“Do what Israel’s doing” is a phrase I keep hearing from Greeks and foreigners who know how things stand in Greece, who love the country and think it’s staring at a major opportunity. They say it every time the Israeli prime minister says he can double Greece’s gross domestic product in a couple of years if it just sent over a few of its fine minds.
What does Greece have in common with Israel? We both have large diaspora communities with strong bonds to their countries. We have great minds both inside and outside the country who are distinguishing themselves in the sciences, in business and in technology. We both face major national security threats and need to develop a cutting-edge defense industry.
What has Israel done right? Its government took the initiative to start its own Silicon Valley, or Silicon Wadi. It introduced tax incentives and pledged to match every dollar invested in state-of-the-art technology. It instituted cooperation between the educational system and new entrepreneurship and it bonded this sector to the defense industry. The results, as we all know, have been impressive.
Greece must do the same. Many of the Greeks who left during the crisis want to come back, perhaps brought closer to the country by the coronavirus crisis. Whether it’s in software design or biotech, the technology sector does not require enormous investments. These are not the industrial investments of yesteryear. We have also seen how much of the work in this sector can be done from home, by teleconferencing and other such flexible methods. Someone can work from Athens with a partner in India. Capital has become equally flexible. A Greek with good ideas can get money from London or New York.
It will take a few bold decisions for such an initiative to gain any credence, however. The framework governing such investments needs to be tailored to them and to have the support of most of the opposition. No one wants to invest in a country where the tax rules change every time a new minister steps in. Investors will need assurances that legal disputes will be dealt with efficiently, perhaps even by taking recourse to foreign courts, because no one wants to wait 10 years for the Greek courts. Last but not least, we need to make the business of innovation cool in the minds of young people and teach them to take risks.
With some common sense, goal-oriented work and national consensus, we can achieve all this. Let’s do it like Israel and create our own Silicon “Kilada.”