Pioneering ideas, companies that aspire to change the world, and stories from cities and states that have succeeded in becoming tech hubs were the subject of discussion at the fourth Reload Greece conference, which took place last weekend at the London Business School in the UK capital.
Among the speakers at the event organized by the UK-based educational charity, was Emilios Halamandaris, co-founder and CEO of Innoetics, a text-to-speech start-up now a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co, who explained how his experience at Innoetics has taught him three key lessons:
First, you need to be persistent. “We are an 11-year-old start-up; we’ve had many ups and downs.” Second, it’s hard to turn a research project into a successful business idea. Third, researchers in Greece are doing a great deal of valuable work. “Samsung agreed to have Innoetics stay in Greece, as one of its few R&D departments in Europe,” he said. “This is the time for investors to look towards Greece.”
Dialekti Athina Voutyrakou, a 22-year-old electrical engineer at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and winner of several international awards in robotics competitions, met with a warm reception at the conference. Voutyrakou is also the founder of and general manager at Unique Minds, an innovative nonprofit organization whose aim is to assist students and young adults in identifying and pursuing their ideal career path.
Voutyrakou described how she came to be interested in robotics following a first encounter with an optional course at the public experimental school she attended.
“I was not interested in anything else. There was no turning back,” Voutyrakou told Kathimerini. “I had to score 19,000 points to enter that department at the NTUA, so everyone tried to persuade me to apply for a more accessible school,” she said. “But I knew what I wanted to do.”
At university, Voutyrakou said she noticed how many of her fellow students had picked their field of study on the basis of misguided criteria – for example to do the same job as their parents. Many of them soon lost interest as a result.
Voutyrakou mobilized her fellow students to change this by creating Unique Minds. “We urge [pupils] to discover what they like to do, it has to be something that they can imagine themselves spending hours on,” she said. “We also try to have pupils visit universities. We organize presentations by students, we invite pupils to workshops so that they get an idea of what each course is about,” she added.
Gordon Innes of Bloomberg Associates also gave an interesting presentation. Innes was the first chief executive at London & Partners, the city’s official promotional and economic development company. His job there was to turn the UK capital into a European Silicon Valley. In his presentation, Innes explained how, thanks to the steps taken by L&P, London’s technology sector grew at double the rate of other sectors in the capital’s economy, reaching 40,000 businesses and more than 200 workers.
“Cities must not look at other cities as competitors but as collaborators” on the path to a digital future, he said.
Since 2015, Bloomberg Associates has been working with the City of Athens. Innes mentioned some of the initiatives that have been promoted as part of this cooperation, including the position of chief digital officer and the establishment of the Athens Digital Lab.
Bulgarian economist Simeon Djankov spoke about the need to set up a business-friendly framework. Djankov, who created the annual Doing Business report, the top-selling publication of the World Bank Group, and who is now a professor at the London School of Economics (LSE), said it was vital that civil servants “get a clear signal from the top.”
“In Bulgaria we have a low tax rate and we are able to collect the taxes,” said Djankov, who was deputy prime minister and minister of finance from 2009 to 2013. “I could not convince your politicians that it was a model that works,” he said.