8 Greek innovators defying the odds

Start-ups emerging from a sinking economy

Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

Perhaps one of the only good things to come out of Greece's economic crisis is a slow but steady increase in the number of start-ups emerging in the high-tech sector. Since the crisis began in 2007, there have been about 600 start-ups created in a wide range of industries — from mobile apps and on-demand taxi travel to gaming and medical technology, according to Endeavor Greece.

Surprisingly, the country's default and collapse of the banking system this year did not stop tenacious innovators from launching businesses against poor odds. The good news is that there is an emerging ecosystem of incubators, venture investors and university entrepreneurship programs — as well as big tech firms including Microsoft — that offer training and a support system sorely needed. Here's a look at a new crop of Greek start-ups gaining attention from international investors and market-watchers.

— By Lori Ioannou, senior editor, CNBC.com
Posted 10 December 2015

Workable.com

Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

The founders of Workable.com are on a mission to democratize hiring and level the playing field on the war for talent. Three years ago software engineers CEO Nikos Moraitakis and CTO Spyros Magiatis launched the company, which makes cloud-based recruiting software and apps that help small and medium-sized companies create and syndicate job listings to job boards that are most important in their market, without separately posting to each one.

Workable charges customers a subscription fee of $19 to $400 a month, depending on the volume of active job openings the employer is running through the platform.

The company now has 3,500 customers in 50 countries and has attracted more than $34 million in venture capital from such firms as 83North (formerly Greylock IL), Balderton Capital and Openfund.

Pictured: Spyros Magiatis, chief technology officer of Workable.com

Heliix

Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

In Greece, solar water heaters are a mainstay for consumers. About 90 percent of households have them, but they are pricey, at 700 to 1,000 euros a pop. Seeing a niche in the market, two young mechanical engineers that met at an Athens-based incubator called The EGG — Nick Arapkoules, 27, and Panos Papadiamantis, 25 — hatched an idea for a device that converts thermal energy from such devices and turns it into electricity, providing a reduction of up to 30 percent in a household's annual electricity costs. The global market for such a device is huge. Worldwide, 200 million solar water heaters have been installed, 70 percent of which are in China.

After winning a Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award in 2015, the entrepreneurs got a 300,000 euro loan they are using to develop their prototype at the National Technical University of Athens. Additionally, they have raised 150,000 euro from an angel investor in the U.S.

Plans are to go into production next summer and sell Heliix worldwide.

Pictured: Nick Arapkoules, founder and CEO of Heliix

Kinems

Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

In just two years, Kinems, a Greek start-up that makes an e-learning platform for children with disabilities, has been able to snare a strategic partnership with Microsoft and license its software-as-a-service at schools, clinics and hospitals in Europe and the U.S.

The product works with the Microsoft Kinect sensor so children with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and other learning disabilities can play games with hand and body movements to improve cognitive and motor skills. Teachers and therapists can adjust the same settings to children's individual needs. They have access to reports to monitor progress in learning and kinetics.

The global market for special-education software is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2018, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Two Greek university professors — Michael Boloudakis, 31, and Symeon Retalis, 46 — came up with the idea for Kinems. Their business plan helped them land a spot at the Microsoft Innovation Center in Athens and attract 240,000 euros in venture capital from the Amsterdam StartupBootCamp and the EDGE Fund. Plans are to grow through regional resellers.

Pictured: Symeon Retalis, co-founder and CEO of Kinems

Reportbrain

Alexander Kostopoulos founded Reportbrain, a news service aggregator that competes with LexisNexis.
Photo: Emilia Papadopoulou

Some Greek expats are determined to help build a high-tech sector in their home country. Take Alexander Kostopoulos, 45, a Greek electrical engineer and computer scientist who received an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley. He returned home in 2004 and this year co-launched Reportbrain, a subscription-based SaaS news service that won second place in the MIT Enterprise Greece Competition.

The product analyzes 2 million news articles per day in 42 languages. So far, the company has 50 customers, including Bayer HealthCare, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Hellenic Petroleum.

Although Reportbrain has big rivals — Dow Jones' Factiva and LexisNexis — its advanced analytics allow it to deliver content at a fraction of its competitors' costs. By targeting a $2 billion global market, the company has secured $500,000 in angel financing and is now looking to attract an additional $2 million from European venture capitalists to expand sales in Europe.

