Well, for a country whose human development index ranks higher than the average European and Asian countries (UNDP, 2012) its rather disappointing to observe that our business sophistication and creative output levels rank below a 50% score (Global Innovation Index 2012), while our technological readiness and innovation levels are also well below than those of the innovation-driven economies (World Economic Forum, 2012). Moreover the absence of a solid private equity-funding infrastructure, both at the seed-fund and venture capital levels, weakens the potential for a stable entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cyprus even further. For example the venture capital money per capita in Cyprus amounts to just 0.19 Euro cents, while the EU report (Flash EB No 283) dubs our island amongst the top four countries in Europe that burden entrepreneurship due to the “lack of finances for self-employment”. Undoubtedly, this underlying issue hinders Cyprus’ growth potential and discourages the Cypriot talent from repatriating. This very issue has led me, Angelos Perdios, Michael Hadjijoseph and a league of extraordinary volunteers to ignite a new initiative, called the “Cypriot Enterprise Link” or CEL; a youth-led organization, aimed to connect the entrepreneurial talent of Cyprus at a national and international level via events, meetups and joint projects.
You see, behind every great entrepreneurial cluster dwells a story of common culture, knowledge sharing and close networking ties. Therefore, first come the talent and then the infrastructure to support it follows. In the most prominent example of Silicon Valley, USAF’s decision to produce some of its airplane components in Santa Clara during the first half of the 20th century, led a wave of electrical engineers to migrate in the region, specialize in semiconductors and eventually start up the computer industry!
In our case, we believe that by bringing the Cypriot talent together we can encourage and empower a non-competitive and healthy exchange of novel ideas that can consequently lead to synergies and ultimately a process of systematic venture creation. In other words, we aim to create a Cypriot startup nation! Over the past eight months we have organized networking sessions and inspirational talks both in the UK and Cyprus, generated awareness content via the creation of related articles, had interviews with young leaders and delivered public presentations; while engineering something that we are mostly proud of, called the “CEL nodes”.
The CEL nodes system runs on two key principles: a) creating specialized entrepreneurial initiatives and b) inspiring leadership into others. The first example of a CEL node was Hack Cyprus – an initiative led by three founding members of CEL: Alexis Michael, George Eracleous and George Makkoulis. Their first achievement was to organize the first ever hackathon weekend in Cyprus - An event that invited coders, designers and business leaders together, to share their ideas and turn them into digital products within 32 hours. The event successfully built close ties amongst its participants, encouraged the making of new startups such as Repilo (www.repilo.com) and received the attention of both the international and local press (including Yahoo News, Phileleftheros, BBC etc). Our next node is Pink Edition, which focuses on women in entrepreneurship.
Hence as our network agglomerates, we give the venture capitalists, the government and a plethora of other stakeholders, all the right reasons to support our work and help us construct an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cyprus. More importantly, we are not alone. Based on pro-bono work and a sincere dedication to our joint vision, we collaborate closely with initiatives such as TEDxNicosia, OpenCoffee, Chrysallis as well as startups such as Cocoon Creations to ignite the StartUp Cyprus campaign. What’s remarkable? A year ago none of these initiatives or network existed!
As Constantine Cavafys once said “When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge”. Indeed, we still have a long way to go. Nonetheless we are experiencing, experimenting, learning and moving forward – each step, closer to our target.
*Note: It should be noted that since the preparation of this article, certain facts have changed. For instance PeoplePerHour has grown its funding, reaching the $10.5 million USD (source: CrunchBase). Moreover the initiatives mentioned in this article, including our own, are only a part of a wider ecosystem, which counts a series of startups and a plethora of enterprise facilitators, such as incubators, enterprise boards and competitions amongst the bodies that work towards the establishment of a more entrepreneurial Cyprus. Ultimately, the “Startup Cyprus Campaign” does not constitute an official commitment or statement between CEL and the enlisted initiatives; however it aims to illustrate the friendly ties and shared vision that characterize CEL’s relation with these entities. Special thanks go to the editor and team of Legacy Magazine, for their kind support and will to cover a story regarding entrepreneurship in Cyprus and CEL. A Russian translation of the article is also available in the pages of Legacy magazine.