Tech Center: Greece Sets Its Sights On The Tech Industry

Athens Greece Tech Center

Greece has seen its ups and downs over the last decade when it comes to economic strength. One industry that’s looking to turn that around for the country is technology startups. In this week’s Tech Center tracker, Mary Gavala, Online Marketing and Promos Manager of Viva Wallet, spoke with PYMNTS on how Greece is becoming a hot spot for tech.

Before we jump into the post, here are a few quick facts about Greece and its tech scene:

  • Greece’s population was 10,823,732 in 2015.
  • Athens, Greece’s capital, has a population of just over 665,000.
  • Gross domestic product (GDP) of Greece (2015): $195 billion (in U.S. dollars)
  • GDP of Greece per capita (2015): $22,573
  • There are approximately 163 startups in Greece.
  • Greece had an unemployment rate of 23.1 percent in 2016.
  • Greece startups received approximately $19 million in the last 12 months.
  • The European Investment Fund (EIF) via the JERMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) initiative allocated around €50 million to four programs between 2013 and 2015.

With its steady growth and low prices following its economic hardship, it’s likely Greece is primed to become one of the great new tech centers.

Its capital city of Athens is helping out Greece in particular with its various technology endeavors. Through the tech and startup support organization Four Athens, the area is thriving. This company partners with Athen’s municipalities and local universities to help open opportunities for young entrepreneurs. Four Athens is working with Georgia-based Advanced Technology Development Center that’s helping entrepreneurs with their startup ideas.

One of the biggest pieces of news helping to move the tech needle for Greece is its recent news of looking to join the space race. At Mobile World Congress, Greece’s minister of digital policy, telecommunications and media, Nikos Pappas, commented on the serious nature of the country investing in space. He said, “Greece is one of the few European countries that was lacking a space agency. The Greek space agency will coordinate public and private institutions in order to make best use of the country’s capabilities in the sector of space and satellite applications.”

From this recent news, it sounds like Greece is well on its way to becoming the next tech center.

Mary Gavala, Online Marketing and Promos Manager of Viva Walletthe first Greek mobile wallet that enables payment in online stores, mobile apps and physical stores, told PYMNTS the many benefits of Greece post its economic woes.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation.

PYMNTS: Can you describe your personal and/or professional experience with the tech community in Greece?

MG: When we started this company, 17 years ago, we first formed a digital marketing agency, today known as Viva Wallet SA. Throughout these years we have worked with the biggest Greek and multinational companies based in Greece, providing them innovative marketing solutions always on the edge of technology. After several pivots, we established Viva Payments in 2011, aiming to catch the huge FinTech wave and finally reach our dream to become a digital payments factory and expand globally.

Viva Payments is nowadays the major FinTech organization in Greece, holding an official license as an e-money institution on the basis of PSD and ECB rules.

Our founders have a major experience in the Greek technological market because they’ve been involved with all technological products and services since the early ‘90s.

PYMNTS: What do you think makes Greece (or Europe as a whole) an attractive location for both entrepreneurs and investors? Is there anything people may find surprising about operating a business there?

MG: Greece is a country with great brains and highly educated people full of ideas and eager to work hard. For an entrepreneur or investor, it’s more financially attractive to establish a company in Greece because of the lower costs they face, which are now even lower due to the economic crisis.

What is more, Greece offers a wonderful environment due to the exceptionally good weather conditions.

As for Europe, it offers a marvelous platform for entrepreneurship. First of all, it is the idea of a single market targeting almost 750 million people with similar European culture, making it one of the largest world marketplaces. There is also a considerable funding of innovation through numerous EU programs.

PYMNTS: How does the startup and tech scene in Greece differ from other nations in Europe?

MG: Despite the economic crisis, we became more entrepreneurial, we started taking risks, and we tried to turn our creative thinking into a product ignoring the bureaucratic environment and any difficulties.

PYMNTS: What are some of the challenges facing startups in Greece? Are there any initiatives to help address those barriers?

MG: Unfortunately, for many startups, there is limited access to financing, making it hard for them to develop. There is also the uncertainty of the economic future of the country and the fact that in the past years around 500,000 youngsters have left the country, taking with them probably great ideas.

PYMNTS: How has Greece’s startup ecosystem changed in recent years? What do you think has sparked this transformation?

MG: In the last five years, there has been a big startup boom motivated mostly by the crisis. Lots of new entrepreneurs, lots of major accelerators and incubators who support startups, like our very own Viva Wallet’s incubator, Viva Nest, lots of hackathons, almost a dedicated event for startups every week. Startups today have lots of opportunities to receive technological support, funding, mentoring or even chances to cooperate with major companies in order to take their services and products to the market faster.

PYMNTS: What is Greece’s FinTech sector like? How has it changed or grown in recent years?

MG: In Greece, FinTech could be a synonymous with Viva Payments, as from 2011 we have established the largest and most successful FinTech company in the country, introducing a lot of innovative payment services.

We were the first to talk about wallets in Greece, P2P payments and geolocation payments.

It’s been only a couple of years since traditional banks with legacy systems have followed the paradigm of Viva, often imitating its payment offerings.

PYMNTS: Which sectors of the technology landscape are thriving in Greece? How do you see these industries evolving in the coming years?

MG: We’re seeing quite a big innovation in a variety of industries like eCommerce, e-tourism, events e-ticketing services, the pharmaceutical sector, transport and mobile apps in general. Also, many major international companies seek to form development teams in Greece, as more and more people work in the development sector, which has seen a huge growth during the last few years.