On March 02, 2021, SEV and Endeavor Greece co-organized the leading global Digital Conference “Innovative Greeks”. Nikitas Koutoupes*, managing director at Insight Partners, participated at the panel discussion “Foreign investors who never invested in Greek companies”. George Vailakis asked him about investment opportunities in Greece and his so far experience from the country.
I left Greece to study in the United States three decades ago, and it is only in the last three years that I have become acquainted with the Greek tech ecosystem, starting with our investment in Epignosis. My experience has been overall quite gratifying. The level of professionalism, the quality of the people and companies with which I have become familiar, the success stories I have discovered, and the potential for the tech ecosystem to become a critical part of the country’s growth engine have all left me eager to become more engaged.
It is my firm belief that the Greek tech ecosystem’s reality and potential far exceeds what is perceived abroad. I am therefore hopeful that this reality can help improve Greece’s global image, leading to the inflow of capital as well as talent. The involvement of the Greek diaspora can play a catalytic role in this.
What can you say about the current situation?
The country is still reeling from the effects of a decade-long financial crisis, made only worse as a result of the global pandemic. The silver lining of the crisis, however, has been that brilliant people who would have otherwise been engaged in professional endeavors in the public sector or multinational companies have, some because of necessity, some because they recognized the opportunity, formed a nascent but quite impressive tech ecosystem that is poised to create in Athens the type of success stories we have seen in cities like Dublin, Berlin, and Tel Aviv.
This trend, combined with political changes that have proved favorable for foreign investment and engaged the Greek diaspora, has created an environment of opportunity in Greece.
And what would you say about future directions?
If Greece stays on the current trajectory and keeps meeting the aforementioned conditions needed to attract foreign investors as well as human capital from abroad, as well as changes its, perhaps unjust, reputation abroad as a country in which entrepreneurship faces hurdles, it can become a major European tech hub. If, however, the requisite political, legal, and economic changes needed to promote entrepreneurship are not made, and startups are not assisted but are led to leave Greece when they reach the scaleup stage, Greece will end up wasting an unprecedented opportunity.
Would you encourage other investors to prefer Greece?
Insight Partners is a leading growth equity firm investing in high-growth technology and scaleup software companies and has raised through a series of funds more than $30 billion in capital commitments. We focus on investing in innovators and currently have 200+ fast-growing software companies in our portfolio. These companies are central to digital transformation across almost every sector. We see many of these desired ingredients in Greek companies and aspire to becoming the scaleup partner for the best companies the Greek ecosystem produces. We realize that participation from other global investors can only help the broader ecosystem thrive in and beyond the software sector. So yes, we would encourage our peers to consider investing in Greece. In fact, many of them increasingly are.
What are Greece’s main assets and what are the weak points?
Every company I’ve met in Greece shares a unique resilience, perhaps motivated by the experience of the financial crisis: Companies that have been built against the backdrop of the crisis are able to withstand extremely adverse changes, and this lean culture is a critical ingredient of success.
In addition, the quality of talent that the best companies can attract locally rivals that of most global tech hubs, across all functional areas of relevance to a tech business, but with less competition for that human capital. This leads to easier hiring and less personnel turnover. Conversely, a weak point is the lack of clear, powerful incentives for global talent to come to Greece: for the ecosystem to thrive, Greece needs to make it easy and attractive for talented young people as well as more experienced operators from across Europe and beyond to come and join the most successful startups and scaleups, bringing along the passion and expertise essential to growing companies. This will reverse the historical trend of successful Greek tech companies needing to leave Greece after they reach a certain size, and ensure that, by staying local, the country benefits more from their success.
*Nikitas Koutoupes is a Managing Director at Insight Partners, a growth equity firm with over $30 billion in assets under management and 400 investments since inception, including over 45 IPOs and 55 “unicorns”. His interview was published in the March/April 2021 issue of Greek Business File, available here.