Can an economic crisis advance Greece’s entrepreneurial culture?

George Assonitis, Advisor on European Affairs at the Union of Hellenic Chambers of Commerce and Industry

 “Greek society and its respective leaders should stop being hostile towards entrepreneurship," recently declared the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, during a presentation of three dynamic businesses in the Athens Stock Exchange. Boutaris’ statement perfectly sums up the political and social attitudes towards entrepreneurship in Greece.

For several decades, the behaviour of Greek families, the education system, media, political and social leaders and other actors, has slowly diminished Greece’s entrepreneurial potential.

Greek families, which exercise strong influence over their children’s decisions, including their professional careers, pushed them to follow higher studies (health sciences, law, literature, and engineering) in order to acquire protected and permanent jobs – either in the public or the private sector.

Greek schools, both at elementary and secondary level, also neglected to develop entrepreneurial skills. And in higher education, entrepreneurship education has only recently started to become part of the public tertiary education curricula, particularly in engineering. Moreover, informal entrepreneurship education initiatives, although of a bottom-up nature and high-value outcome, did not constitute critical mass and enable to reverse negative trends.

As a result, a large number of young graduates have entered the job market with limited ambitions, seeking to move into the public sector or another protected profession.

To add to this, the Greek economy followed a perverse production model based mainly on consumption and financed by foreign private lending, and was not able to cope with the recent deep and prolonged economic recession. And a number of economic structural reforms and fiscal adjustment, imposed by foreign lenders, have not been easily implemented.

In addition to a volatile political environment and economy, the current bank capital controls regime, excessive corporate taxation, brain-drain and refugee crisis only add difficulties, making the transition period very tough.

Entrepreneurship indicators, developed by different programmes or initiatives, such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research program (GEM), the Small Business Act Annual National Profiles (SBA) and AMWAY Global Entrepreneurship Reports (AGER) reflect Greece’s state of entrepreneurship, social attitudes, motivations and desires.

  • Micro-enterprises continue to account for a high share of employment and added economic value. Greece is ranked first among innovation‐driven economies with respect to established entrepreneurship (12.6%). 
  • Greek entrepreneurship is developed mainly by family-owned micro firms, which by nature are neither dynamic, nor growth-oriented or generating new jobs.
  • Early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) presents significant variability, TEA rates dropped in 2012 and again in 2013. Established entrepreneurship prevails over early‐stage entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial leverage is very low.
  • The rate of opportunity-driven entrepreneurship-ODE (taking advantage of a business opportunity) fell from 47 % in 2009 to 30.5 % to 2014. This is in opposition to necessity-driven entrepreneurship-NDE (having no better options for work), which is increasing after the crisis. Most new businesses are in the food sector (cafes, bars, restaurants, delivery, catering). However, of these types of businesses, 8-out-of-10 stop operating within their first year of operation – often making this development model not viable.
  • 52% of Greeks have a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship and 69% can imagine starting a business (entrepreneurship potential). 52% consider starting a business as a desirable career opportunity, 65% think that family or friends could never dissuade them from starting a business (stability against social pressure) and 51% believe that that possess the necessary skills and resources to start a business (feasibility). Finally, 52% also consider Greek society (politics, media coverage and the people) to be entrepreneurship-friendly. However, the fear of failure to start a business is still the highest amongst all other innovation-driven economies who participated in the GEM survey. 
  • According to another important survey, entitled  “A youth perspective on entrepreneurship: Something is changing”, 81% of university students have a positive view on entrepreneurship, while only 1-in-3 intend to start their own business in the near future. On top of this, 78% of students believe their university has not adequately prepared them for a business career and many are sceptical of the prevailing class of entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, the crisis and recession could be an excellent opportunity for Greece to turn the page and start building a more entrepreneurial culture. One of the most important conditions to this is however, is political will. But the initial outlook seems bleak, with entrepreneurship being met with resistance.

This should not discourage us and we should continue to push for entrepreneurship education across Europe, building upon the many great initiatives already in existence. These include the Finnish “Entrepreneurship Decade 1995–2005” project, the start-up and spinoff projects in Detroit, and the ambitious project to engage Indian and Chinese immigrants in the Silicon Valley.

The EE-HUB is a step in the right direction and could be the source of inspiration for Greece’s entrepreneurial culture and mind-set.

Category : entrepreneurship education, Entrepreneurship Education Strategy Posted : 11 April 2016 11:17 UTC
About the Author
George Assonitis, Advisor on European Affairs at the Union of Hellenic Chambers of Commerce and Industry

As coordinator of European affairs and projects in the Hellenic Chamber Network he will liaise with his colleagues from local Chambers working on entrepreneurial learning on the ground and also feed the information back to his colleagues in Greek. From 2001 to 2008 he was the Representative of the Ministry of Development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Permanent Representation of Greece to the European Union in Brussels. He has gathered considerable experience during his career in the university sector, public administration and the Hellenic Chamber Network. On the policy field, he has participated, as an adviser to the Cypriot Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, during the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU, in the preparation of the Informal Meeting of Competitiveness Ministers, held in Nicosia on July 2012. The Meeting had dealt with the consultation of the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan

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