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Greek Recovery Spurred by Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Signs of economic recovery in Greece are beginning to be evident. And although the pace is slow, it is real.

A little more than a month after Greece issued its first sovereign Eurobond since before the financial crisis, another issuer, National Bank of Greece is reportedly set to come to market with a senior unsecured bond issue of its own–one that could be priced at an even lower yield than the sovereign’s, thereby attesting to the improved sentiment surrounding Greece.

Of course, Greece’s troubles are far from over. Substantial economic growth is still a dream and unemployment remains at record levels.

And yet there is a sense of great optimism, said Davia Temin, founder and CEO of marketing, reputation, and media strategy for Temin and Co., who was recently in Athens as part of the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program’s Entrepreneurship Delegation to Greece.

As much as the macro level changes are positive for Greece, Temin and others, like Michael Printzos, program director of the Hellenic Initiative, an organization that mobilizes the Greek diaspora to invest in the Greek recovery, say they believe that what’s happening at the micro level, in the area of small- and medium-size enterprises in particular, is far more noteworthy and heralds brighter times for Greece.

Here are three reasons why:

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1.  Start-ups Rose During Crisis.

“Ten years ago, everyone who graduated from university would send their CVs to big Greek companies, to the multinationals and even to the state, which was a big employer,” Printzos said. “Now, none of them are hiring, so more people have had to come up with start-ups as their only solution.”

Throughout Greece, people are sharing ideas and building small teams. In Athens, there’s been a rise in the number of incubators and co-working spaces, Printzos said, and they’re abuzz with creativity and innovation.

The crisis rendered many highly qualified people, such as engineers, IT specialists and others, jobless. These people have now become entrepreneurs, Temin said, lending their skills and talents to a host of ventures, from building ingenious iPhone apps to designing software.

“Greece has the technological capability, so the possibilities are endless,” she said.

What’s needed now is investment to spur credible business ventures forward.

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2. Privatization, Investment Gain

Privatization–which many deem essential for Greece–continues to be a slow, grinding process, but in certain sectors, it’s gaining steam and investments are flowing.

Investors are showing interest in the privatization of large assets like hotels, Printzos said, and are seeing potential in a number of sectors of the Greek economy such as agriculture.

The ability to channel private funds into smaller business ventures is key for continued economic growth. More importantly, though, investing in entrepreneurial undertakings is essential to supporting and leveraging Greece’s human capital, Printzos said.

Ultimately, this will help more than anything else, he said, “because we want to be able to support the recovery here, we don’t want to end up with every single Greek going abroad to look for work elsewhere.”

According to Temin, more and more investors are looking at Greece and are interested in the changes they are seeing.

“Greece was the cradle of civilization once – today, I see that it’s on its way to becoming the cradle of entrepreneurship,” she said.

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3. The Greek Diaspora

From the U.S. to Australia, the tremendous outpouring of support from the Greek diaspora, even those of a third and fourth generation removed from the nation, for everything from helping to fund the poverty relief efforts of non-governmental organizations to providing financing as well as mentoring to businesses and entrepreneurs, has been tremendous, Printzos said.

The Hellenic Initiative also launched a fellowship program designed to train Greeks to work in their own country, The program is supported by large U.S. companies like IBM, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and the Huffington Post, among others and.

The initiative’s latest undertaking is the Hellenic Investment Fund, a private equity fund that would focus on investing in Greek small- and medium-size enterprises.

“At some point, we have to say ‘enough’ of all the misery and disappointment,” Printzos said. “We need to see this crisis as our single most important opportunity to change things in Greece, and things are indeed changing for the better here.”

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