Skip through this first part, if you already know about CEL:
It was just about two years ago (October 2011) when I delivered my first talk on entrepreneurship in Cyprus. As I recall it was an event organised by the Cyprus Productivity Centre and I was eager to let everyone know about the impact true innovation and entrepreneurship can have on the growth potential of a country’s economy. I pulled out charts, numbers and examples from clusters around the world as well as an announcement regarding a youth-led organisation we were creating at the time called the Cypriot Enterprise Link.
Now the story that followed was told and repeated several times in our presentations, blogs, interviews and chit-chats - but I will just go ahead and say it one more time.
We aimed to connect the Cypriot talent via projects, events, networking meetups - and by connect, I mean the exchange of ideas, mutual support and synergies that could lead to new startups. Yes, I am talking about ideas to market and business creation. Cyprus’ youth has creative potential, which we not only wish, but also demand, that is brought to the spotlight and supported as it should be. We thus prepared white-papers, provisions for an advisory board and lobbied for some time (half a year). Yet, we got either ignored or rejected by both the public and private sectors. So our dear CEL came to a standstill until March 2012. That was the time we said, hey, let’s just start, and so we did. Over night we created another ‘everyday’ Facebook page, inviting all the like-minded Cypriots and Cyprus-residents to join us and help us grow this vision. At the beginning there were just 3 of us, then 5, then we launched online and CEL began.
Now, the date is November 9th 2013. The Cypriot Enterprise Link (www.projectcel.com) is represented in Cyprus, Greece, Sweden, the UK and the US; it has a core team of about 50 individuals and an effective reach via a 1000+ followers; it has been featured in or noted by international press publications such as Inc Magazine and Techcrunch; it has supported by renowned organisations such as the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CYTA), Yahoo Developers Network, Amazon AWS, the Raspberry Pi foundation and others; it organises networking meetups in 3 countries; and has led the creation of CEL-nodes (initiatives backed by CEL), such as: the Pink Edition, which supports women in entrepreneurship in Cyprus; CEL Legal, an upcoming node that consists of young lawyers aiming to influence the entrepreneurial policy in Cyprus; and of course Hack Cyprus, the initiative that organised the first hackathon and the technology festival in our little island.
(Part II) The story in between:
In the following blog entry I will talk about what happened in between our launch and current position, describing things from my own perspective. So without further due, why has the Cypriot Enterprise Link grown to the level it did within the last 2 years.
When you start something you have a set of varying expectations for it. This is your vision. Most of the times you do not have an end-point for it, and let your imagination run wild in regards all the prospects your startup can achieve; and so you should. Nonetheless, when it comes to execution, know one thing - nothing goes according to plan, ever. You should therefore be ready to pivot, iterate your idea, and make it concise to the point and relevant to the environment you are targeting.
In our case we pretty much had a different and changing definitions of CEL very frequently, hence altering our strategies and steps towards our goal. Nonetheless it all made sense only when decentralisation came in. That is when we shared our vision with others and trusted their leadership - I sometimes call it an “open source for business”. The result was extraordinary. Individuals began to pitch their ideas about the directions CEL should and could take to improve our country via entrepreneurship. At the beginning I must say that we were a bit hesitant, but we soon realised that this was bigger than any of us.
So at first, a team of brilliant engineers had set out to create initiative that aimed to place Cyprus on the global technology map under CEL’s support. It was called ‘Hack Cyprus’. They successfully ran an amazing hackathon in 2012 and created an entire 5-day tech festival in 2013 with the support of the entire CEL team. The same happened with our international meetups (firstly in the UK) and the Pink Edition. Through this journey, we started calling out for volunteers. Individuals who believed in our cause, had ideas and the will to implement them and wished to help us out change the country. Soon after, a group of lawyers, most of which belonged to our team, created the CEL Legal.
At the end of the day, we came to realise that this was the best way to be done - organically. CEL was not about me, or you, or the lad around the corner who cares to startup their own business. It rightfully belongs to our entire generation, and technically, to each and every innovator, inventor, entrepreneur or anyone out there who is determined to give Cyprus a better future than the one it currently has. There are so many brilliant and talented young Cypriots waiting to utilise their potential and develop their ideas. Amongst them are the people in our team, with whom I am humbled and proud to work with. Quoting John Quincy, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. We wanted to lead change and change is not about an one man show.
So here we are now. I am glad to say that currently a lot is happening towards the growth of entrepreneurship in Cyprus and not just by CEL. I am also confident that up to a certain extend an entrepreneurial cultural has been cultivated here and a series of startups have been created, alongside a plethora of ideas that are in motion and underway of getting implemented. For that reason we are making the next step. We are looking at the funding phase, the more practical stuff. We thereby partnered with the newly founded Cyprus Business Angels Network (CYBAN), as to bring the startup community closer to the investors. Step 2 is happening.
’Till the next time.