“Why would someone come all the way to Greece to buy bespoke clothing? You need to create a brand name so that consumers choose Athens instead of London.” This was the advice imparted by a foreign investor to the creators of mezoura.com, Yiannis Stefanidis and Nikos Pavlopoulos, who presented a business plan for a firm producing tailed men’s shirts at a meeting organized by The Canvas think tank, founded in 2014 and comprising respected businessmen and women.
“There is a lot of talent to be found in Greece, but a lack of staying power and determination to reach the target,” observed one of the three founding members of The Canvas (thecanvas.gr), Marcel Cremer, a 37-year-old lawyer and an expert on start-ups in Greece.
“We see a lot of paradoxes, such as people who have capital and don’t know how to invest it or potential businessmen who don’t dare to make their dream a reality,” said Cremer, stressing that other than the problematic relationship between practically all Greeks and the state, there is another, moral instigator holding entrepreneurs back.
“The Greek family keeps its children under its wing for as long as possible, cultivating a lackadaisical, soft mentality,” he said. “In the United States, teenagers will take their first business steps at the age of 16.”
The think tank is named after the Business Model Canvas, a template used to present ideas.
“Our aim is to build networks between our member and know-how exchanges, while we would also like to act as a channel between young people and institutional agencies, embassies and the European Union,” explained Cremer. “Likewise, we bring together inexperienced entrepreneurs and experienced ones who can act as mentors, direct them and contribute to making them work in a more systematic manner.”
The other Canvas co-founders are Danae Bezantakou and Christos Trikoukis, while the team consists of eight more members, all distinguished entrepreneurs in key sectors of the economy, including shipping, energy, food and tourism.
Another 300 businessmen and women take part in the group’s events, depending on their area of expertise or the theme.
“Our dialogues with the Dutch, British, Turkish and Iraqi embassies, which we have invited in the past 18 months, have been particularly fruitful,” said Cremer.
Having international lines of communication is especially helpful to young entrepreneurs in helping them design their activities in a global economy.
“The observations of the members have been very helpful,” admitted Stefanidis from mezoura.com, which started five months ago and has an outlet in downtown Athens as well as a Web presence.
“They pointed out that we need to diversify our product to reach foreign markets or focus more on the Balkans and Italy,” said the 30-year-old businessman.
However, the main goal of The Canvas is to cultivate a healthy business culture, particularly among young people who are still at university or have just graduated. In order to achieve this, it created another affiliated group, the Open Mind Group (www.openmindgroup.gr), whose hard core consists of 11 shipping students at the universities of Piraeus and the Aegean, as well as Deree College, headed by Bezantakou.
“I belong to the first batch of students that didn’t have the opportunity to get work experience because of a lack of funds, something that really clipped our wings, given that the sector is relatively hard to get into,” said Evanthia Tsekou, who is close to receiving her degree in shipping, of her experience at university.
“Now I am learning a lot of practical things that are not taught in the lecture theater,” Tsekou added.
The next Open Mind Group event will be held as part of Innovathens (www.innovathens.gr), an event which will see the capital’s Technopolis complex turn into an innovation and entrepreneurship hub, and the subject will be how to draft a resume and improve professional profiles on social media sites such as Linkedin.
“Talking to young people aged 19 or 20, I realize that the new generation is much different from previous ones,” said Cremer. “They are driven by a desire for self-improvement and have a lot of will power.”