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“Greece innovates!” : Salonica Forum on New Financial Tools.

With investment in innovation now being recognized as a linchpin in the transition to a new growth model that is based on knowledge and openness, the funding of initiatives in the specific sector is becoming a cutting edge matter not only for the banking sector and the business community, but also for the Greek economy as a whole. The SEV Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and Eurobank EFG organised an informative forum to present the modern financial tools that are now available to strengthen and support innovative enterprises at the recent 76th TIF venue, which focuses on development and innovation.

Mr Nikolaos Karamouzis,the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Eurobank EFG Group while referring to the juncture in the Greek economy stressed that: “Greece can and must continue to be actively present in the Eurozone. It is clear however that our progress thus far is not convincing the international markets and our European partners. The threat to our country is significant and real and we should not underestimate it.

We must immediately reconsider aspects of our policy, our course, approach and strategy, which we are following to resolve the serious problems that we are confronting. We need to dare to make the major changes and take the difficult decisions, to all assemble together as individuals and collectives, under a national plan that aims to rescue the country.

We have an obligation to reposition our economy, to change the structures, institutions, functions and attitudes, and to create the conditions for a new development course”.

As he stated: “In this difficult environment, which is now dominated by introversion, a negative psychology and pessimism, Alpha Bank and Eurobank EFG have exceeded themselves by changing the market regime and believing in the country’s potential and prospects”.

In concluding his speech, Mr Karamouzis proposed that concrete initiatives should be taken to finance innovative enterprises and to support post-graduate students. He specifically mentioned that “the major Greek banks could immediate take the initiative to create an independent private Venture Capital Company with a professional and experienced administration. The share capital participation and the funds could initially come from three sources: the banks, the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework) and private investors”. He simultaneously stressed that “the country’s private productive forces and the financially prosperous, inside and outside of Greece, can and should set up and endow with the appropriate financial resources, a new and large private social solidarity institution, the Private Scholarships body, which will invest in education, knowledge and the future of the country’s new generation”.

In his address to the event, the Chairman of the SEV Mr Dimitris Daskalopoulos noted that: “We live in the age of innovation, more specifically in the age of technological progress that is proceeding with rapid and long strides, which cover a wide range of human activities. Within this context, it is neither accidental nor unexpected that innovation has also caught up with the financial sector. Undoubtedly, the funding of innovation is perhaps one of the most difficult missions for the banking system. High venture risk capital, incubators for new enterprises, specialized venture capital funds and specialized investment bodies, comprise an extensive network of financial tools, which accept the increased risk of investing in innovation and are often richly rewarded for their foresight”. According to Mr Daskalopoulos, the financing of innovation is to a large degree based upon intuition and vision and less on experience and rules. As he stated: “In the real world there are no investors who describe the various models. There are real people that want to act and are concerned, who strive to succeed are deeply troubled, who react while bring pressured by tradition”. “Today, the first chapter of the major innovation competition that was launched by Eurobank EFG in cooperation with the SEV, practically and materially comes to an end. The next step is to wed innovation to the market and this is now the challenge that enterprises and the banking system must jointly address”, concluded Mr Daskalopoulos.

The forum within the context of the TIF is a part of a series of initiatives that were jointly developed by the SEV and Eurobank EFG that focussed on the contest “Greece Innovates!”, which was the meeting point for our country’s creative forces from the scientific and business communities. The contest met with wide acceptance, which has resulted in its institutionalization, to regularly take place every two years.

The open public debate on “Modern funding tools and the framework for developing new innovative enterprises” was chaired by journalist Mr Pantelis Kapsis, Managing Director of the DOL (Lambraki Journalist Organisation). At the debate, Mr Stamatis Krimizis, a distinguished academic and Chairman of the National Council for Research and Technology, stressed that “few private authorities attempt to fund academic laboratories to carry out scientific research that is related to their business activity. Undergraduates do not permit it and the professors do not dare to accept it, although there are some who are implicitly positive.” “The new law on higher education”, according to Mr Krimizis, “creates conditions to change this Greek “specificity” that has proved to be an obstacle to the development of a modern economy.”

Mr Athanasios Konstantopoulos, Chairman of the National Centre for Research and Technological Development (EKETA) referred to the experience in creating innovative new businesses by the EKETA staff and the deficiencies under the current development framework. Mr Konstantopoulos specifically noted the needs of new businesses for funds to safeguard intellectual property rights in relation to the results of their research activity (Intellectual Property portfolio/seed) and to create business structures for implementing innovative research ideas in production (start-up). He also referred to the opportunities and the prospects that are created by new technologies, which are developed at EKETA and have a reasonable chance of success.

The creation of the “most competitive economy in the world that is based upon knowledge” is the primary aim of the E.U. under the Lisbon strategy, which has however been impacted by the global crisis. Mr Dimitris Korpakis, the Supervisor of the C5 Administrative Unit at the General Directorate for Research and Innovation of the European Union, stressed that “as we emerge from the crisis under conditions of fierce global competition, we are confronting innovation as an urgent need. Unless we convert Europe into a European Union for innovation, the economies of our countries will suffer stagnation, and ideas and talent will go to waste”. Mr Korpakis said that “Innovation is the key to achieving sustainable development and for building fairer and more ecological communities”, and added that “A radical change in Europe’s performance in the innovation sector is perhaps the only way to create better quality and better paid jobs that will be able to better endure the pressures of globalization.”

Mr Dimitris Tsingos, the chairman of the European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs referred to new enterprise as a main factor in Greece’s exit from the crisis, with emphasis on the aspect of location, the geo-economy, the symbolic and the human resources. Starting with the assessment that “the current situation, despite the extreme difficulties and social injustices that it causes, is a unique opportunity to transform the country from an economy of consumption into a society that creates”, Mr Tsingos had an optimistic view: “in the long term” he said, “all the conditions for the dynamic and sustainable economic growth in Greece are there”.

All the information on the activities, the public events, the final candidates and the awards for the 1st competition “Greece Innovates!” is available at