Monday, February 27, 2012

Building the Modern Acropolis: Greek Entrepreneurs

by Elmira Bayrasli


February 27, 2012

Encased in scaffolding and surrounded by construction equipment, the Acropolis unwittingly reflects today’s crisis-ridden Greece rather than the majestic one of ancient time. Its partners in the European Union are propping up the Southeast European country that is otherwise ready to crumble under debt and austerity. “Will it work?” is the question most Greeks ask, except those who are busy building their country’s self-renewing, modern monument: entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship, many say, is what will pull Greece out of its current financial crisis and back onto the road of economic growth. As I spent time in Athens last week for Entrepreneur Week Greece, I wondered whether it would work in time. While Greeks have been entrepreneurs since Euripides and Aristotle roamed the country’s marble roads and among the most successful at the start-up around the world (including my hero Arianna Huffington), the pace at which the country is innovating – and more importantly, driving in investments, may not be fast enough.

Entrepreneur Week is a U.S.-born initiative founded by Gary Whitehill in 2009, just after the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. It was initially focused exclusively on New York. “We started New York Entrepreneur Week to create a platform to promote entrepreneurship holistically, by bringing together and creating an overlapping umbrella for all of the stakeholders in the community, the non-profits, and the city and the state organizations,” Whitehill told a Boston website in 2010. Entrepreneur Week Greece was put together with the same idea – in a more urgent manner.

The week-long event came together in 20 days, with the cooperation of the Hellenic Startup Association and CoLab, a Y-combinator-like incubator that houses aspiring innovators and connects them to mentors and sources of capital. They are well-run and solid organizations, led by enthusiastic and sharp minds, that recognize the burning need to not only jumpstart excitement and support around start-ups but that see the importance of enticing Greek and foreign investors to bet on the Southeast European country of 11 million and pushing the Greek government to make it easier and more attractive for Greek youth to launch enterprises.


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