Sunday, 06 April 2014 09:17

Entrepreneurial growth in Cyprus is slow? Hold your horses!

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Warm up:
I write this article from a personal standpoint and as a reply to all those good folks, who regard the entrepreneurial growth in Cyprus as slow moving. You see if you examine things at the macro level, you will come to realize that this little Mediterranean dot has made tremendous leaps in entrepreneurial development during the recent years, despite its economic meltdown and political turbulence.

I remember the time I set foot back on this island almost 2 and half years ago, armed with the determination to push for a startup ecosystem in my country. I used to receive the most wondrous of looks whenever I brought up entrepreneurship as a topic for discussion. Many fellows simply could not comprehend why should someone forgo their job security, a steady salary, a corporate or governmental career, for a shot in the dark, the possibility of failure and all those cute misfortunes that are nicely wrapped along the process of launching and sustaining your own business – you know, the classics!

Nonetheless, returning to the present stage it is rather remarkable to only observe what happened to Cyprus over the last couple of years in terms of its entrepreneurial activity and community - especially when one considers that the vast majority of the efforts below sprouted organically.


Where are we now?

If you are interested in entrepreneurship, you can just have a look around. You will find:

Organizations that support entrepreneurial growth and innovation
1. The Cypriot Enterprise Link (CEL) for instance, is an organization that aims to connect the Cypriot entrepreneurial talent via events, workshops, projects and networking instances in Cyprus and abroad.
2. CARIE - The Cyprus Association of Research and Innovation Enterprises

Accelerators
Chrysallis Leap is a rigorous program for entrepreneurs, which provides participating start-up teams with the necessary tools and skills to transform their ideas in the fields of Cleantech and Sustainable Development and into solid, scalable and marketable business ideas.

Events
1. Meetups, workshops, demo days by various communities (CEL, Chrysallis Leap, IEEE Gold, IEEE Entrepreneurs and so forth)
2. The HackCyprus Tech Talks
3. Startup Grind
4. Open Coffee
5. Startup Live
6. Startup Weekend
7. TEDxNicosia
8. NASA International Space Apps and the events by the Cyprus Space Exploration Organization
9. CEL’s annual BBN (Burgers Beer and Networking)
10. CEL’s Pink Edition to celebrate women entrepreneurs
11. Global Entrepreneurship Week Cyprus (series of events)
12. Events to Pitch for Investment events by CYBAN
and so forth!

Hackathons
Hack Cyprus, which under the umbrella of the CEL was Cyprus’ first and largest technology festival that included a 48-hour hackathon, a youth day event and an international technology conference. Techcrunch acknowledged it amongst the best European Technology Startups events.

Hack spaces
You got awesome Hack 66 in Nicosia!

University incubators and other research institutions
1. Diogenes Business Incubator (University of Cyprus)
2. Helix Incubator (University of Nicosia)
3. CIIM Entice (center for entrepreneurship)
4. Research Promotion Foundation

Student/Alumni communities
1. IEEE Gold
2. IEEE Entrepreneurs Network
3. Cyprus University of Technology CI.GE Society

Supporting communities and organizations
1. Cyprus Business Angels Network (CYBAN), an organization that invests in new ideas in Cyprus that have international potential
2. CEL Legal – An upcoming community, by the Cypriot Enterprise Link, which aims to connect lawyers that hold an interest in entrepreneurship and wish support the entrepreneurial community through standard legal documentation and policy recommendations.

Even dedicated mapping and event calendars
1. Startup Digest (Cyprus)
2. Startup Genome Project (Cyprus)
3. Desk & Co Calendar

 

The Startups:
Let’s not forget the startups that are led by young Cypriots and have launched in Cyprus or abroad during the past year or so: ENERMAP, Avocarrot, Teach’n’Go, StreetHub, Pollfish, Funifi, Student Life, Instaplace and AtYourService are some of them.

Of course you’ve also got the older startups that have been formed in the recent years and have worked out wonders such as: Engino, a learning by doing-toy manufacturer, which operates in Cyprus and that now sells its products in 20 countries - having won global commendations and awards; Hellas Direct, the first online insurance service in Greece, or PeoplePerHour.com the world renowned website for freelancers, which is based in London - all launched by Cypriots.
Bonus: One of the founders of Onefinestay.com is also Cypriot (Demetrios Zoppos) and needless to say about Demis Hassabis, founder of Deepmind, the artificial intelligence startup that got sold to Google for $500 million.
Surely more startups and attempts are underway! Either in Cyprus or abroad, Cypriots are pushing forward.
*In case I forgot anything or anyone, forgive my ignorance. Contact me and I’ll add them.

 

A logical conclusion:
Over the past few months, it was not just one but several times that I got caught in a discussion about our entrepreneurial ecosystem and the ways we still need to improve, and the long journey we have a head of us. Indeed, that’s true. Nonetheless Rome wasn’t built in a day. What’s the rush? The way I see it there are three factors we need to contemplate in our case.

a. Time, we have to be patient. Silicon Valley, Israel’s tech cluster and Cambridge (UK) also known as Silicon Fen (three of the most prominent entrepreneurial clusters in the world) were not developed in 2 years or a decade. Silicon Valley is 70+ years old, Israel’s tech cluster is 30+ and Cambridge’s cluster is 50+.

b. Make the first step. Admittedly, each of the above clusters had tremendous backing and resources at their starting point (yes including military backing except Cambridge), yet their development occurred in an evolutionary manner by building on previous milestones, one step at a time – what do I mean by that? Well both Silicon Valley (at that time only recognized as the Santa Clara region) and Israel heavily based their economy on agriculture – just in case you are still thinking that these locations have always been outliers. Cambridge was a student town with brilliant minds that were yet to be propelled towards a practical application of their skills for the industrial development and innovation of Britain, as it later happened with the launch of Cambridge Consultants.
If you wish to gain more insights to the above, there are various credible research accounts online, most notably the work of Ann Lee Saxenian, which I highly recommend. Cambridge Phenomenon also provides an excellent account on Cambridge’s development in this area since the 1960s.

c. Persistence. It is never an easy task to launch anything. There are many bubbles, ups and downs and failures involved in any entrepreneurial zone. Experimentation and learning through failure is a natural consequence and a requirement. We have made the first step, and together we managed to generate a core, a community of individuals that hold common interest in creating stuff, innovating, taking chances, away from the status quo and the way things were down in this place.

Naturally then, the next step is experimentation. In other words, the creation of products as ideas to market and a practical ecosystem that offers a fully scaled value chain, which can support the launch of an idea to a marketable product, sequentially, from the beginning to the end. I am not suggesting that we are gonna be the next Silicon Valley. It is apparent that such regions despite their humble beginnings were given unparalleled opportunities that even led them to prevail over other well established tech clusters such as Route 128.

Having said that, indeed we still have a long way to go and we could use more support, funding and attention from stakeholders like the Government. We are getting there. Cyprus has come a long way over the past 2 years, as the vast majority of the activities and initiatives described earlier did not even exist then. These efforts should undoubtedly be acknowledged, celebrated and inspire our next step.

Over and out.

Read 18484 times Last modified on Sunday, 06 April 2014 09:44