Pictured: Alexander Kostopoulos, president and CEO of Reportbrain

RTSafe

RTSafe’s Co-founder Professor Evangelos Pappas has developed a 3-D printed skull and brain avatar that helps target radiation therapy for brain cancer patients.
Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

Commercializing university science is not easy, but Professor Evangelos Pappas, a medical physicist specializing in radiation therapy, along with other university scientists, has launched RTSafe: a start-up that makes a 3-D-printed skull and brain avatar that can be used to better tailor radiation therapy for brain cancer patients.

The medical breakthrough is affordable at about $3,000 and has gotten the attention of BrainLab and Philips, customers that use the avatars to benchmark their own R&D in this field.

It's no wonder the company won the Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award in 2014. The award included a $300,000 zero-interest loan to develop and market the product, as well as senior-level business mentorship. In June, it also won first prize at the MIT Enterprise Forum Competition, which has helped it gain brand recognition in the U.S. and European venture capital community.

End users of their product include Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Although sales are only $100,000, the company's prevaluation is now 12 million euros as investors eye the multibillion-dollar global market potential for the product. The company is now in discussions with venture investors for a follow-on round of financing.

Pictured: Professor Evangelos Pappas, co-founder of RTSafe

TomoTECH

Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

Two software engineers from the National Technical University of Athens and an economist from Athens University of Economy and Business — Zoi Giavri, 25; Dimitris Rozakis, 27; and Paris Ziogkas, 26 — launched TomoTECH, a company that makes a cloud-based software service for the processing of MRI exams. The software uses 3-D technology that reconstructs the nerve fibers in the brain to allow doctors and radiologists to more accurately reconstruct the anatomical structure of the human brain and pinpoint damage from diseases, such as a brain tumor.

According to CEO Giavri, the global market for the product is $1.2 billion. TomoTech's software is 90 percent accurate versus software on the market today that is 65 percent.

That may be why their one-year-old company has won a series of entrepreneurship competitions in Greece, including Ennovation 2014 and MITEnterprise Forum Greece, and a spot in the coveted EGG incubator in Athens.

The company is now in discussions with angel investors in the U.K. and Greece to raise 200,000 euros to scale up R&D, hiring and marketing efforts.

Pictured: Zoi Giavri, co-founder and CEO of TomoTECH

Tamasenco

Marios Polyzogopoulos | CNBC

At the height of the Greek crisis in 2012, ad exec Dimitris Koutsomitsos launched Tamasenco, an online gaming company that has popularized Friendsbroker, a social business simulation game; and PeaceOFF, a browser-based role-playing game, through viral marketing and friends on Facebook.

After setting up a small team, Koutsomitsos was able to get a seat at Corallia, the famous Greek innovation cluster, to help further develop his online games and learn best practices.

By bootstrapping and plowing all revenue back into the company, Koutsomitsos has been able to grow the start-up that has attracted more than 30,000 gamers. Next year he expects revenues to reach $1 million.

Pictured: Dimitris Koutsomitsos, founder and CEO of Tomasenco

Intelen

Vassilis Nikolopoulos, Intelen
Source: TedX & Netweek

With consumers increasingly concerned about energy efficiency, a start-up called Intelen offers a handy tool. It's a Web platform and mobile app that tracks home-appliance electrical consumption and analyzes utility bills. It also has games and quizzes that help users learn more about how they can change their behavior to cut energy costs.

The idea was spawned when Vassilis Nikolopoulos, CEO and co-founder of Intelen, was doing his electrical engineering Ph.D. thesis on data analytics at the Technical University of Athens.

The product is similar to rival OPower, but Intelen's SaaS product uses game mechanics and digital personalized services in a unique way so utilities can improve ties with their customers.

Intelen's big data engine analyzes energy data, demographics and consumer psychographics to help utilities better understand customer behavior. Currently, the company has $1 million in revenues from six utility customers in Europe and the U.S., including Protergia SA., Intrasoft SA, E.ON Spain and Watt & Volt.

After raising $4 million in angel financing from individuals in Greece, U.K. and the U.S. for product development, the company is now trying to raise $3 million to $5 million in venture capital for marketing and sales expansion next year.

Pictured: Vassilis Nikolopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Intelen