Greece also needs to build bridges between the university research community, corporations, entrepreneurial innovators and investors, much like the collaborative infrastructure in Silicon Valley.
An early visionary who has been laying the foundation for change is Vassilios Makios, professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Patras and general director of the Corallia Clusters Initiative. In the late 1990s, he realized the need for Greece to transform its public sector economy into one focused on ICT value-added products and services, much like Israel had done in the 1970s. "I saw how a lack of private innovation was forcing brilliant young minds to leave Greece to find jobs elsewhere. "It was a brain drain threatening our country's future," he said.
So he reached out to companies like Atmel, a Silicon Valley firm that makes flash memory chips and which is run by Greek expats, to establish a product design center in the Greek city of Patras. After successfully luring a handful of other high-tech multinationals, he joined forces with two other Greeks who had worked at Bell Labs, and the team was able to get a grant from the EU to launch Corallia in 2008. It is the country's first innovation design cluster that focuses on supporting new ventures in the microelectronics, nanotechnology, gaming and aerospace industries and boosting cooperative research efforts among companies of all sizes in these fields.
Today, Corallia has 150 company members, of which 40 are start-ups. The innovation cluster idea pioneered by U.S. start-up guru Michael Porter of Harvard Business School has helped Greek companies boost exports by 108 percent and churn out 100 patents over the last five years. Corallia has been recognized by the EU for excellence and is now part of the Silicon Europe Alliance.
"For the last 30 years, entrepreneurship was an anathema in Greece, but that's slowly changing," Makios said. "We can now support multinationals that need R&D but face talent shortages in places like Israel and India."