Typically, when companies plan international expansions, they look for target markets that are healthy and stable. In late 2012, when we opened Endeavor's first European office in Athens, the Greek economy was everything but. "Why, in God's name, if you were going to start doing business in Europe, would you start by doing business in Greece?" Andrew Ross Sorkin asked me on CNBC's Squawk Box.
My answer: When economies turn down, entrepreneurs turn up. Endeavor—an organization I co-founded 16 years ago to support high-impact entrepreneurs worldwide—is built on the premise that entrepreneurship thrives in adverse circumstances. To date we've screened 37,000 candidates from cities like Beirut and Bogotá. Over the past year alone, the 844 entrepreneurs in our network have endured a downturn in Brazil, regime change in Egypt, social unrest in Turkey, and, of course, a debt crisis in the Eurozone. Nonetheless, their companies collectively employed 225,000 people and generated some $6 billion in annual revenues.
Twelve months after my interview with Sorkin, I'm pleased to say Endeavor Greece is up and running. We've selected 10 high-growth entrepreneurs in industries that range from media to IT to food and beverage, and we have dozens more in the pipeline.
(Read more: Emerging entrepreneurial hot spots)
Their companies generally fit one of two categories. Some, like Hellas Direct, were created in order to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by a recessionary market. A direct-to-consumer insurance company founded by two former Goldman Sachs bankers, Hellas Direct competes on price against established insurance companies, making it an attractive option for penny-pinching Greek consumers.
Other companies, like Fereikos-Helix, an escargot-farming business based in Corinth, were made stronger by the economic downturn. At first, most of Fereikos's snail farmers were veterans of the cotton and tobacco industries looking to diversify their crops. But when the debt crisis struck and the economy tanked, Fereikos's ranks swelled with young, educated Greeks who had trouble finding jobs. The downturn also shrunk the Greek market for high-end products, pushing the company to look abroad for customers. Today roughly 70 percent of Fereikos's revenue comes from exports to such places as Spain and Italy.
Says Maria Vlachou, who co-founded the company in 2010 with her sister, Penny: "Every problem has a solution. You can think about the problem, or you can think about the solution. We decided it was better to think about the solution."
(Read more: Why high-impact entrepreneurship matters)