April 15, 2024

Greek tech: A dispatch from southeast Europe

We travelled to Greece to meet the founders and investors of a growing startup ecosystem in Europe

Amy Lewin

4 min read

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I was in Greece last week, meeting founders and investors from the ecosystem. It’s small — but growing.

Some numbers: Greek startups raised €485m in 2023 — less than the total in both the two previous years — but a huge leap from 2018, when they raised less than €50m, according to EIT Digital and Found.ation. In 2022, the country’s startups were worth an estimated $10bn, up from $8bn the year before.

There are also plenty of positive signs that it’s only up from here.

One of its biggest companies, furnished apartment rental startup Blueground, could IPO in the not-too-distant future. The New York-HQd business, which has the majority of its team in Athens, raised a $45m Series D last month from Susquehanna Private Equity Investments and others, and also secured a new debt facility from a handful of international banks. Most significantly, perhaps, its revenue shot up by 70% to $560m in 2023.


Fintech (formerly Viva Wallet) is another one to watch — not only because its founder, Haris Karonis, is currently suing JPMorgan, which bought 48.5% of the company in 2022. At the time, Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (a former VC) called the deal, which made the country's first unicorn, “a vote of confidence in the company and Greece.” Now, former employees are beginning to start companies of their own — and the 'mafia' is only likely to grow.

Meanwhile, talent who left to go to San Francisco or London are coming back — often when they decide they want to start a family, or retire, I’m told. A tax break introduced in 2021, which offers a 50% income tax exemption for seven years for Greeks who return from living abroad, sweetens the deal.

The talent that hung around is also inexpensive to hire and, more importantly, is extremely loyal. You don’t get engineers jumping ship every few years for a higher salary, one founder told me. “I really think twice before hiring outside of Greece,” another founder said.

Hiring senior talent remains a challenge, though. There just aren’t that many Greeks who’ve been there and done it before, and it's difficult to convince senior talent from abroad to move to Greece, despite all the sun and souvlaki. Growing people already at the company into top roles is one option, but no good if you need someone to hit the ground running in a C-suite or VP role, founders said.

But that could change soon. Greece has just announced plans to introduce a new tech visa, which should make it much simpler and quicker for employees, investors and founders of startups outside the EU to get a residence permit in Greece and work at Greek startups. Visa holders will be able to change employers or become self-employed, and can also apply for members of their immediate family.

Ecosystem leaders Panagiotis Karampinis, managing director of Greek tech organisation Endeavor, and Antigoni Lymperopoulou, CEO of the country's sovereign fund of funds, Hellenic Development Bank of Investments (HDBI), are hopeful that it could be a gamechanger.

VCs are also, slowly, coming ‘home’. And there’s plenty of government capital waiting for them. HDBI has billions to invest — and can’t deploy all of it in Greece HQ’d VCs alone. London-based ETF Partners, which has done two investments in Greece so far, is the latest European VC to receive funding from HDBI.

There are incentives for individual investors too; Greek angels are entitled to an income tax deduction equal to 50% of the money invested in up to three startups per year.

Which ingredients are still missing? Confidence, some said; the economic crisis of 2009 left deep scars. Female founders, said others; they’re few and far between at the moment. Less bureaucracy, said just about everyone.

And then, once all those ingredients come together, it will also need time, of course, like any ecosystem.


Amy Lewin

Amy Lewin is Sifted’s editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast , and writes Up Round, a weekly newsletter on VC. Follow her on X and LinkedIn