You Think You Have It Hard? These Tech Entrepreneurs Are Building A Startup Scene In The Middle Of An Economic Disaster

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ATHENS, GREECE — It’s a big cliche at this point, but it’s always said that the greatest companies are forged during periods of the greatest economic hardship.If that’s the case, I probably met some of Europe’s top business leaders last night when I spent part of an evening getting to know the Greek internet startup scene.

Greek startups have everything stacked against them. The economy is horrible. The regulatory climate is a well-known disaster. Taxes are levied even against companies that are unprofitable. There are virtually no VCs actively looking to invest in Greece. There’s no track record of big exits.

But the entrepreneurs I met last night think it’s a great time to get going.

Larger incumbent companies are weak, and are desperate to make deals with anyone that might provide them a new avenue of business. Consumers are looking around for the best deals around. And rent and labour have gotten really cheap. Plus, the startups are part of a global movement, that’s well aware of what’s happening in New York and of course in Silicon Valley.

There’s another reason to be bullish on Greek startups, and that’s because the disdain for the establishment is overwhelming. People hate the government, and see the media as being complicit in the corruption. The thirst for new ideas and the energy of young people is palpable.

This is my guide: Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou. He organizes the TEDxAthens conference which will be going on next week, and will be showcasing Greek startups.

Dimitris takes me into the local coworking space. It's very hip and open. It used to be a factory (naturally).

The building's elevator has pictures of the old factory.

Inside the space it's very light and airy with a modern kitchen.

This is Alexandros Kambouroglou, who works to promote the local scene. He explains the high hurdles of having a startup. It takes weeks to establish a company, he says, and you have to pay 3500 euros a year just to publish your results. The government always talks about getting rid of regulations, but it never happens.

This is Nick Drandakis. His startup is Taxibeat, and everyone agrees it's the hottest startup in Greece right now. It lets anyone hail a nearby taxi, and unlike, say Uber, it uses teh existing fleet. TaxiBeat is expanding into Rio, Paris, and Bucharest, and collects a 50 cent fee for every ride.

Apostolos Apostolakis works for OpenFund, the one Greek VC fund. It currently has 10 million euros to invest, 7 million are public funds from the EU. He invested in Taxibeat as well as YouScan (social media marketing) and Efood, which is Greece's Seemless Web. He's alos behind Doctoranytime.gr, Greece's ZocDoc

Sotiris Papantonopoulos used to work for George Soros and now runs an insurance marketplace in Greece. He says the crisis has forced drivers to be serious about comparison shopping, which has worked to his benefit. He has 20 employees, and delivers 3000 quotes per day.

This is my host again Dimitris, who in the middle of the evening invited me to say a few words on the Greek economy, Facebook, and the New York startup scene.

As I leave, I say goodbye to the two big stars in Greece: Nick Drandakis of TaxiBeat and investor Apostolos Apostolakis.

Now for the dark side of Greece...

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