Friday, February 24, 2012

Entrepreneurs test the waters in Greece

by Joshua Chaffin

Financial Times

February 24, 2012

On Tuesday, just hours after Greece and its lenders came to terms on a new €130bn bail-out to spare the country from ruin, a group of smartly dressed Athenians gathered on the top floor of the city’s Benaki museum to try to change the subject.

They were attendees at a TED conference, an offshoot of the Silicon Valley talk-fests, dedicated to hatching big ideas and business ventures in technology, entertainment and design. The subject was entrepreneurship in Greece and panellists bubbled with hopeful talk about the country’s prospects.

“Amidst all the doom and gloom and all the negativity, I do see sparks – sparks of creativity,” Simanta Das, an Amsterdam-based venture capitalist proclaimed, casting a spell over the room.

Yet this spell was soon broken by wails of protest from the street below, where anti-austerity demonstrators were challenging riot police outside the presidential palace.

Such is the plight of Greece’s entrepreneurs. Even in the best of times, they face an uphill climb in an economy that is better known for political patronage, bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption than start-up zeal. Now their dreams of blazing a new path and playing a role in Greece’s transformation are confronting the realities of a debt crisis that promises years of economic hardship.

“There’s no demand, the price of oil keeps rising, taxation is increasing and there’s no working capital from the banks,” Patroklos Koudounis, an Athens consultant, said. “I think that’s the definition of a vicious circle.”


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