own. The domestic startup ecosystem has attracted some of the largest investors in the world, from large tech companies such as Microsoft, Intel and Samsung to financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Bain, CVC and BC Partners. This increased interest from investors has pushed the collective valuation of domestic software companies, most of which did not even exist ten years ago, to almost €6 billion. They are growing rapidly, showing great resilience to the pandemic and, most importantly, creating a new generation of highly skilled, ambitious future entrepreneurs and executives. Blueground, Persado, PeopleCert, Skroutz and Viva have now all reached unicorn status, with valuations approaching or exceeding €1 billion. A significant achievement, considering that across Europe there are only 125 unicorns, of which 80 are based in the United Kingdom. Beyond tech, Greek pharmaceutical companies are increasingly turning themselves from importers to innovative producers. Taken together, the broader innovation sector represents today a significant chunk of the country’s GDP. The recent acquisition of Pharmaten at a valuation of around €1.6 billion confirms the sector’s momentum.

For a country long considered a laggard, these developments are undoubtedly impressive. For the first time the government recognizes that economic transformation requires a strong innovation sector and is actively pursuing policies that promote its growth. The decision to staff the ministries of Development and Digital Governance with young professionals with a sense of urgency has transformed the state into a reliable partner for business.

Nevertheless, Greece continues to lose ground relative to other countries, simply because others are moving faster. Of the 20 largest companies in the world, which together make up a quarter of the total market capitalization of the S&P 500, more than half come from the technology and health industries. In Greece the relative strength of the sector is still disappointing. 

The level of investment in venture and growth capital is often a good indicator of what to expect in the future. Last week, the German government announced it will invest €20 billion in the coming years in technology through Venture Capital (VC) funds. For Greece to approach similar levels of investment, proportionally to the country’s population, the government would have to make available €700 million a year, compared to less than €70 million currently. While Greece counts just 6 VC funds, Israel has 205, investing €1.5 billion annually.

The momentum of the domestic startup ecosystem shows that Greece has the opportunity to take part in the global technology revolution. For this to happen we must move more decisively, invest more and take bigger risks, as if our future depends on it.

At SEV, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, we set up an Innovation Committee to create an institutional “home” for all these companies and help them grow better and faster. We count among our members the sixty largest companies in the sector, with more being added each month. We share a common objective, to build companies in Greece that will play a leading role internationally and for our sector to reach 10% of GDP in five years. At the SEV Innovation Committee we envision seeing in the coming years more rapidly growing startups, large foreign companies setting up research centers in Greece, domestic companies becoming innovative and export-driven and our universities creating research that translates into financially valuable patents.