More than two millennia ago, the ancient Greeks had flourished in both the sciences and the arts, as well as created the system of governance that the Western world today operates under: democracy. Today, the country has an organisation – the first of its kind – devoted to bringing back the entrepreneurial spirit of the ancient Greeks.
Going by the name of Corallia – which represents cooperation, competitive advantage, vision, speed, and alliance – the group was founded in 2003 on the premise of reversing the accelerating brain-drain in Greece and building “Innovation Made in Greece” for the world markets.
“We are the inspirational harbour for entrepreneurship in Greece”, said Jorge Sanchez Papaspiliou, the group’s Chief Strategy and Financial Officer, with a slight smile.
Indeed, Corallia boasts the most prominent accelerator in Greece: EGG, which stands for enter-grow-go. The programme, which is a joint initiative between Corallia and Eurobank, supports young entrepreneurs from all over Greece with creative and innovative ideas for any sector.
“Every year we have more than 30 startups coming out of the programme. They have a survival rate of more than 70 percent – that is the highest that we have ever seen in Europe”, noted Jorge Sánchez.
In 2016, the programme won “Best European Practice Supporting Youth Self-Employment” and was recognised as “Best Initiative” in the Startupper Awards.
The strategy with EGG, according to Jorge Sánchez, is for it to become the best accelerator in Europe and continue increasing the number of significant startups that come out of it. The long-term hope is that one or a few – of these startups will be “the magnet of international investments in the Greek startup ecosystem”, he said, noting that this is similar to what happened with Skype in Estonia.
The Greek startup ecosystem has already changed drastically in the last five years or so; there are now more than 300 startups in Greece and nine new investment funds.
Beyond EGG, which was launched in 2013, Corallia is maybe best known – and awarded – for the heart of its operation: three highly specialised cluster initiatives that began in 2006 and range from microelectronics, to space, to gaming.
The mi-cluster, the first to be launched, focuses on microelectronics and covers mainly the Internet of Things, or IOT, technologies. It is also shaping the future of the Hellenic Semiconductor Industry through Corallia’s web of stakeholders. It has been awarded the Silver Label by the European Cluster Excellence Initiative.
The gi-cluster, launched in 2011, targets gaming and creative technologies, which Papaspiliou noted is a very important sector for Greece as it also supports tourism, one of the most significant sectors in the country’s economy. It has been awarded Europe’s Gold Label, a distinction given to only a handful of clusters in Europe.
The final Corallia cluster – the si-cluster – has also been awarded Europe’s Gold Label. Launched in 2009, it focuses on space technologies and applications and is one of the most dynamic ecosystems in the world. Members of the si-cluster have collaborated with France in several space projects and they are planning to expand the cluster internationally to position Greece strongly in the global space market.
“For the first time in Greece we have a single space cluster that is coordinating, bottom up, all the space actors”, Papaspiliou explained. At the same time, Greece now has a single space agency – the Hellenic Space Organisation, which was recently launched by the Greek government – “that will coordinate top down all the public sectors and national strategies”, Papaspiliou added.
“This is a recipe for success. When Greeks [are] united we achieve significant wins all over the world”, he said with a huge grin.
It is not only Greeks, from entrepreneurs to academics to researchers, whom Corallia is uniting – it is the entire European ecosystem. For example, the company coordinated the South-East European Network-Of-Excellence of Cluster Organisations, or SEENECO, project, which brings together a number of key national institutions from South East European countries to promote cluster management professionalism across the region.
Additionally, “We have already achieved significant collaboration with most of the countries in South Europe, especially with Italy, France, [and] Spain, where we have already formed meta-clusters”, said Jorge Sánchez. Meta-clusters are clusters operating in the same sector and therefore allowing the exchange of best practices and collaboration on research projects.
“Our vision”, he elucidated, “is to have a country, Greece, where sciences, entrepreneurship, [and] culture can flourish again in the same way that it happened 2,500 years ago, where Greece was and is the cradle of the Western civilisation”.