Sustainability/Climate Tech/Analysis/

How can Greece accelerate its climate tech scene?

Greece's climate tech ecosystem is small, but the country has the natural resources to play a key part in the green transition.

By Freya Pratty

Solar panels on Crete.

Greece’s climate tech ecosystem is small. In 2020, Greek climate startups brought in $3.3m in funding —compared to $1.1bn for Sweden, which also has a population of around 10m.

That’s partly because Greece’s wider tech ecosystem is significantly smaller than Sweden’s, and also because the two countries have vastly different financial histories — Greece having experienced a severe economic crisis and seen an exodus of talent overseas. 

But founders and investors in Athens see opportunities for Greece to accelerate its climate tech ecosystem. 

For one, the country has a lot of the resources needed to play a role in the renewable energy transition. Its solar energy capacity is vast, as is its geothermal potential. 

A lot of Europe’s energy flows into the continent through Greece — a route becoming increasingly important as countries try to wean themselves off Russian gas. If Greece can position itself as an energy gateway, it could play a bigger role in the energy transition discussion.

Shipping could also be an area of influence. 20% of the world’s shipping flows through Greek waters. Greek startups are already starting to work on sustainable shipping tech, and as innovations in green shipping progress the country could have the expertise and the industry at hand to be a key part of the transition.

The startups leading the way

Several early-stage companies are building solutions that are particularly relevant to Greece but could have a far wider impact in the future.

Greece is on the frontline of the climate crisis in Europe, and its agricultural sector is already seeing the effects of increased temperatures. Wikifarmer, a startup that’s just raised its seed round, runs a platform that connects farmers with buyers to cut out middlemen and get farmers a better price. If farmers get more for their crops, they can invest in more climate-friendly solutions.

Another example is Caroo, a car sharing company that wants to help city dwellers rent cars instead of owning them. The idea came out of the congested streets of Athens with its old and carbon-intensive car fleet, but it’s applicable in many countries. 

There are also interesting examples from the Greek islands. On Astypalea, the government is working with Volkswagen on a pilot around clean mobility and renewable energy supply — a project it hopes could scale beyond the island. 

So what does Greece need to accelerate?

“We’ve got good people but we need more funding, that’s the main problem,” says Ilias Sousis, founder of Wikifarmer. “Because of that, good people who study chemistry or sciences go on to become professors rather than going into companies or creating their own startups. Or they leave the country.” If the funding supply picked up, people would come back, he says. 

The country has a strong university system, but there’s a general consensus that tech isn’t flowing out of institutions in the way it should, due to a lack of tech transfer offices. 

The bureaucracy it takes to set up a startup in Greece is also a hurdle, according to the founder of Athens-based Optechain, which allows EV owners to sell electricity back to the grid to stabilise the energy supply. 

One investor made the interesting point that while it may not look like there’s a lot of climate or impact investment happening in the country, that’s because “impact investing” looks different in Greece to other parts of Europe.

His argument: post-financial crisis, the best “impact” a startup could have was bringing jobs and work to the country — so investors are working on different criteria to places where the environment can be the primary concern.

There are signs that the investor scene is starting to get more interested in ESG impact, though. The Greek stock exchange was the first to integrate ESG ratings within its index, the founder of ResNovae, an Athens-based ESG platform, says.

There’s also a feeling, heard repeatedly from Athens techies, that Greece’s post-crisis resurgence will have armed its founders with the knowledge on how to build in financially constrictive conditions, putting them in a better position to cope with the likely recession about to hit Europe — and hopefully create some climate tech Olympians.

Freya Pratty is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @FPratty and writes our sustainability-focused newsletter — where this column first appeared — you can sign up here

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