• Laura Kohler

Sharkbite Innovation in Athens

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

This month I attended the Panorama Conference in Athens, to explore their entrepreneurial ecosystem, and to discover what they were doing in innovation and sustainability.

Panel about founding and growing a successful startup at Panorama Conference in Athens

The Greek startup ecosystem is growing

The startup ecosystem in Athens is growing fast – and according to Greek ecosystem experts this is one of the good aspects of the Greek economic crisis that has been going on for the past ten years and apparently still is. One indicator of the maturing startup ecosystem is the total amount of investments they are seeing in startups, which in 2018, reached €116 million (Source: Startups in Greece 2018” by Foundation and EIT Digital) much higher than the year before.

Another strong indicator of the growing startup ecosystem is the ongoing growth of the largest youth Entrepreneurship & Career Development event in Athens: “Panorama of Entrepreneurship and Career Development”. The event was initiated by Professor Iordanis Ladopoulos and the passionate event organizer Dimitris Skourtas, and it is also supported by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and by KAS-team member Martha Kontodaimon.

Sharkbite represented at Panorama

I had the pleasure of being invited by KAS this year to speak at the event. More than six thousand young people – mostly students, first-time entrepreneurs and innovation enthusiasts - interacted on a two-level event space and in more than 20 different rooms with experienced founders and investors, as well as CEOs and managers of established companies.

I presented my main topic of how to start and grow a successful company on Friday afternoon as part of a panel, together with several successful Greek founders – amongst them Orestis Tzanetis, founder and CEO of the retail analytics company intale, and George Melissaropoulos, founder of the Knowbox Fund.

More than 150 people gathered in the room to receive entrepreneurial advice and took the chance to actively participate in the discussion by addressing the panelists directly. We could hear the eagerness to create a startup, but also the fear of not being successful, not having enough experience, or not finding the best financial support in Greece. Despite those doubts the quality of the panelists on stage with me, as well as the avid interest of young people in the room, made me feel happy and hopeful for the future of this country.


The winner team Recytrust (left) at the Prototypenparty hostet by AUEB in Athens and Dörte Roloff (right)

Sustainability topics in the fast lane

On the evening of the first day, I took the chance to participate in the very interactive “Prototypenparty”, run by my German colleague Dörte Roloff from Hanover, and hosted by the incubator of the University of Economics Business in Athens (AUEB). Eight teams pitched their prototypes and received immediate and valuable feedback from the experts.

This format was very positive as the atmosphere felt party-like, and made everyone feel relaxed and open to the discussion around the weaknesses and strengths of the concepts. As an expert in innovation and sustainability, I was especially happy for the winner of the evening. The winning team Recytrust developed a solution prototype based on sensors, IoT and a mobile app, with the overall goal to improve the non-efficient recycling industry in Greece. Good luck Recytrust!

Mini Design Challenge in Athens with an introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals

Innovation insights and initiative

My personal highlight was hosting an intense one-hour workshop for approximately 60 students and young founders titled “How can I create a positive impact with innovation?” The students were introduced to the principles of Design Thinking and Lean Startup, as well as the VUCA world, and environmental and technological change.

Afterwards, everyone actively developed an idea and the concept of a prototype based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It was amazing to see how quickly even the most shy participants got completely immersed in the topic in less than 15 minutes. They created ideas ranging from how to bring more e-mobility to Athens, to how to construct a boat that would clear the oceans of plastic waste, and in some cases even offer a complementary solution on how to dispose of and destroy the plastic waste without creating any emissions.

I really hope those young and committed students continue to work on their wonderful ideas!

Participants of the mini design challenge sharing their sustainability idea in public


Greek female power

Finally, on a sunny Saturday morning in Athens, female power came together at the networking brunch event. This included impressive female leaders, and was organized by Martha Kontodaimon and Stella Kasdagli, Co-Founder of Women on Top in Athens (www.womenontop.gr), and German and Greek Women from Venture Capital, journalism, entrepreneurship and innovation management gathered at one table.

The discussion was so intense and passionate that it reached the bounds of noise acceptance within the restaurant to its limits, and resulted in creating very close links between the two female entrepreneurial ecosystems. The whole group agreed that more role models and female entrepreneurs were needed, and that the new normal would be female CEOs, investors, experts, and founders on event panels – as this raises awareness of the high quality females that are out there, and who sometimes are lost or hidden behind their male colleagues.

The most interesting topic that was discussed at this brunch was the difference between the risk-awareness of female versus male leaders – and to explore if this was a difference between women and men overall or was an individual trait. Everyone agreed that this huge topic would most probably never be completely talked through or solved!

It was pleasure to participate in such a vibrant event and I look forward to seeing what comes out of Greece in the coming years, and how they solve their sustainability challenges.

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