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The Greek Diaspora’s Role in Shaping a Thriving Innovation Ecosystem

The Greek Diaspora’s Role in Shaping a Thriving Innovation Ecosystem,
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Greece is a resilient country, but so is its diaspora. As the United States, the United Kingdom, and other tech powerhouses boast their tech mastery, Greece’s diaspora quietly but decisively reshapes the narrative. Moreover, the concentration of diaspora-founded companies predominantly aligns with the most established tech hubs globally.

According to the 2023 Greek Tech report by Endeavour, the collective investment in diaspora startups is estimated to be approximately $5.7B in 2023. Despite the 6% year-on-year decline relative to 2021, it actually shows a robust trend, compared to the 35% decrease in global funding.

The 2008 crisis hit the countryhard, and the economic downturn further weakened Greece’s tax revenues. That worsened the deficit, and in 2010, US financial rating agencies stamped Greek bonds with a “junk” grade. The challenging circumstances forced many Greeks to flee the country and seek opportunities in other places.

Currently, the Greek diaspora has over 5M people, showcasing a significant impact on the global tech sector. Endeavor Greece mapped 523 diaspora startups in 2021, with a value estimated at $100B+, 13 times bigger than the total value of Greece-based startups estimated at approximately $8B. Utilizing their networks, expertise, and financial resources, they actively participate in advancing the country’s startup environment, ultimately striving to cultivate a future for Greece that is both prosperous and sustainable.


The Brain Drain: Navigating Challenges, Unlocking Solutions

Looking back in history, the Greek diaspora has managed to reach 5M people through a series of migration cycles, tracing back from 1921 after the end of the Asia Minor Campaign of the Hellenic Kingdom, “until recently in 2010 era, as a result of the austerity measures taking place on the grounds of the deficit crisis and the political instability of Greece,” shared Iakovos Yakoumis, the President of Innovation Greece, a non-profit organization, consisting of Greek innovative SMEs.

“Through this last period, Greece, as most of the 2nd Tier EU countries, has suffered a type of a brain drain, where highly educated people have emigrated to higher income countries, for the better quality of life. Through the last cycle of emigration, the Greek diaspora has shifted from an unskilled hardworking diaspora, to a highly skilled one keeping the hardworking element,” he adds.

Over the years, the Greek diaspora has been eager to support innovation and entrepreneurship in Greece, with expertise in engineering, health and shipping. Some of the most talked-about diaspora startups are BetterUp, an AI-driven coaching platform, eLearning technology startup, and TileDB, a data stack in a box.

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Strategies for Enhancing Greece’s Tech Landscape

Greece’s tech diaspora is driven by a profound sense of “pay it forward” sentiment, which is becoming increasingly evident in the local ecosystem. As noted by Alexis Latsis in the Sifted report “Greeking Out”, this involvement is deeply rooted in a sense of national identity and heritage. 

Thaleia Misailidou, advisor and investor in deep tech startups, re-affirmed for The Recursive that there have been such observations in recent years, showing expat founders and tech employees returning to Greece, or strengthening their bond to the country through partnerships aimed at establishing local branches or subsidiaries of their companies.

“As the brain drain is still underway, the diaspora can be turned into a brain gain, through the creation and facilitation of programs that seek to attract them back to Greece, to set up their already implemented idea, spin-off, already implemented idea or to offer their expertise and skills to the Greek innovation ecosystem”, summarized Iakovos Yakoumis. 

In the pillars below, uncover insights from within and beyond Greece to attract talent back and foster the growth of the innovation ecosystem.


Talent Pool and Education

The strong educational system in Greece, along with collaborations on an EU level, provides a pool of talent in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), enabling access to skilled professionals, particularly in industries like AI. 

“Greece and Greek diaspora have a high density of AI scientists and engineers with a presence in the top AI conferences (NeurIPS, ICML, etc) and big tech companies worldwide. Some of them have already returned to the country to build world-class technology products. One of them is Dimitrios Kottas who worked at Apple before returning to Greece to found Lambda Automata, a defense AI startup that Marathon has invested in”, Alex Alexakis, an investor at the Greek fund Marathon VC, shared previously for The Recursive.


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Focus on Niche Markets

Greece’s presence in niche markets, such as the maritime and tourism industries, offers opportunities for startups to capitalize on the country’s expertise and footprint in these areas. Greece is in third position as the world’s maritime leader with a fleet worth $169B


Diaspora Collaboration and Government Initiatives

Collaborative efforts with the Greek diaspora and government initiatives, such as Rebrain Greece, aim to attract talent and companies to Greece, offering incentives and easing regulatory measures for business setup.


Regulatory Environment and Subsidies

Eased regulatory measures and government subsidies for starting businesses, along with EU-funded initiatives like the Just Transition Fund, provide a conducive environment for entrepreneurship and investment.


Incubators and Accelerators

The presence of incubators and accelerators across various locations in Greece enables innovators to develop their ideas and democratizes opportunities for startup success. Moreover, the registry of companies, supported by Elevate Greece, serves as a platform for showcasing innovative ventures, fostering synergies, and connecting job seekers with opportunities in these companies.

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Teodora Atanasova is a News Editor at The Recursive. She covers everything around funding rounds, exits, startups expanding to international markets, big tech opening R&D in CEE, meaningful for the ecosystem partnerships.